Q&A With Robin Wolaner

1. One major theme of your book is to be open and honest with people in business. You are very open and honest in your book, and even speak candidly about previous bosses and co-workers. Have any of them read the book, and what kind of feedback did you receiveI haven't yet heard from anyone portrayed negatively in the book. Many of my former co-workers have told me that I got it right, that my memory of the events is the same as theirs, or that they enjoyed learning the behind-the-scenes story of events that they were part of, but not privy to all involved. Before publication, I had four people read important sections of the book to make sure that my recollections were consistent with theirs, and got some valuable details to add to the book.2. Have you made any enemies by being honest?It's too soon to tell if the book will make me enemies. But I can think of one or two people who actively hate me because I stood up for what I think is right. I can think of lots more who want to work with me again for the same reason.3. In the chapter "Tools of the Trade," you discuss what to do when you are in over your head. Do you think people should strive to take jobs that may extend them? Does that lead to growth, or does it just increase the chance of failure?Yes, Yes and No. I do think stretching is a good thing: Naked Truth # 14 states "If you're not over your head with a new job, you haven't moved far enough." Sometimes the opportunity to stretch isn't immediately available, but I am convinced there is a greater chance of success if you try for something that is a real growth step as opposed to treading water. I know for me personally, I do my best work when it's a little beyond my experience.4. Young business professionals are always told to find a mentor, yet
you discourage that. Why?
Because it's hard to get the stars perfectly in alignment to find someone with the talent, chemistry and time availability to serve as a mentor. I think it's way more productive to look for learning in bits and pieces — styles or tactics that you can emulate; and, often readily available, examples of bad behavior (I call that antimentoring, another friend calls it tormentoring) that you resolve to avoid in your own career.5. Your book is targeted towards women, yet most of the lessons apply
to men equally well. There has been some recent research suggesting
that, on average, women make better managers. What do you think?
It makes sense to me, because good management is about having a high
emotional intelligence and about communication. The hardest part of
management, I think, is giving direct feedback when someone's performance needs to improve. In my experience, men are wimps. They might fire faster
than women do (I advise women readers to fire faster — every firing I've done should have been done faster), but they have a tougher time giving
direct feedback in a constructive way.
6. As a successful female executive, why do you think there aren't more women at the top? Do women not strive for that level of success, are they simply unprepared for that level, or is there really still a glass ceiling?

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Part of it is legacy — to get all the way to the top takes years, and women haven't been in senior management in great numbers. We're still not
represented equally on the vice presidential ranks and up, so chief executive slots will continue to be relatively rare until that happens.

And part of it is the reality that in the years when we're moving up, many of us take some time off, or at a reduced pace, because we want to have children. That is a biological reality that hopefully never goes away, and will always have an impact.

Another part of the answer is that sometimes we don't go for the brass ring because we compare our qualifications to an ideal standard, instead of to other available candidates. Men don't do this, and I wish we didn't either.

7. Looking back on your career, what would you most like to change?

I should have been more aggressive about negotiating my compensation. I
have enough money, but I left money on the table and I think that is an injustice to other women. I allowed myself to be paid less than comparable men, and that is just chicken.

8. Finally, the question I like to ask everyone, are great leaders born, made, or just in the right place at the right time?

My cop-out answer is Yes. Kids are different from early childhood, and I am
not sure how much parents are responsible; some of it is wiring from birth. Then I think we are made — our parents do have a role in that, as we are shaped by experiences throughout our lives. But any leader who says that luck wasn't part of it, is just deluded.