I’m moving on…

To a new website! For the past 18 months, my wordpress blog has been a place to capture my thoughts and experiences, but my website felt stuck and not truly representing ME.

Like everything, my new site (ericadhawan.com) is a work in progress and I’ll be making more changes in the coming weeks and months. But I hope you’ll check it out and sign up. There will be a lot more coming from me on next generation leadership, talent innovation, and even Bollywood dance!

I could have waited to make my new site perfect, but I know that getting it out in the world NOW is exactly what I needed to do.  My theme for this year is building a culture of experimentation in my life, being able to test new behaviors and ways of working, whether it’s a website, a product, or even a dance routine!

When was the last time you didn’t wait to make a project or blog post or paper ‘perfect’ and shared it with the world? Chances are it was more authentic and real and you more quickly improved it.

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Clear your clutter

The great leaders of our time know how to insulate themselves and focus on what matters most. One of them is Jim Collins. Last month’s Economist recounted Collins’s story to success. He rejected desirable careers as an academic and consultant and set out to go back to his hometown Boulder, Colorado and work on the sole question of ‘what makes great companies tick.’ He churned out bestseller books every four years (i.e. Good to Great, Great By Choice, How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In). He logs how much time he spends on creative work and mundane tasks. He spent his weekends mountain climbing, applying the same rigor to his hobby as his writing.

My ritual each December is to ‘clear the clutter’ in my life so I can stay true my core work and insulate myself in the New Year. Clutter clearing isn’t only about cleaning my closet, it’s about clearing physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Offline? I’m clearing my closet, my drawers, my wallet, papers on my desk, etc. I’m clearing my old goal sheets and task lists and making way for new ones. I’m clearing my body with a detox (I sure need it after Xmas in the South) with veggies and coconut juice (see this 21 Day Cleanse).

Online? I’m clearing my inbox (see email ninja tricks for tips). I literally spent 2 hours today clearing out all the junk email listserves I was subscribed to. I cleared my Twitter  feed and updated my Evernote files.

It feels really refreshing and spacious to clear my clutter. Successful leaders like Collins remind me how important it is to take the time to do this before the New Year.

So I hope each and everyone of you clears your clutter this holiday season! Here’s to a warm New Year!

My challenge for you for 2012: Find out what you want to do and GO DO IT! Being a next generation leader is about DOING the work……that matters to you.

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ForbesWoman: How Women Executives Who Leave Their Roles Affect The Next Generation of Women Leaders

It’s been over three years since the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and the downfall of CFO Erin Callan. Yet the underlying unfair media portrayal facing women executives who leave their roles continues in cases like Carol Barsh and Sallie Krawcheck this year. What I care about most is how the media’s disservice to women executives given the portrayal of them when they leave powerful positions affects future generations of women leaders.

Check out my most recent piece in ForbesWoman entitled How Women Executives Who Leave Their Roles Affect the Next Generation of Women Leaders. I hope you can share your perspective and thoughts as well.

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Own Your Time

“We spend 2/3 of time answering email, going to meetings and doing our job. Our competition has figured out that they need to spend time doing remarkable art.” –Seth Godin, Medicine Ball session, Dec 9, 2011

Last week, I attended marketing guru Seth Godin’s Medicine Ball session. It got me unstuck, ready to rethink and focus on producing remarkable art in the world.

Before the event, my biggest ‘challenge’ or ‘excuse’ was that there wasn’t enough time in the day to produce my art in the world: to build a women’s leadership business, start a Bollywood dance company, and finish graduate school. The truth is: I OWN my time, I make choices about how to spend my time and ultimately what works of art get done done.

Timezones were invented 120 years ago and the notion of synchronization worked well in a factory-oriented world. Today’s connection economy is asynchronous, success is about producing remarkable art, presenting it to the world, and eventually people caring enough to pay for it.

Here’s my top four list of nuggets that Seth taught me about ‘owning my time’ to produce my art in the world.

1)   Set up your calls and meetings only 2 days a week. The other days are for your work, your time, your art.

2)   Have less meetings. Meetings don’t make decisions, leaders make decisions. When you have less meetings, more work gets done. Check out Al Pittampalli’s  “The Modern Meeting Standard” for more tips on effective meetings.

3)   Follow the 7pm rule. Why do we work past 7pm? We make rules to have lunch and shower, so when did it become optional to go home at 7pm – it’s the end of the day! Take the time you need to recharge and you’ll produce better art.

4)  Schedule hours per day for various tasks. Set a scheduled time each day for the work that matters most. Plan everything else around that precious time. Owning your time is about making time for the art that matters.

So get to work and OWN YOUR TIME! More tips from Seth are to come in my upcoming blog posts. And if you have other tips on how to own your time, please comment and share!

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Highlights from TEDxWomen

This post was cross-published at Levo League.

TEDxWomen was an inspiring day packed with female change agents and innovators. More than 100 TEDxWomen gatherings convened all over world, including the first ever TEDx event in Libya. The themes of the day were Resilience, Relationships, ReImagine, and Rebirth. My favorite speakers were many of the Gen Y women who took the stage: Claire Sannini, a 8th grade girl who spoke about her experience with girl bullying alongside Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out, and Busisiwe Mkhumbuzi, an amazing 17 year old girl from Johannesburg and V-Girls action team leader.
Here are some of my most memorable quotes from the amazing group of speakers:

  • Gayle Lemmon, writer and journalist: “If you see the word micro finance most people think women. If you think entrepreneur most people think men. We must move beyond micro hopes and micro ambitions for women…Women can no longer be both 50 percent of the population and a special interest group.”
  • Jennifer Newsom, producer of Miss Representation: “The media is killing our daughters’ ambition and destroying empathy and emotion in our sons..3 percent of decision makers of media are women, 97 percent of decisions are made by men. For the 97 percent, I challenge you to mentor women up the ladder and help promote them. Let’s demand a media culture that uplifts us all, inspires our daughters to be president, our sons to be empathic partners.”
  • Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out: “In a 2006 study, 74 percent of girls were under pressure to please everyone. If we want girls to be resilient, we have to give them the skills to navigate.”
  • Shahira Amin, Egyptian journalist: “Women are the future of the new Egypt; they will lead, and men will follow.”
  • Gloria Steinem, author and feminist activist: “My generation thought life was over at 30 and your generation feels like you have to be successful before 30.”

This is just a small dose of an incredible set of women and men that came together to hear groundbreaking ideas to advance women and girls. Stay tuned as TEDxWomen will publish the various talks online in the coming days!

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TEDxWomen this week

This week, I am pleased to be a blogger in NYC for TEDxWomen on Thursday. TEDxWomen is a continuation of the conversation which began last December at TEDWomen about how women and girls shape the future.

I have also been organizing millennial women to get engaged in the TEDxWomen conversation by joining the online forum, blogging about the event, and creating local forums in your community to continue the conversation. See here for my most recent Huffington Post article entitled Gen Y women need to take the stage.

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Movement building is a generational task

“Product building is a five-year task. Movement building, on the other hand, is a generation-long challenge that requires much bolder vision, patience, and ambition. What this moment of inflection demands is exactly such a movement – a movement that creates a fundamental mindset shift in how society mobilizes resources to address our social and environmental challenges..” –Judith Rodin, President of Rockefeller Foundation at Acumen Fund Investor Gathering

4 years ago, I had a dream. I was an investment banker at Lehman Brothers and I was also a first generation Indian-American activist and social change agent.  I wanted to bring these two worlds together somehow. I believed that I could be part of a bigger social movement despite my day job demands.

In January 2008, I pitched Acumen Fund on an idea for bankers, marketers, consultants, students, designers, entrepreneurs to volunteer their time to fundraise and educate people on Acumen Fund’s work in patient capital.

Acumen said “we like it.  Now Erica, go do it.”

1 volunteer meeting turned into many more, often stretching late into the night because everyone had busy full-time jobs.  We organized a panel on how young professionals could get engaged in social entrepreneurship work at NYU, we held an awareness event at SAKS 5th Avenue and then with the help of Nuru Project, we organized a DIGNITY photo auction and fundraiser that raised $25,000 for Acumen Fund in one night. The seeds of New York for Acumen were born…

This was the start to a speech I gave four years later, last week at Acumen Fund’s 10 year Investor Gathering. Acumen Fund chapters are now in 10 cities with thousands of members from Vancouver to Dubai to London to Tokyo.

As I spoke on stage with other chapter leaders, I felt a movement start to take shape around the ideas of dignity, of patient capital and of moral leadership.  My dream came true and now this is a collective dream.

Most importantly, I recognized the power of the decentralized local chapter model to build a movement for patient capital. The volunteer chapter model is an important growth opportunity for nonprofits and helps organizations like Acumen Fund move from ‘product building’ to ‘movement building’ as Judith Rodin described. The Acumen Fund local chapters are teaching Acumen Fund how to collaborate across sectors, generations, and cities in ways that they haven’t seen before, infusing leadership trainings and activities at a more local level, and deepening conversation and action in communities.

The phenomenon of launching local hubs led by volunteers is becoming more and more common (i.e. TEDx, World Economic Forum Global Shapers). I believe this is the model for movement building in the future. Join the Acumen Fund chapter community here. Movement building is a generational task.

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Share your personal brand

This post was cross-published at Levo League and Sloan Women in Management blog.

On Thursday Nov 3, Suzanne Bates, an expert on personal branding and author of Discover your CEO Brand spoke at the Successful You! Women’s Leadership Forum sponsored by Microsoft. She asked the middle and senior women managers in the room, “What is a brand? What is your personal brand? How do you figure out what your brand is and leverage value in your career and business?” When asked how many people knew what their brand was, about 25% of the room raised their hands.

Suzanne says, “a brand is the conversation people have about you.” A personal brand is not a first impression, it is a consistent message that builds over time. The very effective great leaders not only know who they are, but also they know what they stand for. As people understand who you are and what you stand for your value grows. For example, Amazon is one of the most trusted brands in the world. Every time you go there you have same experience and they give you preferences of items to buy based on what they know about you.

Two personal branding tips from Suzanne are:

1) Communicating your brand drives exceptional value, it attracts people and opportunity. When the right leader is matched up with the right organization at the right time, the results are spectacular. Be bigger-a brand can always be more.

2) Connect your values to actions and results.  She describes that sharing a personal story is a powerful brand builder. Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox says, “Never be a victim, circumstances don’t define anyone, where you are is not who you are.”

At first, I was hesitant to publicize my brand and expertise on women, leadership and movement. I soon realized that it’s not about me. It’s about my work in the world and I am just a vehicle. If I get nervous before a speech, if I hold back in my writing, if I don’t share my personal brand, I’m not serving my purpose. Forget the imposter syndrome—share your personal brand!

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If I ask a big enough question, I need more than one discipline to solve it

“I’ve always been fascinated by asking why things are the way they are. It’s about how you take a questioning mind into the world around you and go somewhere else with it, into something unknown.” –Michael Singer

Michael Singer, an artist in the public realm, has been instrumental in transforming public art, architecture, landscape, and planning projects into successful models for urban and ecological renewal.

I met with Michael recently and he reminded me of the value of keep one foot in the leadership change world and one foot in the art and dance world, knowing that these worlds inform each other and challenge one another. When I ask a big enough question, I need more than one discipline to solve it.

A major theme in Michael’s work is concept of questioning assumptions. On his website, you’ll see a variety of questions. He asks these questions not to find an answer, rather to offer a different way to see what’s around him. A scientist will ask ‘why’, an engineer will ask ‘how’, and Michael asks ‘what’.  The way he uses language is very much the way he communicates with the world.

His advice for artists, changemakers and policymakers is to go out and find a problem and get people together from different disciplines to solve it. With this approach, he believes groups can rethink infrastructures to create spaces that serve more than one purpose.

Next time you are working an idea to solve a problem, reflect on Michael Singer’s approach for questioning assumptions.

First, make a list of all the stakeholders related to your idea. Then explore a set of questions: Who is asking for it? Who’s paying for it? Who’s using it?  Who in community will agree and who in community will resist? Lastly, put your idea statement into a question that can engage each of your stakeholders. When it’s a question, we ask people to engage as stakeholders and this helps us to solve the problem and observe our own assumptions.

I’ve found questioning assumptions and cross-disciplinary collaboration to be so useful in my leadership change work. When I actually question my assumptions and use more than one discipline to solve a problem, I shift my own way of seeing the world.



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Changing Wall St’s view of Occupy Wall St

On September 23, 2011, a Youtube video went up titled “Wall Street Mocks Protesters By Drinking Champagne 2011.” In fact this was not a group of Wall Street bankers mocking protestors, this video included someone I know from my time at Lehman Brothers. I learned it was a wedding engagement party hosted at an Italian restaurant. It had nothing to do with the protests.

Needless to say, I was quite perturbed about the mixed social media about the movement. I had also been influenced by my grad school island and reading the ‘rant’ rages in the Wall Street Journal and NYTimes. I remained disgrunted about the situation for a week or so.

As the protests continued, I realized I had a choice: I could continue to complain about Occupy Wall St like some of my MBA classmates and banker friends or participate and shape it in way I believed in it. I felt straddled in between my two worlds as an ex-investment banker and as a social activist. So I chose to participate.

I went to OccupyBoston last weekend and Occupy Wall St in NYC this weekend. This time, in NYC, I didn’t come alone. I brought 2 friends with me. There were two male Wall Street bankers, one who had worked for Goldman Sachs and another who worked for Bear Stearns. Originally, they were both cynical of the protests after seeing the youtube videos and reading the rant rages in the news. I asked them to join me to have an informed dialogue with the protestors and stop relying on media news that confused us all. We used a conversation tool designed by the Presencing Institute to engage around the root causes of the economic crisis and the emergence of this movement.  The thing that struck me most is that these two communities had so much more to learn from eachother than to antagonize eachother. After the dialogue, my Wall St friends told me that they realized that this was more about a leadership problem in banking and government institutions than the ‘news rants’ or youtube videos they saw online. It made us all think hard about what should be done.

I for one am thrilled and excited to see the Occupy Wall St movement take shape. As a former Lehman banker and women’s right activist, I have been both inside Wall St buildings and outside in protests on Washington, DC.

This movement is part of a global trend. There is something really important that is happening, the voice of young and old people coming together in solidarity and wanting to participate in the solution. Just because the movement is not ‘well articulated’ yet does not mean it won’t be very soon.

From a leadership perspective, I wonder how we can make this movement more cross sector, engaging more people in the banking industry to have conversations with protestors. Occupy Wall St is engaging and sparking new conversations (see OccupyCafe), but what we also need is more cross-institutional dialogue to collectively respond to the systemic root issues that underlie the current landscape of this crisis.


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