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A Tip For Women Working In Sports: Answer The Call

March 6, 2014

Earlier this week, I had the great opportunity to attend Executive Women’s Day at Trump National Doral ahead of the WGC-Cadillac Championship.  The event featured a behind-the-ropes tour of the resort, a conversation with Phil Mickelson’s caddie and panel discussions with female leaders in sports and business.

One question asked of the female panelists was what practice they’ve witnessed men adopt in their careers which helps them move forward, which women seem hesitant to adopt.  In particular, I loved Kim Stone’s response to this question.  Kim works as the executive vice president and general manager of AmericanAirlines Arena and The HEAT Group.  Kim began her response by noting that in her career, she’s seen men as always being willing to lend those they know a helping hand.  The example she made was that oftentimes, men pick up the phone and call other men to ask for things.  The favors they solicit range from job leads to sales leads and how to approach a potential client to whether or not they should accept a job offer.  Kim said that when a man picks up the phone to ask another man a favor, there is no question of his motive nor concern over how each side is benefitting from the conversation.  This practice is seen as normal and part of the ordinary course for men who transact business.  Even if a man hasn’t spoken to the person calling him in ages, he will not chastise the caller for that and will do the best he can to help him.

I have seen this practice firsthand.  Kim has worked in the basketball industry since 1996.  Thus, it’s likely that the examples she was referring to stem from male contacts she has in the basketball industry.  In my own life, I have also seen basketball coaches use this method.  For instance, one night a friend of mine who is a professional basketball coach received a text message that a college coaching job opened.  This text message came in the middle of a dinner we were having after not seeing each other for months.  In the midst of our conversation, he looked at his phone and said verbatim, “Who do I want to get a job?”  After we left dinner, he sent text messages to people he believed were qualified for the job and may have interest in it.  For him, there was no discussion of what these people had done for him or how present they were in his life.  Rather, he realized he had an opportunity to help others and sprung to action with it.

Kim notes that on the flip side, when it comes to women, we are often hesitant or questioning when we are put in similar situations.  When a contact who we haven’t spoken to in awhile calls us for a professional favor, our first internal question is rarely “What can I do to help this person?” but more often, “What are this person’s motives?”  Women are guided largely by their feelings, and because of this, we oftentimes approach business as skeptics.  Kim argued that while intuition and emotions can be used to further a woman’s career, in this type of a situation, they can hamper it.  Women need to be able to separate feelings over why someone is calling them to ask for something and rather, realize it is just part of business.

It’s understandable why women approach business this way.  As children, we are taught to question others.  That boy who asks you to the Prom?  What are his motives?  The guy who puts a ring on your finger?  What does he really want from you?  Not only are women taught early on to question why and what people want from them, but women are also taught to give selflessly of themselves to the point that they become fearful of asking of others to fulfill their needs.

In late-December last year, I experienced this.  I felt that I was being asked so much from others, but nothing was coming my way in return.  Every email I received was someone from some corner of the earth asking me for something.  Publicists.  Students.  Advisees.  Family.  Friends.  That random guy I met at a sporting event.  Everyone wanted something from me and it was driving me NUTS, because nobody was offering me anything.  Nobody said, “Hey, how are YOU?”  Nobody said, “What is new with YOU?”  Not one person offered, “Hey, here is how I want to help YOU!”  All I was reading was “Me, me, me” and it was driving me crazy, crazy, CRAZY!  Rather than furthering my career, I was throwing a pity party and doing a great job at avoiding corresponding with others.

Hearing Kim speak this week made me realize how terribly I handled my late-December situation.  A man in my place would have responded to every request in a way that offered his hand to the best of his abilities.  There would be no questions asked.  There would be no feelings hurt over not being asked about his feelings.  There would be no “poor me” stories.  All there would be, is moving forward with business.

In order to get ahead in business, women need to realize that give and take is necessary.  Each of us will confront situations in which we need something from others.  We all take from others at some point in our careers.  However, we need to be willing to give.  And part of giving is realizing that you do not need to get to give.  Maybe the person on the other end of the line hasn’t spoken to you in ages.  Maybe you weren’t invited to their wedding.  Maybe they blew you off at a happy hour.  SO WHAT!  The name of the game is “Business,” not “Best Friendness” (which is probably a good thing, since “friendness” is not a word).

The point in all of this, is perhaps men get further ahead in the business world because they do not question motives.  If they have something that can help others, they give it.  This practice creates efficiency for them.  With the time they didn’t waste in questioning motives, they already helped another person and got back to their own work.  By questioning motives, all that one does is waste time.  Not only are they not helping someone, they are also not being as efficient as they can in their own work.

So, the next time the near stranger calls and asks for something, think first what you can do for them and not why they are calling.  It’s a simple idea that can lead to greater professional success.

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