'If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.'

'If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.'

Wise words to think about, from Cook County recorder of deeds, Karen Yarbrough, at Step Up’s ‘View from the Top’ event held September 17th at the Chicago offices of Kirkland and Ellis. Karen was one of four panelists at the event. Step Up (www.suwn.org) propels girls from under-resourced communities to fulfill their potential by empowering them to become confident, college-bound, career-focused and ready to join the next generation of professional women. The annual ‘View from the Top’ event brings together business professionals and the young girls participating in Step Up programs to hear the perspectives and lessons learned of women who have made it to the top, and to create a forum for additional networking so as to connect with dynamic women from a cross-section of industries.

I am always happy to attend such an event, support a good cause, and meet other amazing women. There were many great take-aways from that evening. Here’s what leaped out at me the most from some of the panelists.

‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’

Karen Yarbroughs words really stuck with me. Powerful in words and in image, it’s very easy to picture that if you aren’t at the table for key discussions where you should be present, you could well become food for the discussion. Sure, in some cases this is ok, such as where key stakeholders are considering you for a promotion, or an increase, or a special assignment, and they need to be able to dialog about you without you being present in the room. But in most cases, if you’re not at the table and you should be, you pay the price one way or another. So do what you need to do to ensure you’re at the table when you need to be and not on the menu.

Clients can be some of your greatest mentors.

Amy Manning, Partner at McGuireWoods LLP and Managing Partner of their Chicago office, told some powerful stories about how clients of hers have been some of her greatest mentors. Sure, it might seem a bit strange to think about your clients giving you advice! But after all, if you have retained a great client for many years, there are reasons for that. There is distinctive value that you are providing to them, and they have the advantage of seeing and setting that value in context as they look at you from the outside-in. That puts them in a position to offer you sound advice as you grow your career, and if it’s a deep and meaningful client relationship, they’re going to be happy to share their observations. So go ahead, think about which of your client(s) could be a superb mentor for you.

‘You might not like some of the things you find, but you’ll get through them.’

I had to chuckle wryly when I heard the following from Daniela O’Leary-Gill: ‘You might not like some of the things you find, but you’ll get through them.’ As basic as that might sound, it’s powerful advice. That initiative you are working on, your business idea that you are in the throes of developing, the deadline you’re up against for tomorrow…they’re all part of the bigger picture. Your work is never done, it’s never over, everything continues to evolve to the next thing. But therein lies the opportunity, because even as you might encounter challenges and difficulties along the way, it’s all in pursuit of your end-game. So while you might not like some of the things you have to deal with along the way, you and I both know you’ll get through them, and looking back, when all the pieces of the puzzle slide together, you will be far and away in a different and better place than where you are today. So keep moving forward!

It’s a lot easier to sit at home and not go to these after-hours events. But when I think about what I would have missed out on – in terms of learning more about a great organization, meeting some wonderful new women who I am going to be having coffee with this week and who I am sure will become part of my network as I build and maintain relationships with them, and hearing many wonderful snippets of advice (of which these were just a few) from the panelists, I am (as is always the case) so glad I went. This time next year, come along and join us at Step Up Chicago’s ‘View from the Top.’