What I Learned from Nancy Pelosi, Part II

Thumbnail image for nancy pelosiWhat I Learned from Nancy Pelosi, Part II

NOTE: This post is not about politics. This post is about career development.

We’ve all experienced how quickly a job can change. Your position can be irrevocably affected by a new boss, a corporate restructuring, or an economic recession. For Nancy Pelosi, it was the midterm elections.

After losing her job as Speaker of the House of Representatives when her party lost control of the House, she decided to run for continued leadership in the minority role. It was a gutsy move, not one that everyone admired or endorsed. This week she won the vote, retaining leadership of the Democrats in the House.

Earlier this year I wrote about what I learned about self-presentation from Pelosi. Now I want to suggest a few lessons we can take away from her most recent career move: about grace and ambition under extreme pressure. When it hits the fan, here’s how can you, too, can keep your cool as well as your career momentum:

Ignore the mean girls (and boys). No matter what you do, there will be those who project upon you their own fantasies. (Women are particularly vulnerable to mother anxieties, but that’s the subject of an entire column.) And sometimes they will undercut you in nasty ways, ranging from gossip to outright lies to a smear campaign. Don’t squander your power by escalating the nastiness.

Stick by your principles. If you believe in what you do, don’t apologize for it, even if it becomes unpopular.

Adapt to changing circumstances. Okay, you didn’t get that promotion, or the department has been decentralized, or the budget is being cut. You may not be able to continue on the same path, but can you find another route to your career goal?

Never say “die.” In the immortal words of Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” At the very least, they’ll remember you.

Make your case. Pelosi was not shy about articulating why she was re-elected: “Because I’m an effective leader, because we got the job done [ . . . ]. Because they know that I’m the person that can attract the resources [ . . . ] to take us to victory because I have done it before.” Tell me, could you deliver as powerful a statement of your accomplishments?

Further reading: What I Learned from Nancy Pelosi, Part I


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