“Everyone I meet is interesting. Everyone has a great story. You just need to be interested and ask the right questions. I have learned that people are always interested in telling their story and having someone actively interested in listening to them. This is true whether it’s the Chairman of a global company, a princess, a duchess, or a clerk.”Elaine Eisenman, PhD
I had the pleasure of interviewing Elaine Eisenman, PhD, managing director of Saeje Advisors, independent board member, advisor to high growth ventures, former corporate executive, and business school dean. Most importantly, co-author of Betrayed: A survivor’s guide to lying, cheating, and double dealing.
Marco: Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As an organizational consultant, I am a constant observer of human behavior. I delight in hearing people’s stories and looking at trends and issues that seem to capture people’s attention and imagination. The topic of betrayal–whether in one’s personal or professional life–seems to be on everyone’s mind, so we decided to talk with people to see if our perception was correct. Everyone we spoke with told us to write a book. So we did!
Marco: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
Many years ago, I joined a company that I had been consulting for a long time. Before I joined, I cautioned the CEO that he had always paid me to tell him when I thought that there were hidden minefields in initiatives that were dangerous if he proceeded. He reassured me that that was the reason he made me a job offer.
Fast forward to an initiative that the CEO loved as much as his children. That baby was really ugly and everyone depended on me to warn him that it would fail. I did. He did not want to hear it and became enraged with me, shouting, “I am so sick of you thinking. I need you to stop thinking. I never again want to hear what you are thinking.” I stared at him in shock, and quietly asked, “if I can’t think, what is my new job?” He stared back, took a deep breath, and shouted, “Scrubbing toilets! That’s it, your new job is scrubbing toilets! It requires no thinking.” I left the room and went home.
That weekend I went out shopping and bought, on the company credit card, the most expensive jewel encrusted toilet brush that I could find. On Monday morning I arrived at my office very early and went into the conference room that separated my office from his, knowing he would pass it on the way to his office.
I placed my new toilet brush in the middle of the conference room table. Soon he arrived, walked by the conference room, looked, did a double-take, and stormed into my office. “What the F..K is that?” he screamed. I smiled and answered, “I just want everyone to know my new job, I thought this was a better way to announce it than through email … and now let’s talk about my severance package.”
Marco: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I had just finished my PhD and my husband gave me a beautiful sterling silver fountain pen and a leather portfolio as graduation gifts (clearly this was a long time ago!). I had flown to Chicago for my final interview with the Chairman of the consulting firm that I was desperate to join. I didn’t stop to think about the impact of changing air pressure from the flight and tightly contained liquids.
I went directly from the airport to the meeting. I was ushered into his office, I sat down and started talking. I proudly took out my beautiful new pen to take notes in my beautiful portfolio. I unscrewed the top and suddenly there was a geyser of black ink spewing all over my hands, the sleeves of my new “interview” suit, my silk blouse, and, even worse, the Chairman’s desk. I jumped up and, in an attempt to make it better, made it worse by spreading the ink around even more.
Miraculously, he laughed. I calmed down and apologized profusely, saying I had no idea my husband had bought me a weapon of mass destruction for a graduation gift. The next day he made me a job offer.
The lesson? Perfection is never possible. Retain your sense of humor no matter what.
Marco: What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am enjoying the many book events that have been arranged and talking with the participants about their betrayal stories. I am also part of a team that works with high growth ventures and their regions across the Americas to help them accelerate their growth and ultimately economic growth for the region.
Marco: Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Everyone I meet is interesting. Everyone has a great story. You just need to be interested and ask the right questions. I have learned that people are always interested in telling their story and having someone actively interested in listening to them. This is true whether it’s the Chairman of a global company, a princess or a duchess, or a clerk. I’ve spoken with them all and they all have a story to tell.
Marco: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
1. Never focus on your book only; be sure to have other distractions that nourish your mind and soul.
2. Find something that you view as a reward and set daily goals that when you meet them you get your reward. For me it was streaming great Netflix and Amazon series.
3. Go for a walk at midday to clear your head and help you breathe and stretch your legs. Set a timer or use your watch to get you to stand up every hour and move and stretch–even if you are in the middle of a brainstorm.
4. Be realistic about how long you can sit at your desk and write before you run out of energy and ideas. Find your sweet spot for work times and schedule your day around that.
5. Don’t edit as you write. Freely associate. Get it on the page. Go back much later to edit.
Marco: You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Universal Government paid health care, maternity leave and child care. The American people have been betrayed by our country due to this horrific gap in services.
Marco: What are your “3 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Know yourself and your values and never compromise on what you believe.
- Story: My first corporate job was for a global corporation fraught with politics and self-promotion. The compensation was amazing and yet I hated every minute of the day when I was in the corporate office. I stayed there for the money and the money alone. One night I arrived home and my five year old son said, “Mommy, why are you always angry at us?” I was shocked. My family was my only respite from work stress. “What do you mean,” I asked, “I’m always happy to be home with you.” “No, Mommy, you always come home from work angry about coming home to us.” That was my wakeup call: It’s impossible to be miserable at work and be happy with your life.
2. Keep your sense of humor and don’t hesitate to laugh at yourself.
- Story: On my way to interview for my first corporate internship position, I was wearing a very “manly” grey flannel suit. I was in the elevator and a very stylish woman executive got on and I noticed that she was wearing a similar suit but she had a beautiful lace handkerchief in the breast pocket of her suit. I looked down to see if I had a breast pocket. I did not, but what I did have in its place was a giant glop of hardened toothpaste! I got off at the next floor, found the ladies room, grabbed paper towels and wet them to clean off the toothpaste. I didn’t stop to think that the more I scrubbed, the more the paper towels would shred and the more the toothpaste would spread and grind into the wool along with the shredded paper towel scraps. Other than taking off my jacket, I had no choice but to show up at my interview with a mess on my chest. I did, entering by introducing myself and saying I can tell this internship will be a great learning experience, I have already learned to carry a washcloth with me at all times in case of toothpaste attacks. When the executive who was interviewing me stopped laughing, she said how impressed she was with my humor under fire. I got the offer!
3. Carve out family time and learn to compartmentalize so you are not haunted by work deadlines and “to dos” when you are home.
- Story: When I was in graduate school, studying for my comprehensive exams, which determined if I could move forward to write my doctoral dissertation, my daughter was 4 years old. The “deal” with my husband was that on every Sunday, he would take her out for the day so I could study undisturbed. One Sunday it was torrentially raining and he “begged” me to let them stay home, promising that he would distract her while I was studying. He did a great job, and then, after he put her up for a nap, I heard weird sounds coming from her room. Like the sound of something banging against the wall and then a muffled yelling. I put down my book and tiptoed to her door to peer in through the open crack, just as my husband joined me to see what she was doing. My precious firstborn was standing at her wall, with her favorite doll, named “squeezing baby”, which was a Madame Alexander doll that had a soft body and a hard plastic head, holding it by the feet, and smacking the head against the wall, yelling, softly, “Shut the F-K up, I’m studying!!!” My husband turned to me, lovingly, and said, how does it feel to ruin a young life?” From this devastation and horror at what I had done to her fragile psych, I vowed to try the best I could to always put family first. I promised that if I was physically home, my head and soul would be there also. P.S. She grew up relatively untraumatized and is now a working mother herself. She doesn’t hold a grudge…
Marco: Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s a quote from Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
My career path has been eclectic and opportunistic. Whenever I have been frustrated or bored I ‘throw it out to the universe’ to see what my next steps should and can be. Taking action trumps thinking about what to do next.
Marco: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I was married when I was a junior in College. From my current vantage point, it’s incredible to me that my parents and my husband’s parents allowed this because we were children who knew virtually nothing about how to become adults.
So many women of my boomer era had first marriages with husbands who locked them into a rigid role of wife and mother. I was truly blessed to marry a man who was comfortable in his male identity and did not need a wife to subjugate her goals and dreams to taking care of his ego. Without his ongoing love and support and his willingness to see my success as “our” success I would never have accomplished all that has been possible.
I think a good part of it was that the first ten years of our marriage was spent in and out of school and work, with each of us financially and emotionally supporting the other as necessary. We became best friends as well as spouses and lovers–with the belief that we shared responsibility both for ourselves and for “us”.
When our first child was born I had just decided to go back to school for a PhD and my husband had just finished law school. He chose to take a corporate job because the law firm route would mean that he would never be home to truly be an available father and helpmate. This has never changed. Without his support, encouragement, and cheerleading I know I would not be the person I have become.
Marco: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Oprah. I would be most interested in understanding how she has succeeded in creating her extraordinary career. And, of course, for self interest, I would love to tell her about why our book and our stories of survival and resilience belongs in her book club choices.
Marco: How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn: Elaine Eisenman
Facebook: Official Book Page
Thank you so much for taking out time to share your story with us. Our readers have sure learned a load of valuable life lessons today!