Lessons for Women in Leadership from ‘Hamilton’ the Musical

I finally had the opportunity to see Hamilton the musical a this spring at the amazing Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City. After all of the hype, I was worried that I would be let down….but the show didn’t disappoint. From the opening scene, where the characters were introduced through the opening song “Alexander Hamilton,” to the closing scene where Eliza Hamilton sang about telling her husband’s story in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?,” I was captivated.

Since seeing the show, we have listened the songs on repeat with our children, and have had many a discussion about what it means to “not throw away your shot” at something, and why the King of England sings funny songs about coming back to him. But, more than that, what I have reflected on within the music are the lessons that are present for women in leadership. On this July 4th, I thought it only fitting to “tell my story.”

Don’t Throw Away Your Shot

This theme (and song lyrics) are present throughout the story. Early in the show, Hamilton commits to not throw away his shot through one of my favorite songs of the show. His commitment is to make a difference and to shape the future of our country. This motivates him to make the decisions that ultimately lead to his death in a duel with Aaron Burr.

The lesson for women in leadership (or for everyone in leadership) is to take the shot. As I work with up-and-coming people within my team, I often see women who are highly skilled not raise their hand for new opportunities, whether it be new projects or promotions. I also coach managers about how to have the conversations that they are having with both their male and female talent about opportunities. They need to sound different. Research from Bain & Company and LinkedIn in early 2017 shows, via a survey of 8,400 professionals, that “women are less likely than men to seek out an opportunity if they knows their supervisor might not be fully supportive.” In other words, women aren’t willing to take the risk at the new opportunity for fear of failure or upsetting the apple cart.

“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on.” – Sheryl Sandberg

This is particularly important early in life/career. Jack Zenger, an inspiring author and researcher, and CEO of Zenger Folkman (who I happened to meet via a board where we were both helping advance women in leadership), comments that this confidence gap early in a career is particularly stark between men and women, and thus early opportunities for growth may be missed by women not “taking their shot.”

Credit: ZFCO research

Hamilton would advise differently to women in their careers. His advice would be to take your shot when you have it. He stayed true to his advice through the entire musical except at the very end where his shot (literally) could have saved his life.

Talk Less, Smile More

In the song “Aaron Burr, Sir”, Aaron Burr gives Hamilton the advice “to talk less, smile more.” He proceeds to say “don’t let them know what you are against or what you are for.” Hamilton won’t have it. This perspective couldn’t be more opposite of his belief to take a stand. As their relationship continues, Burr’s philosophy ultimately drives Hamilton to support Jefferson for President (despite their disagreements) versus supporting Burr, who he believes stands for nothing.

Although smiling (and listening more) is a good lesson especially as it enables you to gain perspective from others, I am with Hamilton here. It is critical to take a stand for what you believe in. More often than not, I see women in business struggling to bring their unique perspective to the table. I have particularly seen this as I have moved up in my career. Women, myself included, see role models for success in business around us (mostly men). Although learning from others’ successes and failures is important, it is critical to maintain your unique perspective and approach. This is a fine line, learn from others, but be yourself.

Diversity of perspective is critical in decision making. In order for organizations to make the best decisions, differing perspectives need to be valued and encouraged. If I could write the lesson in leadership, it would be “talk less, listen more, but take a stand.”

There is Room for All

Aaron Burr sings in “The World Was Wide Enough” about his duel with Hamilton. The song begins with an emotion-fueled countdown to the shot, and Burr closes with a somber ballad about how he “should’ve known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.” In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s visionary scene, you feel the emotion in Burr’s voice. Fear first, regret second.

As I think about becoming an executive leader, I remember moments long ago in my career where I felt like it was either me getting the opportunity or someone else, and I found myself thinking of it competitively. Often this created internal storytelling, me thinking about it as “her/him” OR “me”. This competitive energy, although good when it comes to business challenges, is ineffective when directed towards people. The storytelling got particularly bad when it was two women vying for the same opportunity. I had a feeling that only one of us would be allowed at the table, as our styles and perspective were so different from what was “valued.” I have learned over time how ridiculous this was, as it not only hurt my effectiveness, but also limited bringing diverse perspective to the table in so many teams.

There is so much room. Instead of being competitive, my job is to support and help strong, confident, smart, resilient women (and men) up the ladder with me. No fear, no regrets.

Thank you Alexander Hamilton, and Lin-Manuel Miranda for these leadership lessons. Happy birthday America.

Get Off The Sidelines

I haven’t been posting for quite some time with the excuse that life (work and family) has gotten in my way. What I realized after some reflection this week is that I miss writing about things that matter to me. This blog has been an outlet to make that happen, so here we go again. No promises of my frequency, but you will know, if I am writing here I am probably a bit more balanced than if I am not as it means I am creating the time to reflect (and write). So, I am getting off the sidelines and back in the game.

Over the last week, I have had the fortunate opportunity to attend two separate events that are motivating me to get off the sidelines in a number of ways. The first event was the first ever Utah Wonder Women Summit. The Utah Wonder Women is a group of influential women leaders in Utah working to help each other succeed. The day long summit was an opportunity to convene with a focus on building the visibility of female leadership in Utah. This event was followed by SUREFIRE girls, an event for teenage girls in Utah to help them see the magnitude of opportunities available to them. A big shout out to Jacki Zehner, the original Utah Wonder Women, for her relentless dedication, drive and initiative to make these two events happen.

So much inspiration at these events. This photo is a picture of the SUREFIRE ambassadors, ranging from junior high through seniors in high school, on stage talking about what they are hoping to learn from the SUREFIRE event. I was struck how powerful it was for these teenagers to see a room of 100+ female leaders in the audience focused on helping each other, developing our skills, aspiring to help Utah be a better place for female leadership tomorrow than it is today. But, what made me even more amazed was the energy that I took from these ladies reminding me of my role to get of the sidelines and dedicate even more time and energy to making the community, the state, our business environment and the country a better place for these ladies than it is today.

In case I wasn’t inspired enough leaving the UWW Summit, I headed this week to FORTUNE magazine’s Most Powerful Women Next Generation conference. It was an honor to be able to attend this. I guess you can call it part two of a reinforcement to get off the sidelines. With all of the stories recently about sexual harassment and assault, much of the event had a theme of being vocal. Stories of both a pursuit for gender and race equality as well as the recent #MeToo social movement came from all sides of the room. Business leaders, athletes and entertainers spoke of their own experiences with a call to action to be vocal and through our voices ensure that equality and respect are what we expect. Hope Solo, former goalie of the US Women’s National Soccer team, spoke candidly of her pursuit for pay equality in US Soccer, and her own personal experience with harassment. She also shared her clear belief that she was fired for being vocal.

One of my favorite speakers across these two events was Pat Mitchell. Pat is known for her leadership in the media industry as a CEO, producer and curator. She has used her position of influence and leadership as a force for social change. Among other great accomplishments, she is the host and curator of the global TEDWomen conference. Her talk was on power, and how we need to own it and use it to lead and drive change. Her eloquent speech was calm, reassuring and enabled me to center myself. We often perceive power to be masculine, but it isn’t. The definition of power is the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events. Nothing masculine about that. One of the quotes she shared was from Bella Abzug, a lawyer, member of the US House of Representatives, and social activist and leader of the Women’s movement.

“Women will change the nature of power, rather than power changing the nature of women.” – Bella Abzug

Both of these events came at a great time for me. I have been working very hard lately and am probably off balance with how I am spending my time. I am still home for my family in the evenings at a reasonable time, working out a few times a week and trying my best to be a great spouse. So, it isn’t about work-life balance. That said, I am relentlessly moving when I am gone, pushing myself to always keep taking a step forward on the issues that matter every day in my work. There is a lot of good in this (especially for our business).

What I recognized after this week is that by dedicating so much energy here, I may be missing some of the things that I need to be doing to fulfill my purpose. I need to get off the sidelines, but not in a way that drives more “movement” at the office, or more stress. Instead, getting off the sidelines is about choosing to channel my “movement” to more effectively influence positive change for women in business, media and policy. So, thanks Pat for the advice. I am planning on owning my power and using it to drive change.

Thank You Hillary…#ImWithHer

I find myself at a loss of words after this monumental week.

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Katharine was beyond excited to stay up to watch Hillary Clinton accept the presidential nomination.  As was I.  I found myself moved almost to tears by Chelsea’s introduction (however not comfortable Chelsea looked), by Hilary’s deliberate recognition of the power of the moment, by her humble acknowledgement of both her strengths (work horse) and her weaknesses (show horse), but most notably by Katharine’s excitement about the evening.

For her it was just about the experience, about learning and understanding how this election thing works, about being able to stay up late, about seeing daughter introduce her mother for something exciting, and about the fascination with the role of our President.  And, it was of course cool that it was a girl.  She asked me if I was ever going to have her introduce me for something like that.  She wondered if the whole world was like America.

For me it was about making history, about hard work, about perseverance, about striving for something despite all odds, and about creating opportunity for all of the little girls that  were watching.  And, it was of course because it was a girl.  I had hoped for this day for a long time.  It made me proud of America.

I know that my politics haven’t always lined up with Hillary, and I am certain that I don’t agree with everything that she is advocating for, but #ImWithHer because of the lesson that she can teach America and the world.  She is showing us that hard work, perseverance, dedication to a cause, and belief in equality can change the world.  She is helping all of the little girls see what they can be.

You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

  Yesterday I had the opporunity to attend two important events in the state of Utah.  The first was the Governor’s Economic Summit and the second was a private gathering for “Utah’s Wonder Women.”  Both events had a focus on women in leadership, and are committed to helping Utah move our state forward toward equality.

So much good going on in both of these forums, but my most memorable quote from the day came repeated at both of them:  “You Can’t Be What You Can’t See.”.  This was in reference to defining one of the roles that female leaders need to take both in Utah and around the world.  Often, without knowing it, we are role models to those around us.  In my case, listening to this made me proud of what I do, not because I have arrived at some place of achievement, but because I am showing my daughter and my son what is possible.

One of our guest speaker, Margit Wennmachers, a partner with Andreessen Horowitz, shared a story about how her daughter’s second grade class had the opportunity to Skype with a female college student in Germany who was studying to be a physicist.  Within weeks, four of the girls in the class had decided that when they grow up they want to become physicists too.  How amazing that exposure to something alone, puts the seed of an idea in childrens’ minds.  What a powerful example.

Sometimes, I look at myself and wonder if all of the stress and pressure, and a feeling of missing out on things in my kids’ lives, makes working worth it.  I love what I do.  But, I love my kids and Jon more.  After yesterday, I gained more realization that although it is, of couse, a trade off, I don’t work just for me.  I work for Katharine and Matthew, and for all of the other young women in my life…to help them see what they can be.