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 Biggest Danger Women Pose to the Status Quo

Pat Mitchell

Start 2020 strong with Pat Mitchell, first female president of CNN Productions and PBS, co-founder and curator of TEDWomen, global advocate for women’s rights, and author of Becoming a Dangerous Woman.

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!

Read More

Posted in Podcasts, Life on Your Terms, Networking, Success & Leadership Tagged , , |

The Q&A: Barbara Borgonovi

Barbara Borgonovi

Innovation award-winner Barbara Borgonovi:

 

“This is the power of diverse teams: We are better together.”

Barbara Borgonovi, Vice President of Integrated Communication Systems for Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, shares 5 insights into her childhood dream job, how she navigates being the only woman in the room, what she’s learned about career advancement and innovation—and what she’d want a mentor to tell her if she was just starting out today. Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Networking Tagged , |

Networking is More (and Less) Than You Think

Laura Okmin

Sometimes, the most valuable lessons come from the most humbling moments. At least, it was one of those moments that gave FOX NFL reporter Laura Okmin one of her greatest insights in what not to do when networking.

As a young reporter, and the first woman to be covering TV news in Alabama, she had gotten to know Charles Barkley, the NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist.

“One day, I called Charles and he answered the phone and said: “Well, well, well. Laura Okmin, what do you need?” And I went: “Well, can’t a girl just call and say hello?” “A girl can,” he said. “You just never do.…I know when you call, you need something. So, what do you need?”

Register one of the biggest networking mistakes: always having an agenda. From then on, Okmin made sure she reached out to offer something—such as, congratulations on wins and condolences on losses—more often than she asked for something. She’d learned that networking is really about relationship-building.

Here are 3 more tips from Conference for Women experts: Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Networking Tagged , , , |

Real Advice for Women Seeking Mentors and Allies

Portrait of David SmithIf your mentors all look like you, you have a mentor problem. Same goes if they all have similar backgrounds and work histories or if you have only one—or none.

“Your mentors should be a diverse network,” says David Smith, an expert on gender workplace issues and co-author of Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women. “If they’re not, you’re missing out on key perspectives and information, and you’re probably not being challenged enough in your thinking.”

Of course, for women in male-dominated fields such as the military (Smith’s background), the problem isn’t having too many mentors who look like you (i.e., female). The problem is having a mentor, period. Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Career Choices, Communication Skills, Networking, Job Advancement Tagged , |

5 Tips to Feel More Comfortable at Networking Events

This is one thing Alice Rutkowski, an executive communication and presence coach who has worked with more than 8,000 executives over the past 20-some years, wishes everyone knew:

Body language reflects what you believe about yourself and others.

“Consciously and unconsciously, we are reading others and they are reading us all the time,” says Rutkowski, vice president of executive development at Sagin. “For example, whether you’re sitting or standing, crossing your legs can convey nervousness. It puts your body out of alignment, and being unbalanced isn’t conducive to feeling confident—and people can see that.” Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Marketing Yourself & Your Small Business, Communication Skills, Networking Tagged , |

How to Network When You’re Too Busy to Network

By Molly Brennan, Founding Partner, Koya Leadership Partners

We all know that networking is a key building block for professional advancement. But with the competing demands of personal and professional lives, networking takes time that many of us just don’t have. So, how do you network when you’re too busy to network?

Here are eight ways to increase and mobilize your network, strategically and purposefully, without clocking hours at meet-and-greets or informational meetings. Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Networking Tagged , |

Thinking of Joining a Non-Profit Board?

Gail HunterAbout 20 years ago, when she worked for the Seattle Mariners, Gail Hunter reached out to the YMCA of Greater Seattle about joining its board. “My family had been members forever and it was a big part of my childhood,” says Hunter, now vice president of public affairs and event management for the Golden State Warriors. “I wanted to give back.”

But expanding your network, acquiring new skills or even giving your résumé a boost are all fine reasons for wanting to join a non-profit board, according to Hunter. That is, “as long as you are willing to do the work,” she says. “Organizations need their board members to be committed and active.” Read More

Posted in Speaker Articles, Career Choices, Networking, Success & Leadership, Office Hours Tagged , |

Mentoring Relationships Encourage Success for Women in Tech

Briana Curran

By Briana Curran, Vice President, Communications & Community Relations, Wells Fargo

Over 8,000 miles, not to mention key cultural differences in home and work life, separate Wells Fargo team member Prathibha Mandhula and her mentor, Holly Rollefson. Yet Rollefson, an analytics manager in enterprise data and analytics in Minneapolis, says she has long made it a priority to advocate for gender and ethnic diversity throughout her career in technology.

“Many women face similar challenges across cultures,” Rollefson says. “Prathibha and I were really able to forge a relationship and learn from each other.”

For Mandhula, a technology manager in enterprise global services in Hyderabad, India, a strong bond with a female mentor in the United States has helped bridge the geographical gap. “India still has a traditionally male-dominated culture, and that can bring challenges for women both at work and at home,” Mandhula says. “Holly, who always makes time to connect with me, has shown me how to be a thoughtful, direct and inclusive leader who can take in diverse perspectives and work past any conflicts that may arise.” Read More

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