March 13, 2003, New York: Maggie Craddock knows the world of finance. Her knowledge comes from one of the finest schools in the world (the London School of Economics) and from over a decade in the trenches. Craddock managed a portfolio of $3 billion in short-term global assets for Scudder, Stevens & Clark so well that she earned two Lipper Awards for top mutual fund performance. She’s been on the sell side too. Craddock was National Director of Consultant Relations at Sanford C. Bernstein, representing the firm across all asset classes including emerging markets, domestic and international fixed income, and domestic and international equity to major consultants and pension fund clients nationwide.
Would you drop a career track like that to go back to school in social work? And then would you take your MSW and become an executive coach? Yes, if you’re Maggie Craddock and working from a strong inner vision. Maggie Craddock saw that executive consultants just weren’t getting beneath their own corporate speak. She also saw that her coworkers were spending a lot of time in her office talking about their work problems. In other words, she had a flair for coaching and she knew the waters in which the sharks swim.
Why Personal Branding Is Important
You’re smart and talented. So what? That’s not enough anymore. This is New York, this is Citigroup – it’s a given that you’ve got brains and talent. With a workplace that’s more competitive than ever, it’s just not enough anymore to put your head down and do your job. To get ahead, to get recognized, simply to keep your job, you have to stand out. And to stand out, you have to compete with your peers. The idea turns many women off; some of us feel tentative about confrontation, and many of us are repelled by dysfunctional political games. But there’s another way to get noticed that doesn’t require confrontation or politics. Maggie Craddock calls it “personal branding.” It’s about discovering and expressing your unique persona. Branding is certainly not a new concept, nor is applying classic advertising strategy and the Unique Selling Point to one’s personal career. Go-getters have been doing that for decades.
What gives Craddock’s message the extra kick is that it comes from a woman who not only knows our corporate environment, but she’s also got a natural gift (and a degree in psychotherapy) for understanding our inner workings and those of our coworkers. Craddock believes that personal brands are most potent when they are authentic rather than fabricated, discovered rather than crafted. To discover yours, you must first know who you are and what you stand for. “Know your market. Know your self. And know your values,” said Craddock and proceeded to tell us how to do just that.
Know Your Market
The market where our personal brands compete is Citigroup. “You have to know Citigroup as a financial asset and as a corporate community,” said Craddock. “You have to know your department. You have understand how it interacts with other departments in the firm. It’s up to you to find out how to use resources across departments. How does one ask for opportunities in your firm?” Then there’s the broader career market outside Citigroup. You must keep up with trends and how your direct counterparts in other organizations are doing things.
Know Your Self
The next step is to examine where you fit in your market. Look at how you’re doing your job. Ask yourself, “Am I just doing the task or am I thinking creatively?” One of Craddock’s clients found it hard to get noticed because she was an IT Director in an investment bank, where technology was seen as support to the traders. But this woman found her way to MD a year before her tenure. She lunched often with her internal clients and listened hard. She listened to what they wanted and came up with ideas for how to give it to them. She took the most profitable of those ideas to her boss and was put in charge of two of them.
Those who think about what their company owes them are the first to go when heads are cut. You have to get on the scorecard with senior management, and one way to do this is by thinking ahead about your department. Another key to getting on that scorecard is remembering that ideas don’t make things happen, people make things happen. But you can’t be more successful than your self image allows you to be. This is why it’s so important to know yourself.
Defining the Corporate Culture
The group energy of where you work will affect every part of your life, but corporate cultures are getting harder and harder to define. In the past, you could look at senior management and sense the culture from their values and vision. But that’s no longer true. Turnover is so fast, senior management is now generic. (Corporations spend millions to inspire their people, but the best way to inspire is to sit down with your people and get to know what they’re thinking about and dreaming of.)
To really know your corporate culture, you have to think about the deeper questions that challenge the corporation and ask what are the official values? More important, what are the unofficial values? Who gets invited to the top meetings and who doesn’t? What does it really take to get ahead? In some departments, it’s just speaking out. In others, it’s not speaking out. What’s the emotional tone of the anecdotes that go through your corporation? And once you understand them, how do you fit in?
Branding Yourself as a Strategic Thinker
The IT Director got herself on the scorecard and established herself as a strategic thinker. How do you brand yourself as a strategic thinker? Cultivate relationships with strategic thinkers. Sending out emails and going to lunch isn’t enough. You need to become a strategic thinker and to cultivate a political sponsor, someone who has the power in this organization to get you promoted and get you paid. A political sponsor is different (but can be the same person) as a mentor.
One of Craddock’s clients was baffled by a sudden plummet in her previously stellar performance reviews. She didn’t think her performance had changed, but obviously something had. She thought about it and realized what had happened. Her boss had gotten an offer and asked her to go with him to his new job. She had decided to stay where she was. Then the new job fell through for him, and he too stayed at the company. She realized that her boss felt she had betrayed him because she hadn’t wanted to go with him to the new job. However, she was able to move on without leaving the company. She had access to the CEO. He was busy with a merger, and it wasn’t an easy time for him. Yet he moved her to another department. This gave him something he could feel good about.
Your Emotional Blind Spots Can Sabotage You
We all know the “shoulds.” So why can’t we pick up the latest book and then do what it says and have marvelous careers? Because we’re not aware of our emotional blind spots. Being a professional is not just what you do. It’s who you are. “If I stopped your boss in the hall and asked him to describe who you are,” said Craddock, “What would he say?”
When the door is closed and the decision is made, you are reduced to a soundbite. After a colleague interfaces with you, how does she/he feel about her or himself? The important thing is not to convince them that you’re smart but that they feel smart for interacting with you.
You can uncover your emotional blind spots by some simple but revelatory questions. Craddock cautioned that if you think about these questions at a superficial level, you’ll get ho-hum answers.
Did your mother ever work outside the home? How did she feel about herself? How does she feel about your career? Women carry guilt about work. Some of us feel we have no right to want money. Does your partner feel financially fulfilled? What were the beliefs about wealth and financial security in your family? Craddock has had clients who are great at sales but can’t stomach the uneven income stream. It’s important to know the difference between what you want to do and what you think you should do. Think about these questions and write notes to yourself afterwards. Craddock emphasizes writing because when we talk we’re always performing a little bit. Our personal stuff is subliminal until we become aware of it.
One of Craddock’s clients was reluctant to work with these questions. “Look, I’ve been in therapy for ten years. I’ve covered this,” she said. So they proceeded without Craddock’s usual groundwork. This woman was an investment banker and talked too much. “You couldn’t get a word in edgewise,” said Craddock. “She was overprepped for meetings, and I had to keep videotaping her, telling her to slow down.” After working together awhile, Craddock again suggested that the woman explore the questions. The questions gave this overprepped, earnest executive the key. She was a middle child with a very successful older brother and a troubled younger sister. She felt invisible and what she wanted most of all was to be heard. Once she got the emotional key, she slowed down on her own. She was no longer so needy about being heard.
Get an Inner Life!
Personal reflection shows you the importance of your inner life. Investing in your inner life is the most important thing you can do. Each of us has an inner life and you can either deal with it or numb it out with shopping, eating or with darker ways. You can tune into your inner life with meditation, yoga or a journal. Will it serve you or will it hold you back? Clients say to Craddock, “Why should I care about this? I just want to get promoted and get paid!”
You wear your inner life on the outside more than you know. It helps you carry grace on the outside and gives you the grace to endure protracted challenges on the job and to see all sides of a complex question. Intellectual integrity gives us the ability to confront the prevailing wisdom. It’s sad that Enron wasn’t the exception. Enron is an example of what happens when people are able to rationalize behavior that doesn’t feel right to them.
Craddock had another client who was head of marketing for a hedge fund. In her first weeks, she accompanied the boss on a prospect call. She cringed when her boss waffled at a question the CEO asked him. Inside her a war was going on. Her gut was screaming, “Say something! Speak up now!” But her head was saying, “He’s your boss. Don’t wound the king. You need this job.” But she had been working with Craddock to trust her gut instincts, so the gut finally won. She walked up to the podium, looked the CEO in the eye and said, “If I might add something…” She then answered his question. They got the account and she kept her job.
It’s important to make self reflection a priority. One of the most dangerous things about our culture is that we’re losing the value of silence. We’re always rushing to do the tasks and meet the goals that others set for us. Ask yourself how much you want to be a player in other people’s movies. Ask yourself how much you want to rush around for others. Meditation is as natural as breathing and we just don’t make the time for it. “Type A personalities really fight me when I tell them to meditate,” Craddock said. “But then when they’ve done it, they become smug about it. Particularly the traders.”
“If you do not practice self-reflection, you erode your capability to trust your gut,” said Craddock. We think we can become successful by learning who they want us to be. You’ve got to be able to stop performing when the presentation is over.
- Q How do you suggest we could work on these things on our own?
A Get together with four or five people to talk about it. Talk about your top skills and give a proof statement. Then give each other feedback.
- Q I was thinking about the group energy and how to get yourself recognized in a corporate culture that’ seems hostile.
A Craddock spoke about a young woman she coached. Fresh out of Harvard, this woman was in shock. It was the culture that ate at her. It was downright cutthroat, the place seemed to thrive on gossip and negativity. This woman made a practice of not supporting gossip. When people tried to draw her in, she’d say, without any judgment, “I’m sorry. I’m not comfortable with gossip.” She took a lot of hits for this, but it eventually paid off. Word got around. People trusted her. Senior management especially trusted her. She became one of the youngest MDs in Wall Street history.
- Q Do you have any advice for our mentoring program?
A This is a tough environment. It helps to be associated with a profitable asset class. Ask your mentor for help with that and also for help in identifying a political sponsor.
- Q Do you coach men as well as women?
A The bulk of Craddock’s clients are men, because corporations coach their rising stars. Eighty percent of her clients come in through corporation. The remaining twenty percent are individual clients.