Sallie Krawcheck may not have meant these to be the highlights of her book, but they stick nontheless.
Like most entrepreneurs, I’m a voracious reader. Full disclosure, though? About half the books I consume in any given year have nothing whatsoever to do with business or the startup life, and instead they take me on wild flights of imagination or mystery.
I chalk it up to exercising the creative side of my brain.
Occasionally, however, a special book manages to bridge the divide between imaginative and pragmatic, between inspiration or motivation; on one hand and practical, hands-on advice on the other for my day-to-day life as a business owner.
Sallie Krawcheck’s Own It: The Power of Women at Work is one such book. Krawcheck published the book in 2017, but a mentor of mine recently recommended I read it, and I can see why. I was along for the ride with Krawcheck, one anecdote at a time. I was inspired when she was inspired. I was angry when she was angry. When she proposed a solution, I bought in.
It wasn’t because I could relate to her as a Wall Street CEO (I’m not one); it was more about her narrative, no-BS style that resonates so strongly with professional women who have been in the game long enough to cut to the chase, directly and honestly.
The irony, however, is that my takeaways from Krawcheck’s book are probably not what she may have intended. Here are four of them, unconventional as they may be.
1. “I drank wine. And then I drank more wine.”
The wine industry is my home base as an entrepreneur, so both my ears and the corners of my mouth perked up when I heard this line. Krawcheck wasn’t giving advice about drinking or running a beverage alcohol business; she was just being frank about her reaction to a very tough day.
And there’s the appeal: candor, and pulling back the curtain on what would seem to be a top-of-the-world career. It isn’t always “top,” which means that getting real about the bottom helps to establish trust and relatability. That shows through in Krawcheck’s writing just as much as it showed through in her front-page-earning business moves.
2. Play in traffic.
In other words, get in there. Put yourself in the mix. Raise your hand for the tough assignments. Be visible and courageous.
We’ve all heard some version of this piece of advice, but phrasing it as “playing in traffic” communicates both a sense of perspective (via the levity of “play”) and risk. Yes, there are cars coming and yes, we could very well get hurt. But there’s also no other way to cross the road to our prized destination on the other side.
3. Listen to the critics, not the cynics.
Haters are one thing; constructive criticizers are something else. We could learn from both of them, as long as we don’t dwell too long on either “style” of negativity.
Haters and cynics share a kind of negativity that spirals down, without an indication of eventually changing direction to head back to the surface. Constructive critics, on the other hand, are negative with a purpose. Entrepreneurship isn’t always blue sky and, certainly, it helps to be alerted to red-zone danger areas. Note the danger and change course if necessary for your own business but, in every case, the most important thing is to move on and keep moving forward.
4. Mentoring is also reverse mentoring.
Krawcheck is the co-founder and CEO of Ellevest, which is a digital investment platform that most recently raised $34.5 million in fundraising last March. The platform is designed for women, so it’s no surprise that she advocates for women helping other women to get a leg up.
The differentiator, to me, of Krawcheck’s strategy here is to be realistic and pragmatic about what’s “in it” for the women who are doing the helping. In the case of mentorship, for example, try a mental shift to your approach.
We aren’t just mentoring someone else for the sake of that someone else’s career; we’re also mentoring someone else in order to spend time with them, and to learn some things that they know that we may not know yet, which in turn can very well help our own careers particularly if we’re in a time of transition. That’s the “reverse mentoring” component of traditional mentoring, and it’s an example of turning established ways of doing things on their heads.