Grow A Thick Skin (warning: curse words in use)

Maybe you are an entrepreneur.  Or maybe a corporate executive.  In either case, you’re changing the world around you and chances are you’re ruffling a few feathers along the way.  That’s part of being an agent of change.

When you challenge someone’s status quo, you will face push-back.  When you challenge the status quo in our day and age, you will get push-back and even insulted en masse – via blogs, social media.  It can hurt.  Take it from me, I know.


During my doctoral research, I interviewed women who hold board of director positions in publicly-held technology and life sciences corporations.  The journey to the C-suite and board is hard fought.  For these women, in the male-dominated technology-intensive industries, the journey was even harder.  How did they do it?


Focus on the Purpose

The amazing women in my research managed to check their egos at the door.  Instead of making their work about them, they focused on the big picture.  Their only role was to apply their skills, knowledge and ability to make that big picture a reality.  They grew their skills along the way in order to make that change happen.

By focusing on the purpose of their hard work, they were able to not take anything personally.  Insults, bad behavior, or other negative experiences didn’t impact them personally because for these women, the focus was on achieving a bigger picture.


Take the Jerry Seinfeld Approach

I remember hearing Jerry Seinfeld talk about his approach to stand-up.  He tests material with a live audience.  When the audience reacts negatively, he takes note and makes adjustments to delivery or content.  When an audience reacts positively, he takes note and replicates the next night.  He never takes the audience’s reaction personally.

Jerry Seinfeld believes the audience is there to be entertained by the jokes.  He doesn’t believe they audience hates or loves him.  He believes they hate or love the material.  Big difference.


Don’t Work with Assholes

I love this one.  Sometimes people are jerks.  One board member I spoke with was a CEO of a large corporation and sat on several pharmaceutical boards.  She worked among brilliant surgeons and scientists trained at the top universities in the world.  All men.  She shared the following story about a time a decade prior:

She was the CEO and she was parking her car on a busy street in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Her car was filled with Ivy League medical giants who were grumbling about her parking, the traffic, the upcoming meeting (they wanted her to fail and told her so), and pretty much anything.  Their behavior in the car was indicative of the behavior they displayed in their business.  Something snapped in her when she realized that she was CEO. She was responsible for the business. And she was responsible for the culture of the business.

She no longer had to work with assholes (an apparent pre-requisite when she was climbing the ropes).  She has not worked with assholes since. And neither should you or I.

YOUR TURN: share an example of when you had to grow thick skin.

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Patti’s blog is a mishmash of research and advocacy mixed with her personal experiences as technology executive and first-time high growth entrepreneur, working mother, and wannabe athlete.


Kimberly Wiefling

2013-03-24 19:06:16 Reply

Dear Patti – Thank you so much for your sage advice! I have an unfortunate combination of big bold dreams and a very emotionally sensitive nature, so it has been quite painful at time to be an agent of change. Your advice is right on! I especially like the “big picture” approach. Focusing on the positive difference we are contributing to, instead of our egos and petty irritations, does put things in perspective. And – well, the “No Asshole Rule”, a la Dr. Robert Sutton, has been a guiding principle for me for many years. Onward! – Kimberly


    2013-03-25 23:50:13 Reply

    Heather Boggini

    Sometimes I have to wear a tough outer shell and that helps me get the job done. I don’t think that is being unauthentic. I see it as adapting to my environment and rolling my sleeves up. Anyone else?


    2013-03-26 19:20:33 Reply

    Hi Kimberly,
    I hear ya and I LOVE that you focus on the positive difference that you are making every day! A thick skin doesn’t come naturally to me either. Oh, how I wish it did. I proactively practice my focus on the outcome I am trying to achieve so that I can view reactions by others and by me as data points to be considered as I move forward. So much easier said than done.

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