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.

REGISTER NOW

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 , |

ENCORE | Influence: How to Change Minds and Win at Work | 2019 Session

The ability to sway opinions, encourage buy-in or convince individuals to completely change their stance on a subject is a powerful skill to harness at work and in life. And changing hearts is an important part of changing minds. In fact, research shows that appealing to human emotion can help you make your case and build your authority as a leader. The Thought Leader will set the stage for an exploration of influence by sharing a brief presentation followed by  a conversation with an engaging panel to explore frameworks for developing influence, as well as success stories and pitfalls to avoid. Walk away with simple tactics you can use to every day to change minds and win at work! Read More

Play
Posted in Communication Skills, Negotiating, Breakout Session Tagged , , , , |

Outspoken: Amplify Your Voice | 2019 Session

It’s undeniable: Women’s voices often aren’t heard—at work, at home, in every facet of their lives. The fault lies not with women, but in a culture that seeks to silence women’s voices. Communications expert Veronica Rueckert will kick off the session with insights, then join a conversation with expert panelists who will offer advice and skills to help you harness and understand your own voice and learn how to use it with confidence. Read More

Play
Posted in Negotiating, Job Advancement, Breakout Session Tagged , , , , , |

Networking: Become a Self-Promotion Pioneer | 2019 Session

Networking is no longer just about schmoozing at an occasional event after work. It happens in person and online and it’s a 24/7 job. Self-promotion, although not always comfortable for people (especially women and introverts) is a critical aspect of networking in 2019. Communications strategist Karen Wickre opens this session with her insights and step by step advice, followed by a conversation with expert panelists to discuss ways to nail that first impression and how to present yourself that creates the brand you want before someone brands you on their own. Attendees will walk away inspired and armed to become a self-promotion pioneer whether you’re sitting behind a screen or in the flesh. Read More

Play
Posted in Negotiating, Job Advancement, Breakout Session Tagged , , , , , |

Ask for It: Success for Women Begins With Negotiation Savvy | 2019 Session

Whether it’s a higher salary, much-deserved promotion, or more help at home, women find it hard to ask for what they want and refrain from negotiating even when they know that negotiation is necessary to get what they deserve. They pay for this reluctance in every aspect of their lives—in lost income, slower career progress, barred access to leadership roles at work, and health risks at home. Led by Sara Laschever, co-author of the groundbreaking Women Don’t Ask, this session will guide you through the process of becoming a more confident, savvy, and successful negotiator. Walk away feeling inspired and empowered to ask for what you want in ways that feel comfortable and work best for women. Read More

Play
Posted in Negotiating, Job Advancement, Breakout Session Tagged , , |

Overcome Unconscious Bias | Podcast

Click Play below to listen. 

In the thick of conference season, we decided to record this interview with Dr. Tiffany Jana in advance, and make it available for you to listen to at your convenience.

Let us know what you think about this new format in the comments!


Read More

Play
Posted in Podcasts, Embrace the Unknown, Communication Skills, Negotiating, Success & Leadership, Innovation Tagged , |

Kick Your Fear of Negotiating—and Get More Money | Podcast

Click Play below to listen.

Speak up! Ask for more! Always negotiate! This advice is so much easier said than done. In 30 minutes, Kristin Wong, author of Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford, will share her own experience going from chronic under-earner to six-figure freelance writer and explain research-backed negotiation strategies and useful psychological concepts like “anchoring.” With her tips, you’ll be confident and comfortable making your ask—and get the raise you deserve.
Read More

Play
Posted in Podcasts, Financial Fitness, Negotiating Tagged |

The Art of Pushing Back: Advocate for Yourself Successfully | Podcast

Click Play below to listen. 

We all know it’s important to speak up when we’re being challenged to our face. But what about all the informal opportunities to self-advocate that crop up on a daily basis? In this 30-minute teleclass, Selena Rezvani, author of Pushback: How Smart Women Ask—and Stand Up—for What They Want, will teach you how to amplify your voice at work by preparing ideas that are promotable, recognizing opportunities to back yourself, navigating the conversation with ease and employing a resilience mindset.
Read More

Play
Posted in Podcasts, Life on Your Terms, Marketing Yourself & Your Small Business, Communication Skills, Negotiating, Job Advancement Tagged |

Office Hours: Help for When a Colleague Makes More Than You

You just found out that a coworker is paid more than you. But the two of you have the same job. What should you do?

You could call your network (and you should). You could also read our new column, “Office Hours,” where we’ll be posing your burning career questions to our board members and other Conference for Women friends.

Here’s what four business leaders from our boards would recommend doing if you’re underpaid—advice you can take to the bank, literally! Read More

Posted in Career, Speaker Articles, Communication Skills, Financial Fitness, Negotiating, Office Hours Tagged , , , , |

What No One Tells You About Negotiating | Podcast

Amy TraskClick Play below to listen.

Forget “winning.” To reach agreement—the real goal of any negotiation—focus on communication and collaboration. Amy Trask, former CEO of the Oakland Raiders and current BIG3 chairman of the board, has 30+ years of deal-making experience. In this 30-minute teleclass, the author of You Negotiate Like a Girl: Reflections on a Career in the National Football League will share her strategies for identifying the points that matter most to each party, showing your cards without putting yourself at a disadvantage and arriving at a deal that’s mutually beneficial. Read More

Play
Posted in Podcasts, Negotiating Tagged |
Virtual Conference Registration Now Open! REGISTER NOW
X

What you need to succeed in work and life now.

Smart, timely insights from inspiring women.
Delivered twice monthly to more than 150,000 subscribers.