In My Reality, a new editorial series from D CEO, North Texas executives share their personal experiences of diversity and bias. Below are the perspectives of Beverly Wright, the owner and president of Wright Choice Group, an executive coaching, and business consulting business who spoke about how she learned to find her place and fulfillment.
“These are some of the things I’ve learned along the journey. I think you need to build a network before you need one. One of my favorite books is Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty. This has been key throughout my life—building genuine relationships at every level. Every single person you meet has something you can learn from their journey that may be different than yours, but really building those relationships strong and respecting every contribution for every piece, every person, will give you a foundation that will really return more than you could ever ask for.
“When I say focus on creating genuine relationships, it really is with no expectation of return. I really am genuinely interested in meeting people and understanding their story. I want to know what was impactful on them. How did they grow up? I really, really want to get to know the person, and I think that makes a difference.
Avoiding ‘quiet desperation’
“Why is it you think you’re here? I don’t think we think about that enough. When I was a teenager, I heard this quote from Henry Thoreau, and it said, ‘Most men live lives of quiet desperation.’ Even as a teen, I had no idea what was lying before me, but I just knew that I would not live a life of desperation—that I would figure something out. So, I ask you to think about your bigger why it is for your life and career. Those two things are definitely a part of each other.
“Then—this is the one that took me a while to figure out—just be yourself.
“You are the only original you, and you may be different people along the way, or you evolve—at least that’s what happened to me when I left. I took maternity leave in 1980 from the company [where] I’ve worked for over 30 years, and when I left at that time, I wasn’t sure that I was where I was supposed to be. I didn’t know if I was a corporate person or not. My intention was to find that out during that year of leave where I was really supposed to be. I did a lot of research, and anybody who would talk to me about what they did for work and what they liked about their work and what they didn’t, I wanted to understand those things.
“What I figured out by the end of that year was that there was no perfect place. Even if you own your own business, you still have people to whom you are beholden—you have clients and perhaps others or vendors. So, what I decided to do was to go back to my company with a different mindset. I see my career in two different phases: It was before I had time to think about it—I’d had a year to really question it and ponder and reflect on what I wanted—and then what my bigger why was and for me: It was always able to help people and to be there for my family. I’ve had a dream to make sure that my family is better off from a generational perspective because I have been here. That was big for me. And then being original. That was pretty easy. I mentioned, where I grew up, we felt that each of us was special, and we really looked out for each other.
“Ask questions and listen. Listen. Listen. There’s a reason we have one mouth and two ears, I believe that, and to learn to ask questions and then be quiet and listen.
“Sometimes there’s more information in [what’s unsaid] than what somebody is saying out loud.”
“Listen not just for what’s said, but listen to what’s not said. Sometimes there’s more information in [what’s unsaid] than what somebody is saying out loud. Then, balance criticism with praise. That’s really a leadership characteristic I think of good leaders, is that they praise in public, and they criticize in private. Sometimes it’s more effective to ask the person, ‘Tell me how you did with that project? How do you think you did with it?’ Especially if you’re training them to be better leaders, they need to know how to self-appraise.
“I had a manager who told me that once he didn’t hire a candidate who I recommended to him for a management position, and he said, ‘She was really good, but when I asked her to appraise herself, she couldn’t,’ and he said, ‘That’s a big part of the management job, and if you can’t appraise yourself, how can I trust if you’ll be able to appraise others the right way?'”
“Be intentional about growing your personal brand. I think sometimes people don’t recognize that we are a product. Every person is a product that you’re taking to market in some way— just like any other product that would have a marketing plan. I think you need to have a marketing plan for your persona.
“What do you want people to say about you? What do you think about yourself? Does your brand reflect that? The other thing that is important to me about that and what I learned was, don’t let your brand be completely wrapped up in your company or organization. You need to be known as a person, as an individual separate from who you work for, separate from what you achieved in corporate America, because at some date that will change—you’ll either retire, or you’ll change companies, or something will change where you have to really be known by your personal brand. Many people are lost and really don’t know how they go about repositioning themselves because they’ve been closely related to their brand. I felt I figured that out earlier in my career; it has been one of the best things that I’ve ever done for myself.
Connect and Check
“Lead globally and serve locally, that really to me is about the difference between leadership and management. So [to] lead globally to me, [means] you have to have a vision that the team can opt into. To me, that’s a global statement for everybody, but to serve locally, that means you need to get to know every single person on your team individually. What makes them tick? What is encouraging them? What kind of rewards do they really appreciate? It’s different for everybody: one size does not fit all. Really getting to know people at the individual level can make a difference as a leader. Encourage the heart and dream big…
“It is so important for you to check on people–to talk to them, find out what’s going on with them, invite them to contact you. I have run into people who I care about who are struggling. I try to stay in touch. I literally will make a list and say I haven’t talked to Bob, or Joe, or Susie, and I need to have a virtual coffee with them—that’s something that I’ve been doing since the pandemic hit. Instead of sending a text, I’ll leave a voicemail. I hear from people who said, ‘It was so good to hear your voice, Bev,’ and it was good for me to hear theirs instead of just sending a text message.
“So, you have some choices. What are your values? Identify your top priorities. Think short and long term, and then take action. That’s the key thing: Think, but then take action and trust your gut. That’s the reason that I can be bold and authentic because I’ve done the work to really keep myself growing.”