Succeeding by Helping Others Succeed

In honor of Female Founder Month, Comcast NBCUniversal is featuring women innovators and founders throughout the month of May. This is a guest blog contributed by J. Kelly Hoey, speaker, investor, and author of “Build Your Dream Network.” She was also named one of the most influential women on Twitter.

In the summer of 2010, I was invited to an “influential women” breakfast at the 21 Club in midtown Manhattan. The invitees represented a diverse cross-section of New York City’s economy: finance, government, media, philanthropy, tech and fashion. The crowd was relatively somber in mood (it was rather early, after all) and attire (the collapse of Lehman Brothers plus being New Yorkers meant a room draped in shades of black and grey, regardless of the season). There with one bright exception in the crowd: Glenda Bailey, editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar. She arrived in a rich jewel-tone dress and stilettos.

And, I learned two incredibly valuable lessons from Glenda that morning.

First, always dress “ready for cocktails”.

Second, advance your career ambitions by lifting others.

Let me explain the second lesson. During a Q&A session at the breakfast, Glenda was asked “what is your greatest career achievement”? A career in fashion, on both sides of the Atlantic, the anticipated answer to this relatively straightforward question was a designer or supermodel she had “discovered” or an exclusive she nabbed before all the other editors. Her answer, however, had nothing to do with any of the underpinnings of her “job” in the fashion world. Instead she told a story about moving to New York to take the role as editor-in-chief at Harper’s Bazaar – only to almost immediately get back on a plane to attend London Fashion Week.

As I recall the story, the seating at London Fashion Week (at the time) dictated that editors of British and European magazines sit on one side of the runway – the rest of the world on the other side. For the first time in her career, Glenda found herself on the “other” side.

Looking across the runway, Glenda spotted a familiar face and instinctively waved. Then it hit her: when the entire front row waved back, she realized that she had mentored each and every one of those editors-in-chief at some point in their careers. Mentoring others to success did not detract from or inhibit her career momentum. Lifting others to greater professional heights didn’t prevent her from reaching greater career heights. She didn’t mentor to achieve accolades or gather an entourage, it was simply the way she chose to lead and how she chose to interact with colleagues (now industry peers).

When you look across your career runway, what will be your career legacy? Navigating competitive work environments and economies doesn’t need to come with sharp elbows and a mindset of scarcity: you can succeed by helping others succeed too.

As for Glenda’s first lesson, it really does take the guessing out of “what to wear”.