Janet speaks frankly about the awkward moments that accompanied her steady climb as a female executive, telling me how, “I’d go to business meetings as the CEO, and they would look right past me and say, ‘Where is he?’”
Rather than stamping her feet, Janet used humor and subtlety: “One of the best pieces of advice I learned is to always make others look and feel good. I make them laugh and I redirect the situation.”
She put that approach to use at a high-stakes meeting in Mexico City when her counterpart in a joint venture mistook her for a secretary and asked her to serve tea to the 25-person group. “I just turned to someone on my team and said, ‘Even though I grew up in the UK, I’m actually not good at making tea, so could you please pour the tea?’ I made my point and we moved on to discuss the deal,” says Janet, noting how the other executive discreetly studied her business card and realized she was in charge.
Learning to redirect the discussion has been invaluable whenever Janet was the only female in the room. “I can’t tell you the number of times I wanted to discuss a project and someone would ask me, ‘How are your kids?’ It’s always a work in progress to bring the conversation back to business, but I’d reply, “The kids are fine – thanks for asking – but I want to tell you about something we’re working on…”
Many of Janet’s tips come from her time on the stage, or absorbing the tricks of improvisational comedy, where performers must handle unexpected moments and respond with speed.
To this day, she utilizes the “First thought can be the best thought” motto. Explains Janet, “In a meeting, it’s easy to get sucked into group think, so don’t dismiss the initial thought you had because it may well be the best idea.”
Janet also notes how her stage training improved her leadership style: “On the stage, even a lead actor cannot be successful without a supporting cast, else it’s just a long soliloquy. You need to draw others out and respond to their actions and ideas. Humor is also great for breaking down barriers. That’s how you become a great leader and empower your team.”