Jeanine Cogan
Executive coach

Jeanine Cogan

Heads Cogan Coaching and is on the faculty of the Center for Continuing and Professional Education at Georgetown University.

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Paradigm shifters

Q: We all need advice as we seek success in our careers and lives. What are your five favorite business books, and why? What advice wasn't so helpful?

As a lover of books this is such a fun and juicy question. Top business books?

First, I recommend "Make Your Contacts Count," by Anne Baber and a friend and colleague of mine, Lynne Waymon. This book single-handedly changed my paradigm towards networking.

Before reading this book, I was a networking clod. I hated networking because I thought it was all about people trying to sell me something and heaven forbid if I would have to sell myself. It seemed under-handed in some way -- like everyone had hidden agendas and we were all fair game.

What I learned from Baber and Waymon is that the best networking is about giving (not taking). When we do for others 1) it feels good and 2) it will be remembered and eventually they may do something in return (it is called the reciprocity principal). Also, when we focus on assisting someone else in their business success, we shift from talking to listening. Wow! What a concept. Have you noticed how everyone at a networking event is talking, talking, talking? Who is doing the listening? Have it be you -- and notice the results. When you listen do it actively, by asking engaging questions.

A favorite success story for me using this approach was at a new forming BNI (Business Networking International) group. This financial planner -- we'll call her Kim -- sat down next to me and I asked her "so what are you excited about in your work world these days?" (one of my favorite questions that most often elicits a very juicy conversation).

Turns out that Kim was thrilled about a new college-financing product she had learned about and was considering going in partnership with someone. I asked her lots of questions wanting to learn more. Kim's enthusiasm grew and enthusiasm is contagious -- I was getting excited hearing about it. At some point it did cross my mind that Kim never asked me about my work and there was little about me -- but I pushed those thoughts aside.

At the end of the meeting, we were asked to each say something we appreciated about the meeting. When it was this Kim's turn, she said how happy she was that she sat next to me and that I taught her how important it is to make sure she is clear as to what her needs and goals are before going into any partnership. I was thrilled! What a great commercial for me as a business coach.

A few months later she called me for a sample coaching session and we have been working together ever since. That was three years ago and her business is booming! So clearly, engaged listening can be a win-win. Plus it is more fun.

A second book is "Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide," by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. This book is another one that shifts the paradigm.

As an economist, Linda was approached by a group of female graduate students who were concerned that so many of them were asked to be teaching assistants while the male graduate students were asked to teach their own courses. When she approached the dean and asked him why so few female graduate students were teaching their own courses compared to the male graduate students he answered "More men ask. The women just don't ask."

This launched a whole new research track for Linda Babcock. When she conducted a study that looked at starting salaries of students graduating from Carniegie Mellon University with a masters degree, she found a gender gap in pay similar to what other researchers have found. What she also discovered upon looking further, however, is that only 6 percent of the women she surveyed had negotiated their salaries (meaning - they asked for more) compared to 57 percent of men. WOW! What a whopping difference!

How can you reach your goals or have what you want if you don't ask? This book is excellent at outlining very thoughtfully why this tendency exists for women, the barriers holding us back and then strategies for how to ask for what we want in ways that feel comfortable and possible.

This book was a lifesaver for me during a time in my career where I was negotiating hard for a 20 percent raise when I discovered I was making much less than a male counterpart. I can't say I ever felt "comfortable" during the process but it did provide me with the much needed justification "I can and should ask for this!" I was ultimately successful! So the advice I would add is even if it makes you totally anxious -- do it anyway. Fear doesn't mean no -- it just means you are afraid.

By Jeanine Cogan  |  June 25, 2010; 3:32 PM ET  | Category:  Careers and success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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