Staying Calm In A Crisis: Tips From The Woman Who Faced Down Somali Pirates

Michelle J. Howard

When Admiral Michelle J. Howard was 12, she saw a show about people who attended U.S. military academies and realized that was what she wanted to do.

“You can’t,” her older brother said. “It’s closed to women.”She thought he was messing with her and went to her mother.

“He’s right,” her mom said. “But you’re only 12. You might change your mind. And, if you don’t and want to apply, you should apply. If you don’t get in, we’ll sue the government and take it to the Supreme Court.” Even if it is too late for you to attend, she added, it wouldn’t be for other women.

It proved a powerful lesson for the woman who went on to become the:

  • The highest-ranking woman in U.S. Arms Forces history,
  • Highest ranking African-American and woman in Navy history,
  • First woman to become a 4-star Admiral, and
  • Person in charge when the Navy faced down Somali pirates to rescue Captain Phillips (of Tom Hanks fame.)

We recently caught up with Admiral Howard to ask her advice about how to stay calm in a crisis and lead in these times of great uncertainty. Here are some highlights:

On keeping calm under stress

“My mother and father raised us to take a deep breath. Sometimes, you have to react in seconds—but honestly, not usually unless you’re in combat. I think most people do not give themselves time to breathe. I know it’s not easy but you’ve got to distance yourself from the information you’re receiving. It’s just information. It’s not going to kill you.”

On dealing with the unknown

“I would try to take time, and get my teams to take time, to think about what potential crises could be and then walk our way through how we would respond. If you are surprised by events, give yourself more time for your imagination to work. It’s the art of the long view: identify the worst, best, and middle case scenario. You will go down one of those three avenues or something in between.”

On the commitment to lead

“The most fundamental thing about leadership is you have to choose. You have to decide for yourself whether or not you want to be a leader. It’s not something you are just going to fall into. It has to be something that drives your passion—knowing: I am the right person to get this in a better place. I am the person to make this better.”

On stamina

“I read about women pioneers in the Navy and the 1800s and science; andI and tried to sort through the common characteristics of those who were successful in nontraditional roles. The stamina piece is pretty key: being not necessarily the strongest in the room but as fit as you can be because you need stamina for the journey.”

On traveling light

“A lot of trailblazing women had a wonderful sense of humor. If you can’t see the humor in your unique situation, you add more to your mental burdens. I talk about it as ‘traveling light.’ You could go another way and think: ‘Oh my gosh, I have all these burdens, I just can’t do it.’ You could spend a lifetime focused on all that pain and anguish. And, I suppose you could have a life of satisfaction that way. But you would be missing out on a life of satisfaction tied to success.”

On being yourself

“I have been asked to talk about leadership and women as leaders since I was a mid-grade officer. A lot of times people say talk about yourself. I say talking about myself may not help you. You be the best you. You’re not going to be able to do me right.”

On connecting with other women

“Women pioneers had quilting bees. It was not about the quilt. It was about hooking up with other women. The Massachusetts Conference for Women is the biggest quilting bee!”

LEARN MORE! Admiral Michelle J. Howard will join Golden Globe Award-winning actress Awkwafina, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and more amazing women at the 2020 virtual Massachusetts Conference for Women.

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IN OTHER NEWS

  • Anti-Racism: Skills for the Workplace Now. “Anti-racism is a lifestyle that we’re constantly committing to. You have to be anti-racist in the workplace and in your personal life, too…it’s an active belief system in all parts of our lives,” Britt Hawthorne said in a conversation presented by The Massachusetts Conference for Women, The Boston Globe, and State Street. Watch it here.
  • Best of the Archives: Check out the newly released sessions on Best Breakouts, an audio series featuring timeless insights from our archives. Listen here.
  • Highlighting a friend: The Harvard Business Review‘s podcast Women at Work is a trove of information and support for moving your career forward. Catch up on five seasons of conversations on HBR.org or wherever you listen to podcasts, and the team will be back this fall with more stories, interviews, and advice.

More from the August 2020 Newsletter

Posted in Speaker Articles, Life on Your Terms, Embrace the Unknown, Career Choices, Networking, Life Balance, Negotiating, Goals & Priorities, Success & Leadership, Job Advancement, Innovation Tagged , |

The Expert Q&A – on Engaging Male Allies

Trish FosterWith Bentley University’s Trish Foster

Q: Many men say they support equality for women in the workplace. But being an “ally” involves taking action. What are some examples of the most important kinds of actions male allies can take to advance gender equality in the workplace?

This is a big question! Men who want to be authentic allies need to actively, vocally, and visibly support, mentor, and sponsor women (and other underrepresented individuals). And they need to take action in everyday moments, like amplifying for women in meetings and advocating for them when they aren’t in the room. But before they can do all of this, and become authentic allies, they have to do some introspective work. I recommend three things: Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Networking, Job Advancement Tagged , |

The Fix: Overcoming the Invisible Barriers to Creating Cultures of Equality at Work

Michelle P. King
 
For years, we have heard that to succeed at work, we have to change—lean in, negotiate like a man, hold back on being nice. But Michelle King, Director of Inclusion for Netflix and author of the new book, The Fix, says we don’t need to fix women, we need to fix work—for the sake of women, men and the future of innovation.
 

Scroll down and click Play to listen in your browser. Or subscribe to Women Amplified wherever you get your podcasts, and take advantage of Conference for Women speakers year-round!

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Posted in Podcasts, Life on Your Terms, Job Advancement, Innovation, Women Amplified: A Podcast from the Conferences for Women Tagged , |

Want to Advance in Your Career? Try These 5 Ways to Make Yourself Known

Gabrielle Simpson Gambrell

If people were promoted just for being great at their job, there would undoubtedly be more women in leadership roles. But while leaders need to continue to work to make workplaces more equitable, there are also things women can do to help advance their own careers—and one of the most important may be making yourself known.

At least, it certainly worked for Gabrielle Simpson Gambrell, who advanced from a production assistant role to the first black woman to become Vice President and Head of Marketing & Communications at Barnard College by the age of 27.

She recently shared five of her strategies with the Conference for Women community. Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Job Advancement Tagged , , |

CFW Board Member on How to Support Women of Color in the Workplace

Tamara Fields

We asked Tamara Fields, Texas Conference for Women board member and Austin Office Managing Director at Accenture, what leaders and white women allies can do to help women of color advance in their workplace. Here are her answers: Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Success & Leadership, Job Advancement Tagged , |

What It Will Take for All Women to Advance

Minda Harts

Minda Harts noticed something recently while being on the circuit of women’s events over the past year. When she signed copies of her new book, The Memo, she rarely saw a white woman. That’s not surprising perhaps, given the book’s subtitle, What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table. But it is, in her view, a missed opportunity.

“I often say success is not a solo sport,” Minda recently said. “If we saw each other as resources, we could get so much more accomplished.” But to do that, takes the courage to listen to and understand other people’s experiences—to pay more attention to the intersection of race and gender, among other things, that fall under the commitment to gender equality. Only then, she suggests, can women succeed in doing what is required for true gender equality: namely, turn allyship into action. Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Success & Leadership, Job Advancement Tagged , |

50/50: Rethinking the Past, Present & Future of Women and Power | 2019 Session

50/50 gives the 10,000 year history of gender + power — from setbacks and uprisings, to the bigger context of where we are today. Using her signature, cinematic-thought-essay style, Emmy-nominated filmmaker & founder of The Webby Awards Tiffany Shlain brings us on an electric ride to explore, where are we really on the greater arc of history of women and power? This session will kick-off by viewing this powerful 20 minute film. We will then discuss what it’s going to take to get to a #5050 world — not just politics and board rooms, but truly shifting the gender balance to be better for everyone. Read More

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Posted in Success & Leadership, Job Advancement, Innovation, Breakout Session Tagged , , , |

ENCORE | Feedback (and Other Dirty Words): Why We Fear It, How to Fix It | 2019 Session

For many of us, “feedback” is a dirty word that brings up feelings of resentment and self-doubt. However, understanding how others experience us provides valuable opportunities to learn and grow. This session will help you learn how to take the sting out of feedback and reclaim it as a motivating, empowering experience. We will explore how to minimize the negative physical and emotional responses that can erode trust and shut down communication. Engaging in hands-on exercises and using real-world examples, attendees will learn how to give and receive effective, focused and fair feedback – and put these ideas into action right away! Read More

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Posted in Communication Skills, Job Advancement, Breakout Session Tagged , , |

ENCORE | Communication: Speak Up. Stand Out. | 2019 Session

Effective communication is more than just words and phrases. It’s a projection of your competence and even your potential as a leader. Great communicators can voice their vision confidently, move plans and projects forward, and present their ideas across all levels of an organization. Join this workshop for actionable steps to develop your own communication style. Learn to: go from invisible to visible; communicate both up and down the ladder; and speak with clarity and confidence so that your ideas are heard, your value is clear, and your opinions are remembered. Read More

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Posted in Marketing Yourself & Your Small Business, Communication Skills, Job Advancement, Breakout Session Tagged , , |

Hyperfocus: Productivity in a World of Distraction | 2019 Session

The research is clear: the state of our attention determines the state of our lives. Yet our attention has never been as overwhelmed or in-demand as it is today. We’ve never been so busy while accomplishing so little, and we’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with a lack of stimulation and distraction. This engaging workshop is a practical guide to managing your attention—the most powerful resource you have to get stuff done, become more creative, and live a meaningful life. Attendees will walk away with actionable tips to: Read More

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Posted in Marketing Yourself & Your Small Business, Communication Skills, Job Advancement, Breakout Session Tagged , , |
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