Growing up in the Philippines, I was taught to be humble and accommodating, rather than outspoken or bold. We were encouraged to get along, rather than rock the boat.
My first jobs were with two of the world’s top companies,
Procter & Gamble and Hewlett-Packard. My global colleagues were extroverted
and confident – they always knew the right thing to say. I found myself too
intimidated to speak up in meetings. Not a quality that was going to fast-track
me for a leadership position.
I’m petite – 5’ flat. On top of that, I’m an Asian woman, so
I look much younger than I am. As a director of strategy and planning at a
Fortune 50, I had to learn how to boost my presence, command the room, and
engage executive audiences effectively.
So what changed that allowed me to confidently lead global
teams and work with senior executives? I took control of my presence. Coming
from a technical background, I had to learn that it’s not just about the facts
– how I say something is just as important as what I say.
Here’s how you can strengthen your presence and
instantly own the room.
1. Connect With Your Listeners
Eye contact helps you connect with your audience and show confidence. It’s a powerful connection tool, and it’s all about balance. Too little and you seem detached. Stare them down and you seem creepy. The most effortless way to relate to your audience without detracting from what you’re saying is to follow “one person, one thought.” That is, each thought gets delivered to one set of eyes.
Tip:When seated, look for ‘power positions.’ Position yourself somewhere in the room where you can see the group and make eye contact with key stakeholders.
2. Own Your Space
Gestures reinforce your message, and help you own your space. When standing, open your gestures and demonstrate a strong stance. Don’t be afraid to visually express what you’re saying, but keep it in the “gesture zone” – from about your chin to your waist, and just over shoulder width.
Tip:When seated, keep your hands on or above the table and remember to gesture naturally.
3. Take Your Time
Pace and pauses tell your audience that what you’re saying matters. Power is never rushed. When you sound confident, it’s easier for your audience to have confidence in you. If you speak too fast, you risk sounding nervous or uncomfortable, and you send one of two wrong messages:
“What I’m saying isn’t important enough to take up your time,” or,
“I don’t care if you understand, I just want to dump my info on you.”
Tip:Slow down and use pauses to command attention and emphasize key points. There’s power in the pause.
Follow these three quick suggestions and you’ll come across
as confident and credible.
Hear Ching tell her story and see her put these executive presence tips into action in this 3-minute video.
Some people cope with change, like it’s a disease. Some deal with change as if it’s a necessary evil. Some embrace change, seeing it for the possibilities it brings. And some of us, by virtue of our circumstances, actually develop a talent for ensuring that change results in evolution, taking an organization to the next step. Scott Halliday is wrapping up an almost four-year stint as the Chairman & Area Managing Partner for Japan for EY, the global audit, tax, transaction and consulting firm. A Californian by birth, Halliday’s 38-year career with the firm has landed him in leadership roles in two regions in the U.S., in the U.K., and most recently in Tokyo. In each area, his mandate wasn’t to be ready for change, but to propel it, and to do so mindful of cultural differences, the EY brand and his own personal ethos of leadership. He shared his top three strategies for leading a successful team through major changes. Each piece of advice resonates in the unique setting of a global organization, and in the broader context of our lives.
1. Surround yourself
with good people you can trust.
According to Halliday, leadership is a team activity. You’re
only as good as the people around you. Your job is to help them be the best
they can be. He has two strategic questions for those who work under him.
First, he asks, “What are the three skills you are working
on for self-improvement?” Halliday said,
“This question helps me understand how self-aware the person is. We all have skills, approaches and attitudes we can work on. I want to be working with people who are constantly trying to improve their performance.”
Second, he asks, “What challenges have you had to overcome?”
Sometimes this means more broadly in life, and sometimes it means in the last
week or so.
“Life is short and we all have a lot to get done. I find it most helpful to work with people who have energy and enthusiasm. People who can identify challenges they have faced and how they have overcome those headwinds are the ones most likely to show up at work with a can-do spirit. When setbacks occur, which they frequently do in business and life, I want team members who can wake up in the morning with a renewed sense of energy to carry on.”
“It’s not just about getting tasks done. It’s about building relationships. If they can come at a conversation from a personal perspective, being genuine, you can build trust, which is so important no matter how large your organization. If people know you care about them, they will follow you. And you have to really care, not just go through the motions. If you’re genuine in your caring, your people will make the extra effort for you.”
2. Don’t let yourself
get down, particularly if you have a major setback.
I must admit, to me this sounds challenging. Halliday’s
advice, “Take the approach, ‘This too shall pass.’” He suggests,
“It takes humility to admit that this challenge that you’re facing isn’t a life-or-death matter; it’s just today’s business decision. Of course, your actions have real-life impact on individuals, and therefore demand your thoughtful reflection and full engagement. But the issues you’re addressing are unlikely to be new or earth changing. If we trust our judgement and treat each other with respect, we’ll make decisions that will help us ride out any storm.”
He doesn’t suggest that you come across joyous about all of the decisions you need to make. Rather, he suggests you tackle the tough issues head-on, and sleep well knowing you made your decisions with a moral compass as a guide and the values of your organization in mind.
I asked him for an example of when this was difficult for
him. He shared that when he was running the Gulf Coast area, from Texas to
Mississippi, for EY, the region was to be merged with their Southwest region.
“I had to stand up in front of my partners and say I supported the decision even though it meant I was losing my leadership role. And I did support the decision; it was the right thing for the firm. But I was 44 at the time and thought this position might have been my path to larger leadership roles. I felt torn by the situation but handled it the best I could. Sure enough, six months later I was asked to lead the U.K. operations and help the U.K. merge with Ireland, then have that joint practice join in the formation of the Europe, Middle East, India, and Africa (EMEIA) Area, a historic alignment for the profession. Completely by happenstance, I had developed an expertise in merging operations.”
A few years later, now back stateside, Halliday was tapped by
the firm to merge two Northeast coast markets to create one unified Northeast region,
combining the firm’s capabilities from Boston to Washington DC. That merger
went so well, he was again asked to tackle an intricate situation that required
diplomacy as much as leadership skills. When EY decided to merge their Japan
practice with the rest of their Asia-PAC teams, they turned to Halliday. There,
his background managing offices with different cultures and experience allowed
him to align the practice with an important market for the firm’s Japanese
Through all these challenges, he’s seen part of his job as
being the person who always stays positive. His advice,
“You can’t lose sight of the fact that your work is only one part of who you are. I exercise regularly and have hobbies outside of work. Exercise provides the right energy and endorphins. I also love saltwater fly fishing, photography and cooking. My wife, Jenny, is my muse. She keeps me grounded and gives me perspective.”
His advice, “If you let your career become all-encompassing,
you lose out on the other aspects of life, and those aspects actually help you
bring more energy and enthusiasm to your work. It’s a win-win.”
3. Never speak or act
Halliday said that, over the years, he has found himself
biting his tongue rather than speaking out.
“When I’m faced with an emotional issue at work, I back up and ask myself why someone else might have approached an issue from an angle of frustration or anger. I try to see the topic from their point of view. Even if I can’t get there, the buffer of time between the topic being raised and my needed response helps me share a perspective in a calm, professional, and dignified manner.”
He said he responds to voicemails or emails only after
calming down. Noting, if you manage the emotion in your own voice, regardless
of what you’re receiving from the other person, you’ll change the dynamic in
Whether you’re managing a team around a table, or around the
globe, your own leadership instincts will be well served by these ideas. Surround
yourself with good people. Stay positive in your outlook. Resist speaking in
anger. Great advice all around.
What do you say when you have just 30 seconds to make a lasting impression? Don’t get caught tongue-tied. Be brief, specific, and memorable. Craft an elevator pitch with these tips from Ching Valdezco:
Most of us feel that competition in our industry is fierce. We’re always on. If we blink, we risk losing territory or a chance to score a big win for our team. That’s the feeling every day in the corporate world. It’s also the feeling on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team as they prepare for this summer’s FIFA World Cup competition in France. How they are preparing holds a lesson for all of us as we develop our teams at work.
First, we need to
figure out what makes us successful, the varied components of our being that
allow us to contribute meaningfully at work.
Oddly enough, true talent in soccer starts at the head not
the feet, according to James Bunce, the Director of High Performance for U.S.
“Our mantra is ‘head first.’ For a
long time, athletic talent was all about focusing on the neck down. We believe we
need to concentrate on what’s going on from the neck up to really develop great
talent. For years we’ve been working on mental conditioning, helping people
with mindfulness and meditation. Both attributes help the players make the
right decisions on the field and off.”
But at U.S. Soccer, they apply that approach not just to the
players, but to the coaches and the administrative staff. It’s a business
approach, not just a sports training technique.
“It’s time to change the mindset about sports training. We
need to start at the head, where all of the decisions we make on the court or
the field begin,” says Lindsay Shaffer, the Head of Sports & Fitness for
Headspace, the app that provides access to more than 1,000 hours of content
focused on improving mental well-being. “Meditation and mindfulness are
scientifically proven to support key aspects of preparation, performance and
recovery,” say Shaffer.
Those elements are as important for the average business
professional as they are for the sport professional. Our need to grow at work
isn’t limited to our technical skills, and our success on the job doesn’t
depend solely on executing on tasks. It requires a more holistic approach to
training and development. Shaffer notes,
“We all face stress at home and at work. Starting your day with a brief lesson and exercise in meditation helps you get to work with perspective, intention and presence. Those same elements help you as you execute on your tasks and build your relationships during the day. ‘Recovery’ in sports is the equivalent of your commute home. You can use that time to regroup from the stress of the day and refocus to be present to your family for the evening.”
League Soccer is focused on equipping players with a variety of total wellness resources,
so they can be successful now and beyond their playing careers,” said MLS Vice
President of Player Engagement, Dr. Jamil Northcutt. “Mindfulness and
meditation techniques can easily be translated into everyday life. From
improving resiliency and mental grit, to harnessing the ability to focus and
let go, these aspects are important for professional athletes to master to
manage the various transitions that come along with being a professional
athlete and business professional.” The same can be said of any profession.
Second, recognize that one size does not fit all when it comes to resources
to improve mental well-being.
According to Bunce, U.S. Soccer and MLS have partnered with
Headspace to provide access to the app for all players and staff of both
organizations. That access allows the players to apply the same diligence they
have in their work on the field to their mental health development. Because
Headspace has customized the app for each of the 25 players, each woman has
charted a personalized mental health roadmap that will take her from now throughout
the last day of the tournament.
“Every woman on the team has different needs and faces
different challenges on the field and off,” says Shaffer. “There are modules on
the Headspace app geared specifically toward athletes. However, some of the women
on the team pulled content from the other sections of the app to build their
own customized programs.”
Similarly, as business professionals, we each get our
support and our encouragement from different places. Some of us rely on self-help
books, spiritual direction, humor, exercise, YouTube cat videos or a quick
Words-With-Friends break between meetings or on the way to and from home. Whether
we realize it or not, what we do to prep for, contribute during or recover from
the day can have a profound effect on our mental well-being. If our chosen
activity is specifically and consciously directed to helping us relax and
refocus, we’re far more likely to see the benefits of that activity in our
sense of calm and presence to others. While we may occasionally quickly jump on
Facebook to relax or take a break, the political commentary from family and
friends may make us more riled up than relaxed. Our efforts can backfire. A
mindfulness app, however, is designed with a certain goal in mind. In short, not
all resources are equal in value.
mindfulness regimen shouldn’t be limited to a single activity.
For years, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team has had a
psychologist work with the players, both in groups and individually. But the players
are only together for short stints. In between, they’re home in their own
cities and towns practicing separately and dealing with whatever challenges
they each face, just like the rest of us. According to Bunce, “That’s why we
determined the Headspace app was the best resource for meeting the vastly
different needs of our players. We needed to address this opportunity for
improvement from a few different angles.”
The same is true for those of us in the corporate world. While
we don’t usually have millions of cheering fans watching us or booing us from
the sidelines while performing our tasks, like the women on the U.S. team will
this summer, we still feel the pressure to perform. The rate of mental health
issues among lawyers, for instance, has been in the news lately and is only
becoming more significant. That’s why one global law firm has added access to
Headspace as part of its health benefits – again as only one of many resources
available to people.
The challenge for each of us is to find the right mix of
support that help us face the challenges of the day. What we read, what we
listen to, who we talk to, what we reflect on, all impact our ability to
perform well. When you know you’ve reacted well to a situation because you’ve
been calmer, more focused and more present to those around you, somewhere deep
inside you’ll hear your own little, “GOOOAAALLL!”
Last week, I attended a fantastic Women’s Leadership
Conference in New York. The program was filled with excellent speakers sharing
their insightful stories, highlighting advice, and encouraging attendees to
stand up and be heard.
One woman – an entrepreneur – made a comment that resonated with me – GO FOR THE ASK. It made me think:
What holds people back?
What do they need to feel they are ready to
a consultant, how can I provide tangible, easily implemented guidance to make
this intimidating experience a lot less painful?
This is what I’m fortunate to do nearly every day. To feel ready and win the deal, you need to craft your unique pitch in a clear, concise, and compelling way. Here are my four quick tips on how you can go for the ask with confidence:
Know your audience
Most people want the bottom line. Keep it simple and eliminate the jargon.
Craft a clear, concise, listener-directed message
Position your message to highlight what’s in it for them. It’s always about the audience. If you are trying to get someone to buy in and back your idea, you need to appeal to what they care about.
Share a story that highlights the benefits
A brief story or example to make your message concrete, specific, and tangible helps your listener picture your pitch. If they can see it, hopefully they will invest in it.
Deliver with confident body language
There’s no substitute for strong eye contact. If you use a dynamic voice, hand gestures, sit up tall, and command the room, they will have no question you belong there.
So, what are you waiting for? Go for it. The worst thing anyone can say to you is “no,” which leaves you exactly where you are right now if you DON’T pitch. Be bold, and mighty forces (plus the tips above) will come to your aid. You’ve got this.
Want more great advice on pitching your startup? Anne Teutschel will host a session at MATTER in Chicago. Can’t attend in person? Join virtually! For more information and to register, click here.
The Top 3 Aspects Of Professional Development Applied To Both Process And People
Theories of what makes us successful professionally fill entire sections at bookstores (the few bookstores that are left, at least). Many stake out a position about left-brain analysis, or right-brain intuitiveness. As we gain experience, we learn that it’s the intersection of the two approaches that allows us to succeed. We learn that earlier on in our careers, if we’ve exposed ourselves to the right ideas.
Mike Ohata, the partner-in-charge of KPMG LLP’s Business School for the firm’s Advisory Practice, is responsible for providing professional growth opportunities for 11,000 professionals across the U.S. His early work life and multiple graduate degrees have provided him the perspective and depth of knowledge to help guide the development of leaders across varied practice groups and with diverse personal backgrounds. He is described by his colleagues as someone who thinks both conceptually and concretely, with the right mix of possibility and pragmatism. I spoke with him recently about what makes a good leader and how he fosters leadership development at KPMG.
Early in your career, you taught and developed the curriculum for schools in
both Hawaii and Indonesia. What did you take away from those experiences that
helps you in your current role?
Mike Ohata: I
discovered that we can all be better teachers if we are better learners. I was
new to teaching, so to help my students, I had to ask lots of questions. I am a
naturally inquisitive person. I love learning new things, how folks do their
jobs, what kinds of technical or specialized knowledge they need. The added
benefit of constantly learning is that you start to see connections between
seemingly diverse ideas.
addition to your undergrad degree, you have two Master’s degrees – Applied
Linguistics and Education. How does that training help you, and what exactly is
Ohata: Applied Linguistics is the study of how we learn a language, how it shapes our thinking, how we experience communication. Much of our early learning happens not through language but through watching and repeating, and there is still a role for that throughout our lives. However, in a professional context, most learning takes place through language – what we read, what we listen to, what conversations we participate in. Therefore, understanding how we learn to communicate was very helpful not just when I created curriculums for schools, but as I spent 11 years at a tech consultant. “Tech-speak” could be viewed as its own language. Understanding how others might hear my comments and guidance heightened my consciousness around how I needed to translate my content.
sound like you’re on a constant learning journey.
Ohata: At KPMG,
one of our mantras is that we must all be “students of our clients” and
“students of the firm.” By that we mean we have to go beyond just listening to
the client and each other. We have to adopt a true learning culture, where we
dig deeper to understand the issues our clients are facing, and then truly
study our own organization to understand trends in our business and
opportunities to be of service. That’s why we’re investing so heavily in
learning right now—why we’re building a world-class learning, development and
innovation facility in Lake Nona, FL called KPMG Lakehouse, and expanding our
library of digital learning resources available year-round. We’re continuing to
drive a culture of energized, engaged, continuous learning.
Sullivan: All very
theoretical, but your colleagues have described you as ultimately very
pragmatic. Where does that come into play?
leadership development, we are at the crossroads of processes and people. Consulting
can be a heavily process-driven business, which requires structure and
attention to detail. Our biggest asset is our talent, which requires nuance and
Whenever we look at training, on leadership or anything
else, I always start by asking, “What does this mean for our folks?” and “What
does it mean for the firm?” The impact isn’t in the knowledge they gain—it’s in
how they are able to put that knowledge to work. I look at it from a practical
perspective: How many hours will this take them away from their client work? How
quickly can they apply the skills on the job? How does it align with their other
formal and informal learning? Would the objectives of the training be better
met through something other than the proposed approach?
hearing questions, not directives.
Ohata: There’s absolutely
a place for direction—people are hungry for guidance. But that guidance is much
more effective if it’s grounded in an understanding of what they need and what
other words, you need to listen.
Ohata: Exactly. You
have to create a learning culture, where growing toward the next role is part
of the plan. If you’re having honest conversations with your people about their
growth paths, and you’re focused on helping them get to the next level of their
career, they’re all ears regarding what they can be doing better.
are the most important factors business leaders should promote to develop
strong leaders in their organizations?
hone your inquisitive instincts. Expose yourself to broader ideas. Set aside
time to read, or to watch something on television that challenges you to think
differently. I watch science shows and documentaries, sometimes on stuff that’s
outside of my typical interests. You never know where the next new idea will
hit you, so you have to look in lots of places.
Preparing leaders to deal with change and disruption
requires innovative thinking, and you innovate more effectively when you are
always exposing yourself to new ideas. Being inquisitive leads to a broad
perspective, fosters detailed understanding and creates balance, helping you to
prioritize how you integrate ideas and processes.
Second, leaders need to integrate lots of diverse material
and issues. Some people think that leadership is about charting a path, but charting
a path is the outcome, not the talent. The talent is to be able to pay attention
to lots of moving parts at the same time and see possible connections. We help
our leaders hone their ability to bring things together and articulate key
ideas. This means focusing on their communication skills – both listening and
Third, leaders need to show their teams consistency with
regard to values, principles and integrity. Someone on your team may disagree
with you, but they should always have a sense of how you arrived at your
conclusion. That sense of consistency gives people comfort and a sense of
stability. If you don’t create that sense of security for your team, you’ll
undermine all the good stuff that happens with the first two talents.
stay inquisitive, look for connections to apply your ideas and act in a
consistent manner toward your team. Sounds like great advice. Thanks for your
You had a great idea. You knew it met an important need in the marketplace. You pulled together a group of friends to design and perfect the product. You understand both the market for the product and the competition. You have the manufacturing in place and you’re ready to launch. Right? Wrong. You’re only at the threshold of the market, still looking in. You’ll likely need additional guidance as you step through the door and navigate the halls of commerce.
April 18 – 21, 300 startup companies will showcase their products, most for the
first time, at Startup Launchpad, part of the Mobile Electronics Trade Show in
Hong Kong. Minesh Pore of Global Sources, the event producer, has helped propel
literally hundreds of startup companies from nice ideas into functioning
businesses. I had a chance to speak with him recently and gather his advice for
those he serves.
Jay Sullivan: What’s the biggest challenge startup
Minesh Pore: Most startup companies start as what would be
the R&D division of a larger entity. They have an idea for a product or
service and have spent all their time developing it, which is important. But
R&D doesn’t constitute a complete corporate entity. They need to understand
sales, financing, manufacturing and distribution, among other things. They also
need legal advice to protect their intellectual property.
Sullivan: So they’ve built a product, and now they need
to build a company.
Pore: Exactly. They have to do their R&D on the
market as much as on their product or technology. What niche does it fill? What
are people willing to pay to access that product or service? Who are the best
business partners to get that product to the people who want it?
Sullivan: How can small companies with limited
resources gain that knowledge?
Pore: They need to build relationships. No one does
all of this on their own, especially newer companies. That’s why they go to
trade shows. They can learn from others.
Sullivan: What steps can a new company take to develop
the connections they need?
Pore: They need to learn to communicate. Most small
companies literally don’t know what they don’t know. They need to be able to
craft a simple message about how their product helps a particular audience, and
then ask tons of questions about how to get their product produced, distributed
and sold. That communication loop – info out, info in – allows them to build
the relationships they need.
Sullivan: The first relationships they need are with
Pore: I actually believe it’s more important that
they pursue a sale rather than an investment. $100,000 sale is far more
valuable than a $100,000 investment. Most distributors dealing with startups
know their purchase order for $100,000 in product will give the startup the
leverage to borrow the money to produce the goods. They also know the products
aren’t sitting on a warehouse loading dock already. When the startups build a
relationship with the distributors, they start sharing the risk. They’re a
player in the game at that point.
Sullivan: And success begets success.
Pore: Right. For startups, their buyers become
their advisors. The distributor needs products in its channel. They have lots
to choose from, but once they sign a PO with a new manufacturer, they have
counted on those products filling their pipeline. They have a vested interest
in helping that startup succeed. That’s why our trade shows are all about
helping everyone build connections.
Sullivan: But investors are important as well.
Pore: Of course, but it’s easier get investors once
you show value. The sale is the important part.
Sullivan: How do you help startups gain these skills?
Pore: We run training sessions before and during
each conference on a wide range of skills. But just as valuable I think is the
coaching we give startups as my team and I walk the halls of the event. Some of
the inventors are “quiet types,” more comfortable with ideas than with people. They’re
so steeped in the design of their product, they’re literally “heads down,” deep
in the product, instead of looking up at market with all its opportunities and
they’re very proud and excited about their product, they sometimes need help
conveying that enthusiasm. They tend to talk about the product itself instead of how
the product will benefit or be attractive to the end user. We’re always
coaching startups on how to talk about their product features in terms of
Sullivan: And they have to keep talking.
Pore: Right. If you aren’t talking, what’s the
point of being at a trade show? Startup Launchpad is only one small part of the
greater Mobile Electronics show. These 300 startups will benefit from being
right near another 3,200 booths of well-established companies with proven
products. We’ll have 37,000 global retailers passing through the show. That’s a
lot of foot traffic. Having a clear and concise message about your product is
crucial, because you’ll be saying it thousands of times, not just at trade shows,
but throughout your process for building your brand and building your company.
Sullivan: So to sum up, it seems any startup, whether
at one of your shows or elsewhere, needs to focus on three things. 1. Build the
relationships that take them from patent owners to business owners. 2. Focus on
selling their products rather than seeking investors. 3. Keep talking – to
whoever will listen – about how your product or service adds value, rather than
about how it’s designed or created.
Pore: Yes. That’s certainly a great start.
Sullivan: Thanks, and good luck helping launch another
Are your communication skills “world class”? Working in a global environment is an exciting challenge, and it may mean stepping out of your comfort zone. Ensure that you communicate effectively with your clients and colleagues abroad with these quick tips. David Nevin, Exec-Comm Consultant based in Tokyo, shares how you can stay others focused and bridge culture gaps.
When you and your team write clear, concise, action-oriented documents, projects move faster, you’re more productive, and you get better results. Christopher Butler, Exec-Comm Consultant, describes how a few simple tips can help you and your team become more effective business writers.
Exec-Comm proudly accepts Year Up’s Community Ambassador Award.
Last week, Exec-Comm proudly accepted Year Up’s Community Ambassador Award during the Class 24 graduation ceremony. The Community Ambassador Award is given to a partnering organization whose commitment to Year Up “positively impacts a young adult and provides them with a platform for significant and lasting change.”
For those who aren’t familiar with Year Up, it is a fantastic organization whose “mission is to close the Opportunity Divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education.” They achieve this mission through a “high support, high expectation model that combines marketable job skills, stipends, internships, and college credits. [Year Up’s] holistic approach focuses on students’ professional and personal development to place these young adults on a viable path to economic self-sufficiency.”
Our Exec-Comm team delights in teaching these eager, motivated, under-served young adults how to communicate and present themselves and their content. We help them do this by suggesting that they focus less on themselves and more on others. Tonight’s ceremony truly made me think about this advice, and what it means to me.
For the first time, I felt at odds with Exec-Comm’s philosophy. These students spent their childhoods without any opportunity to focus on themselves. Many of them spent their time looking after others in their family, or simply trying to stay afloat.
Every person in the auditorium sat mesmerized by the stories told and videos shown about specific Year Up students’ journeys. Two brave young women shared their moving stories of how they arrived at Year Up. The grit and perseverance they both exhibited overwhelmed me.
One young woman, a single mom of a toddler, commuted more than two hours each morning by bus, train, and foot to ensure she arrived in time to attend morning meeting. Another continuously found the strength to dismiss the negative messaging she heard her entire life telling her she was nothing. There was the young man who grew up in the foster system and showed such promise that the foster agency recommended him to be part of this amazing program. (As an aside, he was recently hired by one of the largest financial institutions in the world, something that could never have happened if Year Up didn’t close that opportunity divide for him.) These were just a few of the moments that struck me throughout the evening.
I wasn’t just in awe of the students; I was awestruck by the C-suite executives, recent retirees, and Fortune 500 companies that support Year Up from donations and sponsorships to internships and job placement. I was rapt by the members of the Year Up board who share their time, their fortune, and their experiences as executives, interested not just in the organization’s bottom line, but in building the students’ self-esteems, technical and soft skills sets, and opening the doors to work in corporate America where they may not otherwise have been given a chance.
As the ceremony ended, I whispered to my friend, Julie, who introduced me to Year Up that I wanted to do more to help. We brainstormed a bit and she suggested that I consider mentoring one of the new alumni, as she begins her job in the corporate world. Two thoughts immediately crossed my mind:
I can’t wait to learn from my mentee about true grit and determination. I look forward to playing even a small role in her successful future and professional career.
The advice and Exec-Comm’s philosophy to focus less on yourself and more on others was really advice for me. I reflected on how lucky I am to do my little part in helping Year Up achieve their mission.