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Change.org President: Here’s How to Feel More Powerful at Work

Jennifer Dulski doesn’t feel confident in every situation, even if she looks it.

The president and COO of online petition company Change.org has learned a lot in her career, particularly about the power of body language. “When men put their feet up on the table and lean way back in their chair,” it’s the body language of status, she told Fortune in 2013. “Women tend not to do that.”

Before joining Change.org in 2013, Dulski led big internal projects at Yahoo (YHOO) and Google (GOOG). She was also CEO of a startup called The Dealmap before it was acquired by Google in 2011.

Fortune recently sat down with Dulski to discuss her entrepreneurial path, her tips on being more confident at work and what she wished she knew at the beginning of her own career.

 

You’ve been a leader within large companies like Yahoo and Google. Do you consider yourself an “intrapreneur?”

I believe that entrepreneurs are people who have ideas and inspire other people to make them a reality. I think that can be done within a large company. I certainly did that many, many times at both of those companies.

 

What advice do you have for intrapreneurs within big organizations who want to effect change?

Entrepreneurs have several common characteristics, and most people envision this high creativity, but the key thing that leads entrepreneurs to success is perseverance and persuasion. You have to be able to sell your idea enough that other people are inspired around it, and then you have to be able to weather the storms as they come if your idea isn’t a success. I would advise people to stick by their ideas and think about who might be their allies on the way to making those ideas a reality. In big companies, finding internal allies is often quite helpful.

 

You’ve spoken about the importance of powerful body language – especially for women in tech. Any tips?

There is so much research on body language, and it says the more you spread out, the more power you have. It can literally help get people’s blood flowing and confidence up. There are two tips. One is to go into a power pose before you go into a meeting. And then in meetings, spread out a little bit and give yourself the room to be confident. It is true that there can be a power dynamic between two people, and you don’t want to strike such a power pose that it appears intimidating to the other person. You need to mirror the other person’s body language a little bit as well.

 

What do you do before high-stakes, intimidating situations?

I had a meeting that I was worried about, and I talked to a relative in advance and he said, “Imagine yourself as the protagonist in a movie, and the entire crowd is rooting for you. Imagine you have a cape flowing off of you and if you stumble, just take a deep breath, remember your cape and keep going.” In some ways, it was a silly metaphor, but it was extremely helpful. Once you get through a few challenging situations, you realize you can do it. My advice is to do as many things that scare you as soon as possible in your life.

 

What is something you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?

There is a dirty little secret out there that is: The first time you do something, you’ve never done it before. And that is true of every single person around you. If you think about every CEO of a Fortune 500 company – the first day they were the CEO of that company, they had never been the CEO of a Fortune 500 company before. You gain experience by doing it.

 

What advice do you have for people who have an entrepreneurial spirit but are not ready to start their own company?

The petition-starters on Change.org who start their own movements are like entrepreneurs. They have a vision, they inspire people around that vision, they mobilize others, and they navigate challenges on the way to achieving that vision. You are an entrepreneur every time you do this process. Doing that in small ways can build up the confidence to actually start your own company.

 

Like Change.org, why do you think so many entrepreneurs are starting businesses with social responsibility in mind?

I believe every company will become a social enterprise over time. Companies will need to behave in socially-responsible ways in order to be successful. That said, starting a company with social purpose in mind is becoming more and more common. From my perspective, it’s a big advantage because it’s easier to attract talent, and customers are very favorable to those kinds of businesses. At the same time, it still needs to have the fundamentals of a really good business. You could have the best social purpose in mind, but if it isn’t a sound business, it won’t work. It is definitely possible to do both, and I expect to see more and more entrepreneurs putting their talents toward doing those things.

 

This Q&A has been edited for grammar and clarity.