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She’s Her Own CEO® Interview with Management Consultant, Liz Kislik

This article originally appeared on She’s Her Own CEO.

For 30 years as a management consultant, executive coach, and facilitator, Liz Kislik has helped clients such as American Express, Orvis, The Girl Scouts, Comcast, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Highlights for Children solve their thorniest problems while strengthening their top and bottom lines. Her specialty is developing high performing leaders and workforces.

She is a frequent contributor to Harvard Business ReviewForbes, and Entrepreneur. Liz is a TEDx speaker on Why There’s So Much Conflict at Work and What You Can Do to Fix It, and has served as adjunct faculty at Hofstra University and New York University. She has also written for the European Financial Review and The Forward.

Liz’s articles have been included in Harvard Business Press books Guide to Motivating People and Dealing with Difficult People, in the Wall Street Journal’Morning Download, and she has been interviewed for The MuseEuropean CEO magazine, and The Financial Times Ignites.

Kathryn Brooks, She’s Her Own CEO®: Hi Liz, thank you for speaking with me today! I would love to hear more about the experiences that have made you who you are today.

Liz Kislik, Management Consultant: Thanks, Kathryn. My story starts with my grandfather. He came to the U.S. as a young child, started from the bottom, and later founded and co-owned a small factory. I was his first grandchild, and he would often talk to me about business and life, even as a young child. It seemed so exciting to me. He talked a lot about giving back and taking care of his people.

Jumping ahead to college, I loved everything about my undergraduate studies. I loved going to class and engaging in discussions. I wanted to see and make things happen.

During the summer after my sophomore year of college, I was encouraged by a neighbor at home to apply for a telephone sales position because, “they hire lots of kids.”

While I preferred talking to people in person and wasn’t particularly passionate about telephone sales, I did discover that I was really good at it.

The next part of my career story is a sequence of wonderful experiences. The wife of the owner of the company was impressed with my work and personally asked me to come back during my next school break. She saw my talent and created a different opportunity for me in the personnel department. When I came back, she gave me 2 weeks to read their company and personnel files. In essence, she wanted me to analyze and figure out how to improve the company’s internal operations.

The company wanted to hire me full-time after I graduated college. Suddenly, at a very young age, I was managing 2 dozen women, all of whom were more experienced than I was. I quickly had to figure out how to build respect as a manager. I did, and after that, I became an account executive.  Every 6 months, I was promoted. At age 23, I was made responsible for a 300-employee call center.  It was terrifying, but I stepped up to the challenge. To put it in context, the operation was so large that I never met each employee personally. I learned a tremendous amount about managing managers and listening to customers at the ground level. All of these experiences set the stage for my management consulting practice today.

My success was enabled by constantly looking around and doing things that needed to be done…without being asked.

During this time, I went to work during the day and earned an MBA with a concentration in Management part time at night. I loved being in school and working at the same time. It is an important part of business education to incorporate learnings from what is happening with people in the workplace.

I stayed at the telemarketing firm 8 years or so after college until the business was sold. At that time, telemarketing was becoming commoditized and was going in a direction I didn’t particularly like.

What I had developed during this time was an expert-level knowledge base in this field. I was very engaged in the industry trade association and I had a lot of connections. Within a week of my leaving, I had my own consulting practice and I never looked back!

I have been very successful in my career. I acknowledge that my own hard work and diligence contributed greatly to my own luck and success. Professional women today should understand that they enable their own opportunities and “luck” by first putting in the effort through work and education.

Kathryn Brooks, She’s Her Own CEO®: That owner truly saw the light in you and knew you were destined for bigger things as a leader! Liz, please tell me about your consulting practice today.

Liz Kislik, Management Consultant: Yes! After some time in telemarketing consulting, I migrated to management consulting. At that point, I was being asked by my clients to fix more than just the call center problems.

Today, I act as a senior advisor, an advisor to my clients’ boards, and I help leadership with their day-to-day work structure. I instigate change that my clients’ leaders have not been able to accomplish.

Most people resist change if they feel that it is being done TO them. If someone else is calling the shots, most employees don’t want to feel forced to change. Senior leaders envision change, but they often get confused and disappointed when they experience employee resistance, so they back off in order to not upset loyal people. Or they fear that today’s work won’t get done.

As an outsider, I come in as the change agent. From that position and point of view, I can have a heart-to-heart with an employee about her choices and opportunities. I help make sure that the truth gets put on the table.

Be curious. Pay attention. To be good at problem-solving, you need to be good at pattern recognition. Incorporate this behavior into your approach on a daily basis.

Kathryn Brooks, She’s Her Own CEO®: On, we often talk about how one can best Lead, Provide, and Create™.  Each of us, in our respective world, has opportunities to Lead Ourselves, to Provide for Others, and Create for the Larger World. Liz, please share with me your favorite example of how you Lead, Provide, and Create in your professional and/or personal world!

Liz Kislik, Management Consultant: Lead, Provide, and Create – what a great schematic!

Lead. You are the CEO of your world. You have responsibility. Your career is not just about collecting prizes. You truly must lead yourself first – through emotional intelligence and by having a commitment to lifelong learning. One of the best tools we each have is to pay attention. It feels bad to be stuck in our career. A stuck person can be prone to getting resentful. Make sure that person isn’t you. Here are some specific tips:

  1. Take action. Feeling resentful and waiting for leadership to change is a losing proposition. Propose alternatives and start working on it today. “Can I help you out with that?” Show that you are willing and worthy.
  1. Talk to leadership about your performance. Be grateful to understand areas where you can improve.
  1. If you are the leader, take responsibility for your employees. Have the emotional courage to explain to your employee what they need to do to be ready for the next promotion.

People in authority can react in negative ways, too. I once witnessed some horrible behavior by a person of authority. I was 2nd in line at a hotel registration desk for a conference I was attending. I recognized the customer being helped at the desk ahead of me as being a CEO. This person had money and authority…but proceeded to take the desk clerk apart over a very insignificant detail. I couldn’t believe what I witnessed. I thought, “How would I behave in that situation?” No leader should have behaved that way. When it was my turn to be helped by that same clerk, I was pleasant as I could be.

Provide. What we do only for ourselves won’t last. Create products for customers that enable them to have better lives. It is impossible to do something only for yourself and have it last. Create meaning and value for others.

It is the responsibility of good people to make other good people.

Create. This is the work itself. You can do things in a tired way…or you can figure out the best way or a way to do it better.

Something that happens a lot in companies is to fill an open role with someone from the outside with a lot of experience. That person tends to come in and do the same job as she did in her previous company. She shouldn’t just behave in the exact same way in the new role; instead she should adjust to her environment.

Kathryn Brooks, She’s Her Own CEO®: Being the CEO of your world can take many forms (for example, volunteering in your community, holding a formal corporate position, engaging in creative pursuits, or being a reliable mom/sister/daughter). In your opinion, what is the best way to achieve success and to become the boss of your world?

Liz Kislik, Management Consultant: Being the CEO of your world means being responsible and always looking for opportunities to contribute. This is true within our families, as we take care of people both old and young. Being in relationships helps you to accomplish more and feel better, as does being an active member of your community.

Stale is boring. Keep yourself fresh with hobbies, continuing education, and exercise. By taking care of yourself, body and brain, you will always be fresh enough to take on new challenges.

Personally, I invest time outside of my consulting practice in different ways including:

  1. I am a board member of Marketing EDGE, an organization that matches students who are interested in marketing as a career with companies who need potential employees with strong aptitude.
  1. I have taken watercolor painting lessons. It is so fun! It is a completely different skill, and it has made me appreciate art and nature in ways I didn’t before. I look at things now in a different way.

Kathryn Brooks, She’s Her Own CEO®:  Any additional advice you can share with motivated, aspirational professionals?

Liz Kislik, Management Consultant: I encourage people to be intentionally curious and to ask themselves often, “I wonder how that got to be the way that is.”

By doing this, you’re not being skeptical. You’re not necessarily asking what is wrong with it. What you are doing is broadening the waterfront, your perspective, which will help you to have more ideas.

“Who can I ask about this? Who else will have an opinion on this?” Incorporate others’ views. No matter where you are in the hierarchy, taking a broad perspective and actively seeking to learn every day. Being keenly observant of what didn’t work well for other leaders is a very valuable skill.

As a young manager, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. As a manager, you hope your employees are generous and that they have the willingness to follow you even when you are not sure. Being truthful with your employees in order to tackle the real day-to-day operational problems creates a powerfully positive dynamic.

Kathryn Brooks, She’s Her Own CEO®: Liz, thank you for so sharing your leadership story and perspectives! It’s been a pleasure to hear your story of intellectual curiosity and diligence.

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