A reality check. Drop the unrealistic expectations you put on yourself. Know that you can’t get it all done. Make strategic decisions for your career and your life, then allow yourself the grace to honor those decisions. You do not have as many hours in the day as Beyonce, so stop trying to have it all. I learned this the hard way and it almost killed my career and my spirit. You are in charge of what you allow or don’t allow into your life and your life becomes a lot better when you honor YOUR version of balance.
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Nancy Medoff.
After close to three decades of walking the talk in corporate sales leadership, Nancy Medoff, best-selling author, keynote speaker and executive coach has literally “written the book” on women and confidence. Unmute Yourself and Speak Up to Stand Out is a game changer and a call to action for women (and men) who are ready to get their seat at the table — then build a bigger table.
Listed in Forbes before the book was published and #1 new release during pre-sale and again at launch. What? How? Wow!
The “Confidence Evangelist”, Nancy is an indoor cycle enthusiast, two-time marathoner, and feet-in-the sand philosopher who won’t stop until women everywhere show up confident, compelling and walk through the doors being opened like they own them.
When she’s not traveling for work, you’ll find Nancy enjoying the food and beverage scene in her home town of Boston or beachside on Outer Cape Cod, likely diving into the latest summer best seller.
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 childhood “backstory”?
My backstory is about a little girl who won the Screwy Screamer award at Camp Chickami in 1976 and thus became an advocate for women worldwide to speak up. When I was a seven, I was a crazy and wild kid. A total in-your-face extrovert. Always talking, always laughing, sometimes causing trouble and super outgoing. One day at Camp Chickami, located outside of Boston, I was awarded the “Screwy Screamer” award. This was a great honor at Camp Chickami and a highly coveted award. This award goes to the screwiest, loudest, most fun, and generally craziest kid at camp. It’s a big deal.
When presented with this award, I promptly broke down and cried. I was sobbing in front of the whole camp and I was very, very upset because I didn’t understand what was happening. All I could see was people laughing and pointing at me. Everyone.
When I turned around, my older sister was beside me, bending down on her knees so she was eye level to me. She was hugging me and telling me that everything was ok and that the award was in fact a good thing. She explained to me this award meant that people were happy for me, liked who I was and wanted to hear what I had to say. They were not, in fact making fun of me, they were celebrating me.
Think about that. My assumption was that they were laughing at me, when in reality they were applauding and supporting me. How many times have you assumed that people aren’t interested in what you have to say? Been afraid to share your ideas or thoughts because you weren’t in your element? It’s these times when we are in unfamiliar territory, when we are vulnerable, that we lack the confidence to speak up for ourselves, and for others.
What I learned that day on the grass at Camp Chickami, and then forced myself to practice for decades, helped me transform from a shaking, scared little girl into a confident, strong professional woman and global keynote speaker. Herein lies my purpose; helping people, specifically women, to truly believe they are worthy of being heard. Then giving them the tools needed to speak up and stand out. Like my big sister did for me.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
For the past ten years or so, my mission has taken me all over the world to work with women who need help advocating for themselves. From Boston to Bahrain, Sydney to Singapore, in the boardroom and the classroom I hear the same thing. Women are ready and I’m here for all of it! I started down this career path out of sheer necessity, because I had seen and experiences enough; enough of being spoken over, enough of my ideas being restated and then applauded by my male colleagues, and enough of women taking the back seat in business and at home.
It was a typical corporate meeting and I was sitting around a board room table in Boston, looking over the harbor. As the subject matter expert in the room, I was being asked questions that I was the only one qualified to answer. When trying to respond, I kept being interrupted by my colleague, and after the third time this happened, I was fuming. I finally looked around the room and dramatically declared; “am I on mute?” This halted the meeting and stopped the serial offender in his tracks. The floor was turned over to me, I shared my views and we continued the discussions.
Oprah talks about ah-ha moment and mine was at that boardroom table, being silenced. I’m an extrovert, the youngest of four loud kids and in my house growing up if you didn’t’t speak up, you weren’t get heard. I thought to myself, if this was happening to me, what about other women out there who are afraid to speak up? Women who won’t raise their hand and allow the didn’t world speak to over and silence them? That’s when I knew I had a higher purpose which is to increase the confidence of women globally so they can advocate for themselves and their position. The next step was pretty clear. I left my corporate sales job a few weeks later, founded my company and eventually published my book, Unmute Yourself and Speak Up to Stand Out.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There are soooooooooooo many but one of t he most interesting ones is didn’t actually a story of what DIDN’T happen to me.
I worked in a global sales role for two decades and in doing so was able to travel the world. I traveled to Asia several times, Europe, the Middle East, Canada and of course all over the U.S. I thrive on calculated risk taking and love love love global travel so it was way out of character for me to say “no” when asked if I would move overseas to lead our global sales offices in Asia.
The job seemed perfect at the time. I was single, I loved to travel, I adore Asia and dreamed of living in Hong Kong, and this was the opportunity for my career dreams to come true.
But in peeling back the layers of the position and going over there to assess the situation, what it would entail, what I would have to sacrifice, the traded offs and the likelihood of success — it just wasn’t a good role for me at the time.
I was terrified to tell my SVP that I was declining the offer — I mean scared shitless. I was asking random strangers on the plane ride back what THEY thought, even the driver who picked me up at the airport to bring me home. They all agreed. Bad idea.
I gathered the courage to speak up and I laid it out for him, shared my thoughts on what I had learned about the role, the country, the culture, in essence the realities of the job. He was not angry, he truly valued the feedback and moved forward with my recommendation on another candidate for the role.
The lesson here? It’s simple and one we need to follow more often. ALWAYS GO WITH YOUR INSTINCTS. You always know what’s best.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
By far the number one and most important character trait for ANY leader, or anyone who wants to truly thrive at work is authenticity. Knowing who you are, then owning who you are and what you bring to the table is a total game changer. I was a successful sales leader for over two decades and while I loved what I did, I always felt like it wasn’t enough. Something was missing for me personally. I know I needed and wanted more, and when I chose to leave that career to pursue my passion and step into my true self, my life changed significantly. I am happier, I am fulfilled and I truly love going to work every day. Everyone deserves this.
Second is a passion for what you are doing or what you are presenting. When you are passionate about something, you will be enthusiastic your enthusiasm is contagious. This means you are able to gain momentum and support for your ideas which has all kinds of benefits for you, your team, your employer. Your passion can help elevate the whole organization! I’m able to take my passion and funnel that into my keynotes and coaching, many time getting hundreds of women excited about the idea of stepping into what hey are. Can you imagine if women everywhere had the confidence to speak up and advocate for themselves? The world would be a much different place.
The last is having the confidence to truly believe that you have earned your seat at the table. This won’t happen every time, but most of the time, knowing that you deserve everything you have and you deserve to be heard. Some of the most powerful women in the world have lacked confidence during their careers. J-Lo, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Fonda have all talked about their own versions of Imposter Syndrome. But it doesn’t have to be this way! Confidence is a skill and like every other skill, with intention, practice and some awareness you can build that skill so you can face each new challenge at work like the badass that you are.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
Oh, so many reasons! We know now that women are socialized differently than men and that key behaviors are seen as desirable for men and undesirable for women. Men are viewed as assertive while women, making the same statement or comment are viewed as too aggressive.
Throughout history women have been coached to be more “likeable” and this is still a huge issue for women. Likeability bias is real and this happens when women are viewed as less likable due to their assertiveness.
Margaret Thatcher trained herself to lower the pitch of her voice to sound more authoritative and women in the spotlight today are still being told their voice is annoying and shrill. Ever heard this critique of a male? Exactly. SO, the key here is for women to take control and learn how to overcome conversation gender bias.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
Absolutely, I have three key examples for how together, we can change behavior in the boardroom and I’ll share a real-life example for one of them.
Choose your words carefully and never start a sentence with “sorry, but” if you are not indeed apologizing for something. Think about it, you are apologizing for being.
Same for “just”. I’m “just checking on the report I asked for”… By using the word “just” you are already diminishing your statement and your point. Think about it. You’re apologizing for doing your job and you sound hesitant and unsure. You can replace:
“I’m just checking on” with “I’m checking on”
“I’m just emailing to find out” with “I’m emailing today because”
“Just wondering if you’d have the time to review” with “Have you had the time to review”
Watch your words in your emails as well. Would you ever walk up to someone at the water cooler and say “hello Mike, attached please find the report you asked for?”? No! You would walk up to Mike and say “hi, Mile, here’s the report you asked for”. So why are we adding the “please find”?
The last example is how many women versus men use the word please in their email communication. Yes, you must remove the word “please” from your emails. I say this understanding fully that it will be highly controversial.
I had a female boss years ago who told me to stop using the word “please” in my emails. I was appalled. While I wanted to get ahead and advance my career, I didn’t’t think I needed to be RUDE. Please is polite. Please is collaborative. Please is a soft and effective way to ask for what you need. Please is also never used in emails sent by men at work.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
The number one thing any woman can do is actually what NOT to do. Do NOT make yourself small, subservient or timid to appease fragile egos (male or female). What women can and should do, is read the room or the people they are around and look within. Are you overcompensating for your own lack of confidence? Are you talking over people to make your point? Are you strident because you are frustrated? Is it really about you, or is everyone nervous? Are you being overly aggressive because you’re upset about the gender bias you’re witnessing? Take a step back and look at your own behavior. Then, when you’re really sure that the problem is with THEM and not you, you can disarm anyone by pausing, taking a breath, arming yourself with a big smile and starting over.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
I have for sure and the good news is, I’m seeing this less and less. My hope for everyone is that eventually, the archaic behavior loses steam. Yes, I’ve been in situations on the golf course where the conversation gets dicey, or inappropriate and I’ve had wildly inappropriate comments directed at me from male colleagues. Again, the best remedy here is to speak up and let the person know that the behavior is not OK. The bullshit that some men got away with years ago is coming to an end. Its’ simply not acceptable any more, and women everywhere need to know this.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The illusion of the mystical unicorn called work/life balance. Balance is bullshit and simply does not exist. Ever. For anyone. What’s most disappointing here is the expectation that the WOMEN have to carry the burden of that balance. How many times have you heard a male CEO being asked who is taking care of the kids? Never. Because it doesn’t happen. Women and women alone face this burden and we need to stop trying to have it all. Because we cannot, and anyone who tells you they are successfully managing the competing demands of family, work, and self-care is either lying to you or kidding themselves.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
I’m going to be very direct here and it’s coming from a place of love. You do NOT have as many hours in the day as Beyonce so stop trying to HAVE.IT.ALL. Because you can’t. Men are unapologetically imbalanced in other areas of their lives because they have prioritized career success and women are judged and maligned for doing the exactly same thing. The image of the uber-mom, rolling up to soccer practice in her SUV, looking not only presentable but professional with a gym-fit body, running a meeting on her phone with her wireless earbuds while handing sliced oranges and water bottles out the car window, groceries in the back seat, skillfully managing multiple children and deadlines — hers and everyone’s, dinner, travel schedules, neighbors, the household and late-night emails — has GOT TO GO.
Make your choices and decisions based on what’s best for you and your family and then have the grace to unapologetically honor those decisions. Just like the men do.
For me, this has always been about boundaries. At work, at home, with friends, family and colleagues. Doing the work needed to know that you need to so to thrive, then ruthlessly sticking to these boundaries for the sake of everyone.
I’ll give you a recent example. I have an early morning routine which I need to follow in order to set my day up for success. It’s usually less than an hour and is pretty simple. Quick journaling, some kind of cardio and priorities for the day both personal and professionally. I do this before anyone else is up and am done before anyone is stirring. Recently I’ve gone a few days in a row without sticking to my routine and I’ve felt very out of sorts. So, I chatted with my husband, told him what I needed from him and got back into it the next day. It’s pretty simple. Communicate what you need from others so that you can be the best version of yourself.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
The Tipping Point for me was when I left a very toxic work environment and immediately realized how much better my life became and in fact, my whole being changed. I was absolutely miserable in my job (which on paper was an amazing job) due to a maniacal boss, ridiculous hours, unrealistic expectations and a totally toxic culture. She would send texts at all hours of the day and night, they would text me during meetings, even while I was speaking, and one week she made me take three round trip flights in one week so that I didn’t miss “her” portion of a meeting we were attending. I was miserable and it showed. I wasn’t pleasant to be around, my family was noticing, my team at work was miserable and it was awful. I didn’t’ like who I was becoming and I felt completely trapped. One particularly challenging day I said to myself “This is it. No more”. I resigned that night and immediately felt like myself again. I didn’t throw a party and I didn’t’ call my friends and family to celebrate. It was a very difficult decision and I felt in some part like I had failed — but that’s bullshit. SHE had failed. The COMPANY had failed me for allowing someone with those values to be a leader. And I learned a very powerful lesson. The minute a company culture or boss starts to change you — you need to make a change.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
I think it’s important to differentiate here between beautiful, attractive and polished. For me as a career sales leader turned public speaker, appearance is important. But not necessarily beauty. In fact, for some women their good looks can be a liability. Many times, they are underestimated or overlooked by both men and women.
Attractive, is in the eye of the beholder and if you’re are walking into a presentation feeling bad about yourself and worried about your outfit or how you LOOK, this will impact your confidence and your ability to be persuasive in your presentation. The basics here are all you need. A clean, updated outfit that makes you feel like a power boss or whatever you do that makes you feel powerful will do the trick. I used to get a weekly blowout when I was traveling all the time and this was not about vanity, but about confidence. I feel on top of the world when my hair is done, or my skin looks great and I’m not ashamed to say this. When I look good to me, I feel good to me and this impacts my confidence, my demeanor and my ability to go out there and kick ass. But that’s me. For the women who are out there and have the confidence they need without any extra bells and whistles, even better!
How is this similar or different for men? I don’t think it’s all that different for men. I truly don’t. I have discussed Imposter Syndrome with many male colleagues and share the same feelings.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- A reality check. Drop the unrealistic expectations you put on yourself. Know that you can’t get it all done. Make strategic decisions for your career and your life, then allow yourself the grace to honor those decisions. You do not have as many hours in the day as Beyonce, so stop trying to have it all. I learned this the hard way and it almost killed my career and my spirit. You are in charge of what you allow or don’t allow into your life and your life becomes a lot better when you honor YOUR version of balance.
- Know yourself. Know what you need in order to thrive. What can you include in your daily routine to ensure you thrive at work? On the road? At home? Figure this out then unapologetically stick to what you know you need to do. When I was traveling every week, this was as simple for me as a little candle in my hotel room, or making the time to catch up with old friends while in their part of the world, or making sure I got a quick run in, wherever I was. An early morning jog is a wonderful way to see a new city.
- Confidence. Confidence to step into your strengths and own your authenticity. You absolutely can do what you love to do, and only what you love to do, and get paid for doing it. Everyone deserves this and everyone can enjoy life at work on their terms. The key is to think about what you really love to do, then find a job or career which allows you to do this most of the time. Most people have it backwards…the look for the role, the title, the job. What they really should be looking for is the day to day, how they will be spending their time, who they will be interacting with and THEN decide if the position is right for hem. And the confidence to say no if it’s not. I refer back to my Hong Kong example here — on paper it was the dream job. Huge promotion, glamourous lifestyle, big pay increase…but I knew in my heart it wasn’t right for me and I eventually found the confidence and courage to say so.
- A personal Board of Directors. These are the people who care about you, know you well and will always tell you the truth, even if it’s something you don’t want to hear. As you make your way through your career, people will come on and off of your Personal Board of Directors. If you’re lucky, a few will be with you from day one. They may or may not work for the same company and no more than 50% should work in your industry or for your firm or company. If you only rely on people within your company, you will only get the company viewpoint. There are a lot of smart people out there who grew up very differently than you in Corporate America, and you will benefit from an outsider’s viewpoint whenever possible. And try not to self-select people who are going to make you feel good about yourself. You need people who will be honest, who know and understand you and will help you make difficult decisions.
- Support. I’m not talking about tactical support like a nanny, assistant, an app. I’m talking about emotional support. People who will have your back no matter what and this support comes in many ways. This could be your friends, your family, your spouse…anyone who can help you blow off steam and offer you help when you need it the most. Your ride or die.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Abby Wambach. Abby has been a strong advocate for gender pay equity for many years and is now taking the mission further with women in business and leadership roles. Not only is she a powerful public figure (and exceptionally talented athlete), she walks the talks and shows up consistently for her wolf pack. I’d love to talk with her more because, while I agree with what she’s saying, I also believe that the WOMEN are holding themselves back in many cases. And I think we need to talk about this more. It’s not always about the decks being stacked against women, which they are, but we have also fewer women in leadership roles because they aren’t raising their own hand. Research abounds about female CEOS and how few of them actually put themselves on a track for CEO. They didn’t’ even consider this until they were told they would make a great CEO. And who told them to go for it? You guessed it. The men.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.