The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “How do you excel in a male-dominated industry?” is written by Angela Stephens, senior vice president and controller at Dr Pepper Snapple Group.
Over the years, I’ve changed and adapted to various work environments to ensure I controlled my success. But one of the first things I did was learn to stop comparing myself to others, particularly men. The most important thing is to focus on you, your team, your work product, and how you carry yourself at the office. That is what will set you apart and help you excel in your career, regardless of whether it’s in a male-dominated or female-dominated industry. Focusing on things that are within your control, while adapting to those around you, will improve the way you function within a business environment, and ultimately make you the champion of your career.
Throughout my career, I’ve taken a “learn by example” approach to excelling in the workplace, and the men I’ve worked with have had a big influence on that. There are a few lessons in particular I’ve learned from male co-workers that have served me well throughout the years to get me where I am today:
Topline your way to success
A key lesson in how men I’ve worked with communicate differently than the women is brevity. Early on, I found myself launching into long-winded explanations of projects, but over time, I learned to flex to their communication style and practice getting to the point quicker, which saves so much time. That skill has made a world of difference, and it fuels my own productivity. I became a more effective leader by learning how to cut to the chase. There is always room for chit-chat when appropriate, and it plays an important role in relationship-building, but I credit brevity for helping me succeed.
Don’t take things personally
Something else I observed about the men I’ve worked with is that they’re much less worried about being portrayed a certain way when handing in an assignment, presenting in front of a crowd, or providing counsel. This has since changed my perspective of work, and encouraged me to check my insecurities and emotions at the door. The way I look at it, it’s not personal, it’s just business. We’re all here to do a job, so let’s do it together and do it to the best of our abilities. Coming to this realization early on in my career helped me show my colleagues that I could handle work pressures, rise above challenges, and succeed in the workplace.
I collaborate with a lot of people for my job—both men and women. We work day-in and day-out on multiple projects, sometimes with competing deadlines. In one of my first meetings with my supervisor, I remember rattling off project updates when he paused, looked at me, and asked, “What action do you want this group to take for you?” It stopped me in my tracks and pulled me out of the rabbit hole I was creating for myself. His simple question refocused me, and over time reshaped my management style. Now, before meetings to kick off a new project, I ask myself what my supervisor asked me during my early days working with him. It keeps my team and I grounded and focused on the task at hand, especially when we’re juggling multiple projects at the same time. This approach has suited me now for years, and because higher management came to view me as results-driven, it has opened the door to new and more senior opportunities within the company.
Recognize differences in coaching and mentoring styles
I’ve always been eager to learn and open to feedback and advice. However, men often take an experiential approach when it comes to mentoring and coaching their direct reports. They’ll never tell you they’re doing it. They won’t schedule a meeting to discuss it. They’ll simply show by doing, so you’ve got to keep your eyes open and learn by example. Until I realized that’s how one of my early bosses was teaching me, I felt in some ways that I was missing out on mentoring, when in fact it was happening continuously. Even today, as I coach and mentor members of my team, I try to take a balanced approach by both sitting with them to chart a course for their professional development as well as by consciously modeling behaviors and approaches in different day-to-day scenarios, meetings, and interactions. This mentoring approach, in both formal and informal ways, has helped me build strong teams over the years that drive results.