Career 01 July 2019
In one of my first work assignments post-graduate school, I was the newbie and assigned to help analyze our division's employee engagement survey results. And to come up with key recommendations we could implement to create a better work community.
I was partnered with a male peer who was also new to the division. We met early for breakfast sessions and brainstormed. And I was ready to impress. I had a lot of ideas. I was excited about what I could contribute to this project.
And this was my moment. We went to present to the leadership team one morning. And my male colleague volunteered to kick it off. And he didn't stop talking. He took credit for every single one of my ideas as we clicked through the slides on the laptop. One after another after another. The VPs nodded and were impressed. Because they were good ideas. No, they weren't just good ideas. They were great ideas.
"Mita, do you have anything else to add?"
I could barely nod or look up or even speak. I was completely blindsided.
The meeting came to an end. And I looked at him in disbelief. He smiled at me and walked out with one of the VPs. He had stolen all my ideas. And he just smiled.
This was one of the hardest lessons I learned early on in my career. As devastating as it was in the moment, I thank that male peer for teaching me such an incredible lesson.
Please don't take credit for my work. Please don't steal my work. Please don't pretend your work is mine because it's not. Please don't use my slides and give me no props. And then not even say thank you.
And I can keep saying please, please, please, all day long. The truth is that if someone has stolen my work, and has given me no credit, no props, then I have played a role in my work being stolen.
Because I gave all of my best ideas away. Because I was too trusting. Because I didn't take the opportunity to share my ideas with the right people before someone else did. Because no one else in the room stood up for me. Because I didn't stand up for myself when someone else took credit for my work.
And say, hey, you do know that's my idea, that's my brilliant thought, that's my work, right?
This a story we have all heard. We have witnessed. Many of us have been a main character in the story. A woman in a meeting shares a great idea, makes a great comment, or asks a great question. It goes ignored. Then a man repeats what the woman said. All of a sudden, he's the brilliant one.
So how can we stop others from taking credit for our work?
Don't repeatedly trust people who continue to steal your work. My friend Christy and I always talk about one of our favorite Maya Angelou quotes: When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. If they have already taken your ideas and repackaged them as their own, why won't this happen again? A second, a third, and a fourth time?
Don't give out all your best ideas so freely.
I have a lot of great ideas. We all do. Do I need to share them all at once? With everyone and anyone who comes by? No. I think now about what I want to share when and with who.
Connect with the right people who can make sure you get credit for your ideas.
I think about when I do have a great idea, who I can bounce it off of, who I can get feedback from. Who can I collaborate with to make it bigger and better? At different points in my career, this has been my boss, another senior leader, a peer, or someone on my team. Go straight to the CEO. People at the top want to hear ideas from the people in their organization- it helps them be more connected and get a pulse of the organization.
Stand up when your idea is stolen.
I never did this early on in my career. I would come home and cry. I would cry into my dumplings and cry into my pint of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey. I still have my dumplings and my Chunky Monkey. But no more tears. Instead I will say any of the following to the idea thief:
"So glad you liked my idea so much that you shared it with management. Now how can we work together to bring this to life?"
"I hear you're presenting the idea I came up with last week at this Thursday's meeting. I would love to attend and share my views as well."
"Thanks for sharing my idea with the team. I am so excited about it! I want to be involved. How can I help?"
Stand up for others when their idea is stolen. Create a culture where idea thieves just can't thrive. Just like I am going to stand up for myself, I am going to stand up for others when they are cheated out of their recognition.
As a leader give credit for the work people do. This is one I try now really hard to live by. Invite the people on your team to present their own ideas. Create opportunities for them to present their own work. Tell others about the great work they are doing. Thank them for their brilliant ideas and contributions.
And so. This is how I now counsel myself and other women. Stop asking for your work not to be stolen. Start making sure it doesn't happen again.
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3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.