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Jill Goldenziel of Marine Corps University: “Being mentored is a skill”

Being mentored is a skill. View every feedback session as an opportunity to learn. Absent true abuse, never bite the hand of someone who’s trying to help you. Be humble. It’s OK to respectfully push back, but make sure your mentor knows that’s what you’re doing. I once knew a professor who didn’t get tenure […]

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Being mentored is a skill. View every feedback session as an opportunity to learn. Absent true abuse, never bite the hand of someone who’s trying to help you. Be humble. It’s OK to respectfully push back, but make sure your mentor knows that’s what you’re doing. I once knew a professor who didn’t get tenure and another who wasn’t hired at a prominent institution. When I asked why I was told, “they weren’t good at being mentored.” Apparently, they’d repeatedly been given feedback on your work that they weren’t willing to accept. If they had, their work would have improved, they wouldn’t have ruffled feathers, and the outcome could have been different. Don’t fall in love with your work to the point that you’re not willing to change. And don’t have so much pride that you’re not willing to accept feedback.


As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jill Goldenziel.

Jill Goldenziel is a professor of International Law and International Relations at Marine Corps University-Command and Staff College, and an Affiliated Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fox Leadership International program and Penn’s Partnership for Effective Public Administration and Leadership Ethics. She teaches International Law, the Law of War, and international security to senior U.S. and foreign military officers. She is also a public speaker, consultant, and arbitrator who has spoken at the United Nations and at dozens of events all over the world. Check out her website at http://www.jillgoldenziel.com.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have always wanted my academic work to be relevant to the real world. I’m fundamentally a doer. I’m an extreme extrovert and I love talking to people of all stripes, not just academics. I’ve been told I have a gift for making complicated concepts easy to understand. I love sharing all of the knowledge I’ve gained over the years and teaching and advising people on why it’s relevant to their lives and their organizations.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I am a public intellectual. I write and teach for general audiences. I produce academic work that’s relevant to policy and affects people’s lives in the real world. I promote that work on social media. I advise government leaders and corporations on how law and geopolitical risk affect their research. Most academics research and write for other academics. I research and write in an attempt to make the world better.

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 was asked to give a guest lecture in a class at the Harvard Kennedy School early in my career, which was a great honor. I started my presentation and discovered that my slides wouldn’t work. They had been designed on a Mac and the presentation was on a PC. I had to speak for 45 minutes, on the fly, without my slides, to an audience that included business leaders and policymakers from all over the world. Somehow it worked out, and several students became research contacts. Now I come with several backup copies of my slides and am always prepared to present without them. I present without slides whenever I can to keep things simple. I’ve learned that the best talks are conversations, not formal presentations. It’s more important to read and connect with the audience than include every detail.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’ve had a fabulous mentor for the past 20 years to whom I owe more than I could ever express. He has seen me fall flat on my face over and over, and each time he helped me to pick myself back up. He has pushed me in moments of self-doubt. He always treated me as a colleague as much as a student. He has shared his incomplete drafts with me, His humility and his willingness to be vulnerable and to accept my feedback has taught me to do the same. I have had other mentors too and I’ve learned a lot from all of them.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Any disruption necessarily means gaining something but also losing something. It’s always important to evaluate a system or organization, and take a hard look at what aspects of its work and which ones don’t. With every disruption, it’s important to think about how this will affect a system, what the organization can control, what will inevitably change, what you want to change, what will change as a result of the disruption, and what harms can be mitigated. Many leaders don’t take the time to step back and evaluate, and to learn lessons from others. Disruptions can happen quickly and sometimes leaders make knee-jerk responses. But taking a step back always pays off. Evaluate. Consult other leaders for lessons learned. Perform internal and external reviews when possible. If your organization has the capacity, conduct reviews on a regular basis so you’re prepared to know the strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities of your organization when disruption strikes. Consult experts like me so you’re ready for geopolitical and legal disruption. And make sure to encourage a culture of honesty among your team and within your organization so that those reviews are accurate.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. Being mentored is a skill. View every feedback session as an opportunity to learn. Absent true abuse, never bite the hand of someone who’s trying to help you. Be humble. It’s OK to respectfully push back, but make sure your mentor knows that’s what you’re doing. I once knew a professor who didn’t get tenure and another who wasn’t hired at a prominent institution. When I asked why I was told, “they weren’t good at being mentored.” Apparently, they’d repeatedly been given feedback on your work that they weren’t willing to accept. If they had, their work would have improved, they wouldn’t have ruffled feathers, and the outcome could have been different. Don’t fall in love with your work to the point that you’re not willing to change. And don’t have so much pride that you’re not willing to accept feedback.
  2. Focus on your goals. If you’re good at what you do, everyone will have advice for you. And if you’re a disruptor, people will have a lot of questions about why you’re doing what you do. Review your goals regularly and stay focused. I review my goals daily to make sure I’m progressing toward them and that others aren’t taking me off track. Going over them and re-focusing on them every morning can make a huge difference.
  3. Step back and take the time to review. Every week I review what I’ve done and how I can do better. Every 6 months I review my progress to make sure I’m progressing toward my goals, if they’ve changed, go over lessons learned, and any changes I want to make accordingly. Keep self-evaluating and learning lessons from yourself. It’s worth it to take that time.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I’m working to bring my work to a bigger audience. I’m writing a mass-market book on how the politicization of migration crises has harmed national security. And I’m building my public speaking work so I can get out there and make big ideas accessible to as many people as possible.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Women have less access to opportunities. We don’t have access to the old boys’ clubs. We typically have smaller networks in high-powered career fields because so many women have hit the glass ceiling. Networks are everything. Women need to work harder to build them and this takes time away from other productivity. And many of us will never get there.

Women also time out for childbirth and have family expectations on us that men simply don’t, and those expectations are viewed as negative toward our careers. These views can come from men and women. When I told a colleague I was pregnant, she congratulated me and then said, “Now you have to determine if you can still be as productive. Some people can and some people can’t.” She would never have said this to a man if he’d told her he was about to become a father. So many people told me — and society told me so many times — that I couldn’t balance work and family. I’ve been more productive since I had kids. But I’ve been plagued with self-doubt because of the messages of others. Men don’t get these messages. Statistics show that being a father is considered positive in the working world — the view is that men will be more motivated to succeed if they have a family to support. Men are less psychologically drained. They don’t get the negative messages women do. They don’t have the same expectations of them. This is a tax on women’s executive function and stress level that men don’t have to pay.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Robert Putnam’s work on civil society made me fall in love with political science. When I read the book “Bowling Alone,” about what America has lost from the decline in civic organizations, I knew that I wanted to do academic work that was relevant to public policy. I’ve been thinking about it again due to the events of January 6, 2021, efforts to block voting access in Georgia, Russia’s use of disinformation to attack our elections, and misinformation around refugees and migration. The failure of civic education has contributed to all of this. Putnam’s ideas still influence all I do. He has also been a model for me of how to be a public intellectual — they’re so rare.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

I love this question! I would inspire a national service program for all Americans, whether military service or social service. I think that many of our social problems could be solved by engaging all young Americans. Racial and ethnic rifts would heal if diverse members of society worked together toward a common goal at a young age. Everyone would have civic education and feel a greater tie to our country and the ideals that it stands for. It would bring the country together.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I could choose so many, but lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the quote from Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” So much is present in those few words. You have one life. Your life is precious. It is fragile. It is fleeting. It is wild. It is yours alone, and yours to live. What will you do with it? Others want to know. Others care. Don’t be afraid to plan and dream wildly and boldly — this part especially means a lot to a disruptor. Don’t just plan, *do.*

I think about this quote a lot, and it means something different to me now as I get older than it did to me in my 20s. Life seems more precious. Am I doing what I dreamed of? Am I being wild and bold enough? What would I tell someone else?

How can our readers follow you online?

Visit my website at: http://www.jillgoldenziel.com

Follow me on social media here:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jillgoldenziel/

Twitter: @JillGoldenziel

Instagram: @JillGoldenziel

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JillGoldenziel/

And check out my TEDx Talk, “Leadership Has No Gender,” Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo2v-9sBUzw

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you for interviewing me — this was fun! I hope it inspires some of your readers to get out there and disrupt!

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