Eat Your Sushi and Expand Your Horizons

In this issue: Leadership Advice  from College to Executive Level       

A Best and Brightest feature from one of the BEST business columns 

 The NY Times weekly “Corner Office.”

Interview with Julie Myers Wood,chief executive of Guidepost Solutions, conducted  by Adam Bryant for the New York Times “Corner Office” column  

What were some early lessons in your career?I was working at a law firm, and a colleague went to work for Ken Starr when he was independent counsel down in Arkansas. This was before Monica Lewinsky. I said to them, “If they ever need somebody else to write motions or do whatever, just let me know because I would love to be a part of it.”  I ultimately joined them, but it was very hard for me to say to someone, “Hey, I’m interested in this opportunity.”  Why?Well, it felt a little aggressive, but that’s how I got the opportunity. They never would have thought of me if I had not been willing to raise my hand. I’ve tried to take that lesson with me: How can I show, in an appropriate way, that I might be a good candidate for an opportunity?

 Do you find that a lot of people don’t do that?

I think a lot of women don’t do that. And it is hard. It’s definitely against my nature.  You think that if you’re good enough, they’re going to realize that. But they’re not always going to realize that, and there are other people at the table who are raising their hands.  So I’ve really tried to say to other women: “A job has opened up. This could be a good opportunity for you.”

I also worked briefly in personnel at the White House. I noticed that a lot of men would come to see me who were very inexperienced, but they were convinced they should be the next secretary of defense. Very rarely would a woman do that. They would come in hesitantly. You would almost have to seek them out to push them into bigger jobs.

 You worked in a lot of jobs in Washington over your career, including as head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Lessons you learned from watching other leaders over those years?

I saw a lot of people who had really distinguished careers and were catapulted into new management challenges for only 18 months or two years. Some were extraordinary, and some were terrible. I learned more from watching them than from any book I’ve ever read.

 What was the key for people who were successful?

They were able to identify and focus on core things. When you go into an agency or a company, there are a million things you could fix. But you can’t fix everything, so you make a decision about your priorities, and then you act on them. 

 Other leadership lessons for you?

It’s really struck home how much people want to be noticed in their organization, at whatever level they are. Sometimes just basic communication – things that seem so obvious – can make a huge difference. When I was at Treasury, I prepared testimony for Ken Dam, the deputy secretary at the time.  I also helped brief him, and afterward I got the greatest note about doing an awesome job helping him. The power of recognition can really motivate people. I wanted to work for him. I wanted to make sure he got absolutely everything he needed and everything was taken care of.

 How do you hire?

I ask people about their past jobs – what they did, what they liked about them, and what they learned from them. I also ask what they know about our company and what they think we should do differently. A lot of people just don’t do that basic work before an interview. It’s stunning to me.

I’m always looking for that sense of passion, urgency and commitment. Have you succeeded in an environment where you’re very independent?  How have you pulled yourself up in some way?

 What advice do you give to college students?

One thing I always say is “eat the sushi.” When I had just graduated from college, I went with my mom to Japan. We had a wonderful time, but I refused to eat the sushi. Later, when I moved to New York, I tried some sushi and loved it.  

 The point is to be willing to try things that are unfamiliar.

Lois Gilbert, the Resume WordSmith Center for Career Communications

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