Ask Yourself the Right Questions. Be Honest About the Answers.
You’ve decided you’re going to do something great. Now we get to the hard parts. First is asking yourself tough questions. Be real, be honest, be thoughtful, as you work through these questions:
- What motivates me?
- What do I have to offer?
- Am I ready?
- Is this fight winnable?
- Will I do the work required?
Some of the answers may not be easy and the path may have more obstacles than you’d hoped, but answering these questions honestly gives you a clearer path to getting the job done.
Break the Rules, Break out of the Box
The system wasn’t made for women, so let’s stop assuming that playing by the system’s rules will help us get ahead. Unwritten rules that exclude women need to be broken, and we should all be grateful for the brave women who have been knocking down those barriers for decades.
- Run your own smart campaign, work your own plan, and ignore the naysayers.
- Wear what you want to wear—whatever makes you feel confident—and speak how you want to speak.
- Be yourself, and use your individuality to your advantage.
- Don’t be discouraged if no one like you has done this before. It’s not easy to be a first, or a second, and so on, but it is doable.
If the rules don’t work for you, work to change them. Use the courts, ask elected officials, build a crowd, raise your voice: Do whatever it takes. Your efforts will help you and the women who come after you.
When the odds are stacked against you and it seems there’s no path to the finish line, get creative:
- Throw out the old playbook and find a new way to get the results you want.
- If you can, expand the market and/or move to a new playing field.
- Run your race, not someone else’s.
Know Your Story, Learn How to Tell It
Telling your story is a vital part of changing the world. These days, our society demands every part of us, and so learning how to best tell your story and leverage it for your issues is critical.
When you’re trying to move people or convince them of something, you should break your stories into four parts:
- Situation: What you’re facing
- Reaction: What you’ve done about it
- Resolve: What you’ll do to take your response to the next level
- Ask: What you need from the audience
If you want people to actually hear your story, you need to be able to give a speech. That requires the right content, but especially the right emotion in your delivery and your story. In order to do that well, you should:
- Wear something that makes you feel good.
- Plant your feet firmly and stand up straight.
- Mind your face. This is particularly important if you wear a permanent scowl or, like me, a permanent smile.
- Practice, ideally the same way you’ll give the speech.
- Speak directly to your audience. Know who they are, understand what they want to hear, and talk to them, not the piece of paper on the lectern. Find a few friendly faces in the room to go back to if you need encouragement.
- Find a way to relax before the speech. Take a few minutes to run through the key points, do a mirror check, or whatever will make you feel ready.
- Take a few deep breaths and breathe from your diaphragm.
- Be confident. Audiences feed off it. They’ll respond better to you and your great story.
Build Your Team
No one should go it alone. Your village may come in a variety of forms, but you need to build it with care and intentionality. You need two types of teams, and they are both critical to any successful effort, from running for office to starting a business to changing the world.
First, there’s your staff, whether paid or volunteer. No matter how small or large that team is, you will have certain roles to fill, including:
- Leadership: Professional managing of the team and the process.
- Strategy and messaging: Determine your platform and how you are different from the opposition.
- Communicating with key audiences: How to use your paid, owned, and earned media to meet your goals, reach your audiences, and deliver your message.
- Raising the necessary resources: Every big effort takes money, time, and work. Everyone does the work and helps to create the time needed to get things done, but someone has to focus on the money.
- Building allies: Outside validators and allies are vital to successful campaigns of any kind. They can provide you with credibility, advice, and help in doing the work.
- Convincing the voters: If you want to win a race, or just make a change, you have to convince someone else that you—your position, your effort—are the right thing to support.
Then there’s the team of outside support, starting with your family—by birth, by marriage, or by your own creation—which is key to your efforts. It also includes the people in your life who will:
- Keep you honest and tell you the truth (but not the brutal truth).
- Boost your spirits and remind you of how great you are.
- Let you vent and keep you sane.
- Hold you accountable.
- Go through the same thing as you and share the experience.
Learn How to Make the Ask
Making an ask is a skill. It takes practice. But asking successfully for what you want and need is the critical ingredient to your campaign’s success.
There are a few key steps to making a successful ask.
Do your research. Find out what the market will bear and ask for the top end of that range. If it’s a donation, ask for the highest end of your targeted range. If you’re talking to a voter, ask them to vote and volunteer. If you’re talking to your boss, ask for a title change and a raise.
Find the right approach for your ask, one that allows you to make the best case and will be effective for you and the person you’re asking.
- Enthusiasm: I’m excited about something, and I’d love to bring you along with me.
- Fear: Without you, we will miss a deadline, fail to hit a goal, not be able to meet the needs of our community.
- Guilt: If not you, who? I have nowhere else to turn.
- All business: We share values and goals. With your help, I can get it done.
Find your own way through the awkward moments.
Occupy your time in a way that works for you—doing puzzles, baking pies, knitting.
Count to seven, or take a big drink of water, after you make the ask, to ensure you don’t talk yourself out of a good answer.
Remember that you are asking on behalf of a community, not yourself.
Let go of bad assumptions: Too many of our thoughts around making asks, particularly asking for money, are based on flawed assumptions, like the ones below. You know what they say about when we assume . . .
- People will give without an ask: You can’t assume people will help. You have to ask them to do it, no matter how close you are.
- Only rich people give money: In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of grassroots fundraising, and more and more, Americans are giving their time and money, even when they don’t have much of either. People recognize the importance of changing the world and want to get involved—don’t exclude them just because they can’t give as much as others.
- Asks should happen around big events: Use any opportunity you can.
- The first answer is the final answer: Keep asking until you get an actual answer, yes or no.
There are times when you should stop asking. If a donor, volunteer, or supporter is making you or your team uncomfortable or is being abusive in any way, you do not need their help. You will likely make up whatever you would have lost in time, emotional energy, and team well-being by not having to deal with a problematic supporter.
Grow a Thicker Skin
Successful women aren’t perfect. No one is. One of the keys to success is not failing to make mistakes or draw attacks; it’s figuring out how to grow a thick enough skin to roll with the punches and learn from them.
- Don’t read the comments: You only have a certain amount of time and energy every day. Why waste any of it on people who just want to make you feel bad?
- Know your vulnerabilities: No matter what you’re doing or how you’re trying to change the world, someone out there is going to hate you for it. Figure out what they can find out about you and how they might use it to undermine your work and your credibility.
- Plan for the worst: Failing to plan is planning to fail. Now that you know what might be coming (assuming you did your homework in the last point), it’s time to think about how you’ll deal with that incoming attack and how you’ll move forward from it.
- Learn the fundamentals: The best way to grow thicker skin is to build a process and a plan to deal with the arrows that might break through.
- Create a process before you need it
- Determine whether and how you will respond.
- Assign clear roles and deadlines for next steps.
- Make your response fast, accurate, and thoughtful.
- Think about your audiences.
- Monitor and calibrate accordingly.
- Turn your weaknesses into strengths: Being able to talk about what you’ve been through, and most important, what you’ve learned from hardships and mistakes, makes you a compelling leader. When you can, do that with humor.
- Remember that the bad times don’t last forever: Remind yourself why you’re working to change the world. Lean on your support system. And remember that this attack and this moment will pass.
Get Back Up. A Loss Is Just a Part of Your Journey.
A loss isn’t the end; it’s just another step in the journey. Period.
When you face an obstacle or a loss, you can grieve or wallow for a little while. Take care of yourself first. And then, once you’re ready, prepare to take action. Thank the people who contributed to your campaign or cause. Reflect on your loss for yourself, and ask others to help you think through the big questions: What worked, what didn’t, what could you have done better, and in what ways did you improve?
There are a variety of ways to respond to and learn from a loss:
- Try again: In campaigns, this means running again in the following cycle. This could mean asking for the promotion again, trying to organize for a cause a second time, and so on.
- Try again on a different stage: This could involve running for a different office or finding a non-electoral way to make the change you want to make. It means just shifting your time frame or scope while working toward the same goals.
- Find other ways to use your voice: Remember that there are many ways to make a difference. Starting something new, finding a new path to your goals, and even changing your goals and plans are all ways of moving forward. Service comes in many forms. Be open to something totally new.
And finally, let’s all agree not to hide from our losses. Setbacks are something we all face, and they’re made easier by knowing we’re not alone and by learning from each other’s losses.