“Auto-Pilot Is Not An Option” and Other Lessons We Learned At Wharton (Part II)

The Financial Times recently reported that women make up 37 percent of those who attend a full-time MBA programs in the US, an increase from 33 percent five years ago and 30 percent a decade ago.

We met a few of those women on January 20th, when we spent the 1-year anniversary of the publication of our book, Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work, at the Wharton Women Business Conference in Pennsylvania.

Several accomplished women (including Jessica) were there to share their wisdom and insights with the 200-plus attendees from the college and graduate program. On the day’s docket were  Cindy DiPietrantonio, COO of The Jones GroupTracy Travis, CFO of Ralph Lauren CorporationJessica Steel, EVP of business development for Pandora Media Inc.; Alex Witt, NBC correspondent and MSNBC anchor; and Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, executive vice president and artistic director of OPI Products Inc. Keynote speaker Uta Werner, corporate vice president and chief strategy officer of Xerox Corporation, rounded out the speaker list.

There were so many great nuggets of advice, we knew that we had to break it into two different blog posts. Part I was posted last week. Now, without further ado, is the second half:

Leadership isn’t limited to the C-Suite: In Be Your Own Best Publicist we suggest that people “fake it ’til you make it,” because we believe (as did the women who spoke at WWBC) that appearing confident is key, particularly when it comes to leadership. Interestingly, though, being a leader at work doesn’t necessarily mean that your name’s on the door or that you sit in a corner office . Engineer-turned-CFO Travis explained: “Even as an individual contributor (versus a team leader), you can still demonstrate leadership; influence skills can sometimes be more important than having direct  responsibility for the team.” Whatever your level, everyone agreed that having honor and being upright is of the utmost importance. Travis added, “You lose credibility quickly if you don’t have integrity.”


Get some life support: All the speakers underscored the importance of having a supportive spouse, friends or family as a way to get through the tough times and move ahead. It’s just as important to have a champion — be it a mentor or sponsor — in the workplace; you need people who believe in you and will give you confidence. Wherever you are, don’t be afraid to share what you do and where your interests lie; anyone you meet could be a valuable connection. To illustrate that point, DiPietrantonio laughingly shared that the Jones Group HR team jokes that she’s recruited more people from behind the counter at Starbucks than anywhere else.

Prioritize your priorities: A recurring theme throughout the day was how essential it is to know what’s important to you and where you should focus your energy. MSNBC’s Alex Witt doesn’t let anything come between her and her top priority, her kids — not even being on air.  The anchor shared that she leaves her phone on, even when she’s on camera, so that her children can always reach her. Bottom line: Happiness at home translates to more productivity and success at work. Smart companies know this — and that’s the shift that we’re seeing towards supporting work/life balance for families.


Auto-pilot is not an option: As Oprah says, “When you do your best, people notice.” This was reiterated in various ways throughout the conference. Werner expounded, “You have to fully engage and do an outstanding job at whatever you do. People will notice when you do a good job — AND when you don’t.” Also important: Being internally in the loop and externally networked to know what opportunities are available. And, as Werner recommended, when complacency and comfort  set in at a position, it’s time to move on.

If you don’t recognize failure, it won’t recognize you. This was one of the many gems shared by Steel over the course of the day, though the concept of taking risks and learning from mistakes (we call it “Failing forward”) came up quite a bit. Some of the best lessons in life come from missteps and so-called failures. Take them to heart and you’ll avoid the same pitfalls down the road.  Ignore the insights, and risk repeating the mistakes.

What’s the best career lesson you’ve learned?  Share with us here, on Facebook or Twitter (@BestPublicist).

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