Form a Posse and Other Lessons Learned at the St. Louis Business Journal Women’s Conference

HandsAre you part of a posse?  You know, a group of people with whom you surround yourself who advocate for you, who prop you up, who sing your praises when you’re with them and when you’re not?  In turn, do you advocate for them and prop them up whether in their presence or otherwise? It’s sort of like a self-perpetuating fan club!

In the past, I’ve talked about the idea of surrounding oneself with champions, mentors, sponsors, but I had never ascribed the word “posse” to this important type of clique of which we should each be a part.  I quite love it!

It came to my attention last week at the annual St. Louis Business Journal’s Women’s Conference – a fabulous event hosted by my dear friend, Ellen Sherberg, which I had the privilege to attend for the third year in a row.  The notion of the posse was a key point during a “The View”-like panel discussion among  three professors from Washington University in St. Louis – Michelle Duguid (Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Olin Business School), Laura Rosenbury (Professor of Law at the Washington University School of Law) and Hillary Sale (Walter D. Coles Professor of Law and Professor of Management).

The professors focused on three primary themes:

  1. Sponsors can help you get stretch assignments.  Stretch assignments can help you get sponsors.  It comes as no surprise – sponsorship from a more seasoned person makes an enormous difference for the sponsored.  It helps the up-in-comer to gain access to stretch assignments which, when executed effectively, can lead to career advancement and additional sponsorship.  Sponsors provide advocacy, protection, guidance, influence and connections that are critically important in professional life.
  2. Thinking creatively about gender in the workplace and being aware of potential backlash.  This portion of the talk was primarily focused on perceptions of and behaviors of women vs. men in the workplace.  For example, generally speaking, self-promotion is often perceived as fine for men to engage in, but when a woman engages in this behavior, she is seen as too difficult to work with, bossy or unlikeable.  As such, we must be cognizant of perceptions and how our behavior supports or contradicts those perceptions.  Ultimately, however, authenticity is most important.  Certainly, you can “try on” different strategies and approaches to getting work done, but ultimately, you should land on what feel most genuine to you.
  3. Unwritten rules of the workplace.  In the workplace, work hard, be strategic and know the communication norms resident within your office, your company, your industry.  By way of example, understand how your contacts like to interact – if he/she calls you, call him/her back; if they email you, an email response is suitable.  Simply, understand the rules which, whether documented or undocumented, govern your relationships and interactions.

Of course, on these topics and others, having a posse can make navigating professional life so much easier and much more fun.  Thankfully, I am the proud member of several different posses and would gladly go to the mats for any number of my colleagues in those special groups.  In fact, sticking with my Wash U pals, upon returning from the conference, I had the opportunity to share a bit about this concept with my friend, Linda Endecott who is Managing Director of the Kansas City Campus of the Olin Business School which houses one of the school’s executive MBA programs.  As I described the notion of the posse and of professional sponsorship, she gave a knowing smile, nodded her head and said, “I have been the beneficiary of sponsorship from wonderful people throughout my career – and really, throughout my life.  Supplying that type of sponsorship for others in return is a major point of pride for me.”  Indeed.

Go on… form a posse and advocate away!

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