This probably comes as no surprise to anyone who has come across my blog, but I love to read. I mean, I love it. I’ve always devoured books and magazines, and more recently I’ve started diving into online articles offering perspectives on leadership, career management, and parenting. If I see a headline along the lines of “Career Lessons From Powerful Women” or “5 Battles I Won’t Fight With My Toddler,” I can’t click on it fast enough.
Over the years, I’ve absorbed quite a few lessons, and my hope is that this continued education will make be a better business person, editor, interviewer, mom, wife, coworker, friend, and human being.
But here’s where things get tricky. When you follow as many people as I do on Twitter and LinkedIn, you’re bound to get exposed to a wide range of management styles and overall philosophies—which means some very conflicting opinions. And while this can be very beneficial in ensuring you don’t exist in a vacuum, it can also be quite confusing.
For example, a few years ago Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg famously urged women to “Lean In” and remain in the workforce after having children. She believes women often bow out because they doubt their ability to combine the two worlds, and as a result, are cheating themselves. Sandberg also makes the strong case that reentering the workforce after being out for several years is far more challenging than most believe.
So “Leaning In” is good, right? Not if you believe a recent Observer piece, which suggests that the much-talked about book is “filled with flawed advice likely to hurt women.”
And then there’s the work/life balance debate. Some experts say there’s no harm in doing some “email pruning” to avoid coming back from vacation to thousands of messages. Others, however, believe the practice can hinder productivity and squelch innovation — not to mention leading to a further blurring of the lines between work and home (Harvard Business Review).
Finally, there’s this one: is saying yes the secret to career advancement… or being willing to say no? During a recent interview, I asked Jennifer Laughlin Mueller, CIO at Watertown Regional Medical Center, how she was able to rise to the CIO role just six year after accepting a position as medical records coordinator. Her answer? “You volunteer for things. You say yes to things that you might not know anything about, but you figure it out.” Although she had no experience in radiology, Mueller agreed head up the department, because she believes in always “saying yes and taking things on,” and now oversees not only IS, but health information management and coding.
You can’t argue that a willingness to say “yes” has worked out for Mueller, someone who also carves out time for mentoring and volunteering work.
And yet, other successful women have made the case for saying no. In a Forbes piece, Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Programme, urged women to “cozy up to the word ‘no,’” even if it means practicing saying it. And in an amusing yet very insightful piece on LinkedIn Pulse, Lena Dunham — creator and star of the HBO hit series, Girls — declared 2015 as her ‘Year of No,’ an act she plans to repeat. Dunham believes women are people pleasers and are likely to say yes even when they are unable to complete a task, for fear of how they will be perceived. I happened to agree with her. “No is a work that could have served me well many times, but I didn’t ever feel I had the right to use it,” she wrote.
That being said, I agree wholeheartedly with Mueller as well.
How can that be? How can two pieces of advice that are so intrinsically different—and in fact, represent opposite philosophies — both serve to benefit readers?
Simple. In the complex professional world, there is no blanket advice. Different situations call for different approaches. What works for one person may completely miss the mark for another, because we’re all at different points in our career, working for different people at different companies. And I believe that by having a variety advice in your arsenal, you’re better prepared to face any challenge.