In recognition of International Women’s Day on 8 March, EO is focusing on female founders and women in business who represent this year’s theme, “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change.”
Anna Collins is president and COO of Bulletproof 360, a company focused on creating products and providing information to radically improve lives and help people tap their unlimited potential. We were introduced to Anna after the founder of Bulletproof, Dave Asprey’s popular EO 360 podcast.
I believe there is no such thing as an ideal career path. Your professional blueprint is personal. It develops as you discover your passion, hone your talent, follow your intuition and take time to be curious and reflective. And, when you add a few role models or mentors to further inspire your unique blueprint, your path will lead not only to a good career, but a good life.
You can’t look at somebody who received a promotion when you didn’t, and assume you are falling behind. Don’t look left or right. Pacing happens for a reason. Your career path is uniquely yours.
I remember a woman on my team who badly wanted to have an assistant, even though she was probably 10 years away from having one. Another woman, a senior-level manager on my team, asked me why her peer was being promoted to the director level, while she remained a manager. Today, that woman is a senior executive who, over time, rose far above her early peers.
Too often, the ambition to succeed is for the badge value, not for the value of succeeding in life. For me, succeeding in life includes a never-ending cycle of contribution and learning.
Illuminate Your Path with Mentors
One of the best ways to maintain a healthy perspective is to have a number of people who inspire or mentor you. These people can help you see how many possible—and equally “successful”—paths exist.
There were both men and women who inspired and mentored me along my path, but as we reach International Women’s Day 2019, I especially want to recognize two influential woman who influenced my blueprint:
Brigadier General Wilma L. Vaught, USAFR (Ret.) was an officer in the Air Force who I met early in my career. She was the first woman to deploy with an Air Force bomber unit, and the first woman to reach the rank of brigadier general from comptroller (finance). At the time, roughly 98 percent of the Air Force generals were ex-pilots and men. But Vaught was a one-star general and, like me, had made a career in finance.
When I was not in uniform, most people assumed I was either a nurse or someone’s wife. Women were not allowed to perform roles classified as combatant (most pilot roles). With so few women officers, I was astounded to see her in the top ranks, and she inspired me to reach beyond the limitations we saw.
Kathy Delaney-Smith is another mentor who influenced me and my leadership style. She was my basketball coach at Harvard. She started at a losing program and, within my four years there, she turned us into a championship team. She is still there, and has led the team to more wins than any coach in Ivy League basketball—men or women. She hails from the school of John Wooden—the great University of California, Los Angeles, basketball coach who famously insisted players start their careers with him by learning to tie their shoelaces properly. Begin with the basics and insist on high standards.
Kathy taught me valuable lessons about leadership, especially what I call the three Cs: character, confidence and caring. Many leaders possess the character and confidence. To me, however, leadership with caring is where the magic lies.
These are the kind of leaders I like to work for and the kind of leader I aim to be.
Develop Your Leadership Skills
The three Cs highlight the value of the fundamentals—those simple things that appear naturally when you care for people and when you understand they work for more than a paycheck. That’s why my favorite quote on leadership is from Max DePree’s book The Art of Leadership:
The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.
Kathy also taught me another lesson: “no weasel words.” With her, you could never say “can’t” or “try.” If you said any of those weasel words you had to run sprints. It was part of her mindset. It’s like that at Bulletproof, too. We focus on using phrases like “I want,” “I will” and “we’re doing it.”
A career is not a competition. This is your life. There is no winning against another person along the way.
Ask what you want to do with your life. What are the key elements that you want in our next role? And in you role five years out? What’s motivating and satisfying for you? What does your head say? Your heart? Are you thriving or surviving? What does success look like—the company, the title and the compensation? The answers are different for everyone.
As Aristotle once said, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.”
The best blueprint of all is one that is as unique as you are, fuels your passions and fits your whole life, both personal and professional. While it is human to look left and right, keep your eyes on your own path.
A versatile and transformational leader, Anna Collins has pioneered and scaled new businesses at some of the world’s most admired multi-billion-dollar companies, including Microsoft and CVS Health, and was most recently worldwide general manager of Amazon Prime membership, where she led the first two Prime Days, pricing and member engagement, growth and retention programs.