Suzy Welch's career has taken her from the Harvard Business Review to O, The Oprah Magazine to the best-seller list. She talks to Jean about issues that women face in the workplace, including getting unstuck from a bad situation, the fallacy of flextime and the two types of female bosses.
The first article Suzy wrote for O, The Oprah Magazine was about people who want to do something different with their lives, but aren't sure what to do. In that story, Suzy presented five questions to help readers find the courage to try something new. "One of the hardest things we do as adults is change before we have to," she says. "Change is good, but doing it yourself is really hard."
As a working mother of four, Suzy was able to make a very important change in her working life. Her company allowed her to go on flextime, enabling her to keep working while spending more time with her children. While she personally benefited from flextime, Suzy says it hasn't really panned out for most women. "If you're an incredibly good performer, you earn chits that are flextime," she says. "It ends up going to women who overdeliver—who basically do the work of two or three people just to earn the ability to work slightly less." If you are interested in proposing a flextime situation, Suzy recommends going to your boss with a complete plan, stating the situation you're looking for, as well as a comprehensive plan for how it can work.
A former boss herself, Suzy says the biggest mistake made by women in charge is mismanaging their emotional distances. They tend to fall into two types: the good mother and the ice queen. The good mother doesn't separate enough from her employees—she knows too much about their personal lives and seems to be a friend. The ice queen, on the other hand, doesn't want to get too close to her employees, losing any kind of connection and becoming remote. Suzy says there is a middle ground. "The place to be is where employees see your humanity, but you maintain authority and distance," she says.