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Who Is Responsible for Your Destiny?

July 5, 2017

Colleen M. Niese

At age 16, my mom lost her father, who was fatally wounded in one of those stories the nightly news starts with as their opening. The year: 1956.  At 19, she married, was a mother of one, then to six in fairly short order over the next 10 years. For the next 30 years, she raised the six of us, in all our raucous ways.


Then she was on her way toward absolutely enjoying the grandchildren’s growing years, all now on their respective paths, and she’s now in a good spot, I’d like to think, to sit back and enjoy.


Life taught her at an early age to learn, paradoxically, the absolute essence of sadness and reliance. Somewhere in her intellect, she figured out human tragedy can be either an excuse or the next step.


Here’s what she taught all six of us, the three boys first and the three girls next: You best figure out a way to respond to those moments of darkness, because no one else can do it for you.  This may sound a bit severe, but in the same breath, I learned self-reliance from my mom, in varying ways, throughout all these years and was recently reminded of its value.


I was super-thrilled to speak in May to members of WELD (Women for Economic Leadership Development) on “Assessing Your Value.” In my research for this presentation, specifically, reading the recent statistics where gender diversity sits in today’s economy and the inevitable conclusions – a female makes 81 cents to the male’s dollar — while female CEOs are on the rise, in any given organization women represent somewhere around 6% of the C-suite, etc., etc.


I also learned the value of building authentic relationships with senior executives who could champion my desire to grow and advance.


There’s an understood responsibility put upon today’s CEOs, mostly male, that gender diversity should be on the strategic imperative list. That’s great, and more power to those individuals on both sides of the gender aisle who get it and exploit this proven principle: The more diverse the leadership team, the more able an organization can be in all aspects of profitability and sustained success.


While I absolutely agree there’s a rich conversation around senior executives’ responsibility to sponsor, mentor, coach those female professionals who show potential, I’ll say in the same breath that any women who is capable and confident in her next step is absolutely able to drive her own destiny, on her terms.  


It’s one’s responsibility to take that next step. I was 26, when in a conference room someone asked, “Who’s going to represent the company at the next national conference?” And I responded, “I will.”  


In that moment, looking around the room, my read was “Who is this person?” But I just needed one on my side.  And the one most intrigued was the CEO.  And I was on my way. I spoke up. And then I showed up.


As I continued my career, I learned the importance of continuing to listen specifically for those opportunities. As chatty as I am, I disciplined myself during certain meetings, presentations, etc., to be very quiet, observe all that was occurring — from data being exchanged to the different interpersonal styles of communications — and wrote lots of notes.


When I was engaged with that approach, invariably there would be an opportunity presented that aligned well with what I knew I was able to contribute. I learned more when I adapted that style of involvement than from any resource I could Google. Conversely, I also learned to be discretionary with my hand-raising. Volunteering for anything and everything can be overwhelming and a recipe for disappointment.


I also learned the value of building authentic relationships with senior executives who could champion my desire to grow and advance. From the first CEO to the last one I worked with, I found ways to be memorable by simply speaking my truth professionally and honoring my commitments consistently — i.e., not just meeting the deadline, but recognizing that every deliverable I produced was a reflection of my ability and reputation.


For anyone who wants to control and drive her own destiny, I offer you what I learned from my most resilient mentor, the one who has challenged and supported me on many fronts in equal measure, who knew when to say, “This too shall pass” or “Get up,” given whichever was appropriate — my mom:  If you want it, then go get it.


Contact Colleen M. Niese, Co-Principal of Marlyn Group, at cniese@marlyngroupllc.com. With 25 years’ experience in human resources, she assesses strategies for organizational growth, HR practices, recruitment plans and employee training in partnership with her clients.



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