2 Lessons for Women at the Top



On a recent coaching session, I was asked what are the common mistakes made by women in senior management. I responded by saying that I will share the two things that I feel women in senior management need to learn.


Women need to learn how to debate, and how to accept it when you lose a debate. Notice that I use the word debate instead of argue. For some reason, a lot of women take the word “argue” or “argument” to mean combative and that it will result with one party winning, and the other losing. This is not true. In the context of senior management especially, where consensus is rare and hard decisions need to be made quickly (and often, forcefully), being able to debate an issue and then accept the outcome of that debate is an important skill to learn. Too often I find that women need a lot of time to lick their wounds – and in the meantime they would avoid bumping into the “winning” colleague at the corridor; they would turn down invitation to socialize; they would limit interaction to absolutely essential work matters.

But I see this behavior rarely in men. They take their defeats, brush it off and then move on to the next task. We should learn how to do this i.e. to accept that losing an argument does not define who we are, it is not a criticism of our personality, it does not belittle the quality of our work or our intelligence – that it is a contained incident and should be left at that. Of course some decisions are harder to accept than the rest, but women need to learn to bounce back and bounce back quickly and the way to do that is to learn to debate and accept the loss (if at all) gracefully.


Women need to know how to manage up. This is something that I struggled with earlier on in my career. I had a boss who once told me that I needed to learn to buy him a drink or dinner once in a while. When I shared this incident with a male peer from the same industry, he told me that there is a value in learning how to manage up. However, I was not able to shake the feeling that in doing that I was kissing up and trying to get into the boss’ good books — ie where I would be leveraging on our good “relationship” to get easier buy-ins or approvals as opposed to getting them based on the merits of the projects or my capabilities as the project lead itself.

As my experience and skill sets grow, I now understand that “buying the boss a drink or dinner” does not mean exactly that. It means, once in a while, I should casually check in with the boss in order maintain open communication. Once in a while, I need to check the temperature and seek his opinion on whether I am on the right track or if I need realignment to ensure that I am on the course that he’s charted and have not veered off into a different direction. While the work relationship could always remain at  arms-length, I should learn to talk to my boss on matters other than the immediate work requirements. By that I mean I should not see him ONLY when work requires me to do so like when I need him to sign something.

Unfortunately, lots of women still find opening up to the boss about the problems and challenges at work equals exposing one’s weaknesses and would diminishes one’s value to the organisation. This is not true. Well, certainly it is not true anymore in this day and age where most bosses are hugely invested in being the catalyst to push you to do greater things or helping to remove roadblocks so that you could progress further. Having a coffee session with the boss is still considered as a “bro” thing to do. We women need to get over that.

Your thoughts?

Key Opinion Leaders vs Social Influencers


In recent times, I find the confusion between Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and social influencers (SI) increasing. To me, KOLs are certainly social influencers; however, social influencers are not necessarily KOLs. Yet many equate the two as being one and the same (like how in the past people used to confuse Public Relations with Advertising).

KOLs are respected leaders in the field, or industry or the subject matter at hand. In many instances, their opinion cannot be bought — they support a brand, cause, activity or charity because they believe in it, not because they are paid to hawk it. Whenever they use their platform to advocate or debate, the intention is always to educate, raise awareness, clear confusion or shine a light on a matter that they are passionate about or things that they are experts at. For example, a KOL won’t advocate a particular brand of running shoes, but will advocate running and the importance of choosing the right shoes if running is your thing.

SIs on the other hand, are people with a captive audience (be it on social media or in real life). While not all SIs do this, most sell their opinions for a living so, typically, their glowing recommendation for a product or service or their presence at your events can be bought. They don’t necessarily have to be the subject matter expert or the leaders in the industry, but they certainly wield power over their audience’s opinion and purchase decisions. So, they may advocate running, and in addition to that they may also state that they use this brand or that brand (whether they are paid to do it or not) and reasons why these brands resonate with their lifestyles as that’s what social influencers do — they influence people to covet their lifestyle and aspire to be like them.

How do you differentiate the two and choose what’s right for you?

Consider these examples.

Through his ‘Not Our Watch’ campaign about the genocide in Sudan, George Clooney is a KOL and uses his position and infamy to bring attention and advocate and influcence his audience to contribute significant funds towards lifesaving, humanitarian, and emergency programs in the Darfur region.

In his work with Nespresso, George Clooney is an SI, promoting the product and becoming the global brand ambassador for its advertising campaigns. At the same time, he serves as a member of the Nespresso Sustainability Advisory Board, collaborating on ideas and solutions towards improving the lives and futures of coffee farmers. But whether he is a KOL in the board and can influence pricing policies and purchase decisions for Nespresso, I don’t know. What is certain is that when (and if) he speaks about sustainability pratices for coffee farmers, he could only speak on behalf of Nespresso, but cannot do so on behalf of fairtrade farmers in general. Well, he can, but will people listen?

There are merits for using both. But don’t confuse them as using the wrong one may not bring results, or worse, it may hurt your brand!