Fran Hauser, public speaker, start-up investor, and author, has mentored hundreds of young women over her career. And she’s got a message for anyone struggling to get ahead: Being kind is an asset, not a liability, and the expectations you have for yourself are the only ones that matter.
In her new book, Embrace the Work, Love Your Career, Hauser provides a guide for professionals seeking to do fulfilling, interesting work. The idea came to her during the pandemic, when she witnessed countless friends and colleagues, mostly women, struggling with their day-to-day work and questioning their purpose.
“I’ve mentored hundreds of women over the years, and the number of calls I got during the pandemic was just through the roof,” Hauser tells Fortune. “So I decided I wanted to go back, look at all my past mentoring sessions — really look at the content, the techniques I suggested — and put it into the book. The foundational principle is really about taking action and applying strategy and execution to your career.”
The kindness quotient
A cornerstone of Hauser’s approach to success is being kind to everyone, which she says is just as important as any business acumen. She tells her mentees to hold personal fulfillment and kindness in equally high regard.
“It’s more important than ever that we be kind to one another and give each other the benefit of the doubt,” she says.
Early on in Hauser’s career, she was told she was too nice to get ahead. She’s always felt the opposite — her kindness and humanity is what has made her a better manager and more effective worker.
“Because I was kind, I was able to develop a relationship with someone that ended in a partnership, get access to resources, and things like that,” she says. “I was always trying to change the conversation about being too nice to get ahead.”
You don’t have to choose between being nice and being strong.Fran Hauser
Several women, she says, have asked her how she can be so nice and still be successful. These conversations inspired her first book, The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate, which aims to break down these common misconceptions and encourage women to embrace their kinder side.
“I found myself talking about it a lot because my leadership style is compassionate,” she says. “You don’t have to choose between being nice and being strong. Leaders who are both are the most effective because they have a team that will follow them anywhere.”
Hauser herself is proof. She spent 15 years working in media, including as the president of digital at Time Inc, and she says people followed her from company to company not just for her goals-driven, operational mindset, but also because she always prioritizes kindness. Being nice is only considered an impediment if you’re a woman, Hauser argues.
When she has worked with men who were considered nice, “it was almost like, they’re really smart and good at what they do, and also nice; isn’t that amazing?” she recalls. Whereas women who are nice at work are often seen as pushovers or passive people pleasers.
Curiosity is key
In her interactions with younger folks, especially students, Hauser has been routinely impressed with members of Gen Z, and their willingness to ask questions.
Last year, Hauser gave a talk at the University of Cincinnati to a “women in sales” group. After her keynote, a student emailed Hauser to express how much she loved the talk and how much she’d appreciate a phone call. “She laid out, in a Google doc, some ideas of how I could promote my book to a Gen Z audience,” Hauser recalls. “She didn’t just ask to pick my brain; she made clear that she had value to add. And I see that so much more with this generation.”
Another instance: Hauser recently gave a presentation at a boarding school to 900 students. Their questions, she said, “blew my mind.” There were so many inquisitive kids that she ended up scheduling a follow-up Zoom call so she could answer all their questions. “I’m very hopeful about this next generation,” she says.
For Hauser, success is directly related to impact.
“It’s really important that I’m making an impact on the people I love, and on the world at large in some way — that’s when I feel I’m creating value,” she says. “Whether that’s creating a whole new business model or market, or maybe inspiring someone to take action that will benefit them, that all comes back to impact. I ask myself, ‘Am I doing what I can to really make a difference?’ That’s what I love doing.”
When it comes to finding fulfillment in your work, Hauser encourages young people to let go of the expectations they believe others have of them, and create their own expectations for themselves.
“I can’t tell you how many conversations I have with younger people who say their family expects them to do one thing, or everyone’s expecting them to go for a promotion, or it’s just the next logical step,” she says. “There’s a lot of that. But what you expect for yourself is all that’s important; everything else is noise.”
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