How to Know When You’ve Outgrown Your Job and Other Lessons Learned on the Way to the C-Suite

anne-marie slaughterSenior advisors to Cabinet members aren’t usually known for causing big stirs, but that’s exactly what happened when, in 2011, Anne-Marie Slaughter left her dream job as director of policy planning at the State Department and returned to an academic career that gave her more time for her family. Slaughter wrote about her decision in an essay that got people talking, “Why Women Can’t Have It All,” and now president and CEO of think-tank New America, she continues the conversation in her new book, Unfinished Business. She took some time out of her schedule to share with us the life and work lessons she has learned along her path.

Lesson #1: Think of your career in terms of interval training.

“With interval training, you go really hard, then slow down, then go hard again— that’s how we need to think of our careers rather than as ladders or jungle gyms we set out to climb. When you’re young and single, you can focus on your job, work late, travel. But then at some point, you may want to slow down because you have a family and your career isn’t the only important thing to you. But then as an empty nester, you can ratchet it up again. If you think of your career in these terms early on, you can plan for both kinds of periods and coordinate with your partner so that you’re trading off and working hard when the other is slowing down.”

Lesson #2: Know what you’re not good at and don’t assume you’re going to compensate for it.

“In other words, if you’re not a detail-oriented person, then recognize that fact and hire someone who is. Or as in my case, if you’re more of a transformative leader than a steward, don’t bring in another visionary. Hire people who are good at following up, holding others accountable and making sure the trains run on time.”

Lesson #3: Life is like a sine curve, and most of the learning happens at the bottom of the curve.

“One of my dear mentors and friends told me this. So when things are not going well, tell yourself that you will be back on top, but that it’s what you can learn right now that’s going to get you there.”

Lesson #4: If you’re doing everything right, you need a bigger job.

“This sounds trite, but criticism is a growth opportunity. And there’s no point in having a job if you’re not growing and being challenged. I’d say, 60 to 70 percent of the job should be doing what you know and the rest should be learning. That is, of course, if you’re in the phase when you’re focused on your career.”

Lesson #5: Being a parent is good preparation for being a boss.

“It’s not a maternal relationship in the office, but a lot of the same principles apply about how to guide and encourage people to do the right thing, have courage and be true to their core principles. What you tell your children in raising them to be good, strong people is what you should be telling your employees.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter will be speaking on “Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family” and “Pioneering Pay Equity: Strategies to Bridge the Gap, Own Your Value and Negotiate Your Worth” at the 2015 Texas Conference for Women.


► Read more from the October 2015 newsletter.