Bully for You? Et tu, Brutus? Don’t Be A Bully!

Glinda the Good Witch


Cruella de Vil

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

With all the heightened talk of mentors and sponsors, it’s sad to consider that there are 40-something bosses out there – men and women – who are terrible bullies. What’s more, they blame (sometimes rightfully) the generation of manager before them – e.g., women like me who are now in their fifties and sixties who were also bullied early in their careers. It gives new meaning to: “We have seen the enemy, and it is us.”

Don’t believe me? Deny the obvious? Come on! How many of us older women can honestly assert we never thought, “Oh, what a wimp!”, as we watched a younger impressionable woman cry in anger and frustration in front of us about a work or personal issue? How many of us can honestly say we have never cried at work?

One such young woman on my team many years ago not only survived some mean moments with me, but thrived, moving on to head up a respected boutique PR firm. Now in her forties, she is a partner at a large prestigious marketing firm – no small achievement. I know that it’s an achievement she earned not by being a bully, not by being a diva, and not by being a screamer. A few years ago I ran into her in a restaurant, where she warmly greeted me and graciously provided a business lead that became of tremendous value to me. I’d like to think that she learned how to be tough, street-smart, strategic and kind by observing those who were not.

Unfortunately, the queen bee sting is still a big thing. The female boss who not only has little interest in fostering the careers of women who aim to follow in her footsteps, but who might even actively attempt to throw them under the bus.

Women have even more responsibility to stop this behavior. As I speak with many women about bullying (and its evil stepsisters: apathy, neglect and rudeness), the reality emerges that it’s tolerated in men but unforgivable in women.

Bullying isn’t just an older manager/younger subordinate affliction. It can happen whenever someone else controls your paycheck, promotions, raises, contracts, referrals and other career advancement factors (or, similarly, a spouse who controls your financial security).

Although it happened many years ago, it’s still hard for me to forgive, let alone forget, the hulking mass of a former boss, a (female) CEO who one day physically pushed me – someone who is decidedly not demure, not shy, and not petite – up against a wall to chew me out following a client meeting. I did not see her as powerful or strong. I saw her for the weak and frightened vendor she was. The client himself was a tyrant who routinely threw papers and objects at me and my team, and should have been sued and marked for unemployment forever. My boss was desperate to retain his business, so she chose me as her punching bag. I left the firm soon after that.

The lessons I learned from bad bosses and caustic clients didn’t dilute the far more positive lessons I’m able to exchange with others today. They drove me to business school in mid-career, and to start my own company. More than just learning how to master corporate finance, my MBA taught me lot about respect, motivation and true leadership. Ironically, case histories of powerful (and often bullying) men dominate business school curricula, which is what inspired me to write a book about how great women leaders over 40 lead differently.

In fact, many women in their 20s, 30s and 40s today are helping to pull from career abyss unemployed women over 50 who still want to work. These women are battling a barrage of issues: restructurings, rejection letters, ageism, under-employment, and exploitation of their willingness to consult for free in the hopes of winning paying contracts that never fully materialize. Some of these affronts are by female CEOs, including the increasing practice of ignoring emails from seasoned professionals these CEOs have engaged and to whom they promised decisions.

As one article summed it up: “No reply is the ‘new no.’” While such apathy or cowardice is not limited to female CEOs, it’s perceived as nastier. Is this how they would like to see their daughters and sons treated? If not, they have themselves to blame for proliferating rudeness that will surely pass on to the next generation of hiring managers. Is this what feminists envisioned when they talked about sisterhood, and about women having bigger balls than men? Ignoring courteous requests for closure after you’ve engaged these women to your benefit is the loudest promo that you in fact have no balls – doesn’t matter how powerful you think you are.

What’s even more astonishing in this age of uber-connectedness is that anyone thinks they are immune from the reputation-damaging consequences of such rudeness. People talk and they name names – to your potential clients, your prospective employees, your funders and, most especially, to the media and to your competitors.

Because of the 24/7 spotlight on – well, everyone! – in the work I do today, I try to focus on the positive and to be as responsive as possible. I spend a lot of time mentoring women and men of all ages, some whom I’ve never even met, and some who don’t have the ability to pay. It makes me happy that so many of these young professionals become mentors and sponsors for the next generation. Some may say I do it to “redeem” my own past leadership missteps. Better late than never, at least I’m righting – and writing – my own best “leader-ship”.

My hope is that all the truly powerful, truly empathetic women today – the mentors and the mentored – remember the good lessons of the women leaders in their lives. And I hope they heed Ms. Angelou’s heartfelt pronouncement as profound advice:

“…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”




[i] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323884304578328271526080496.html

Strategic Planning: Why Every Nonprofit Leader Should Watch “Shark Tank”

 © Liz DiMarco Weinmann, 2/15/21

The current online edition of the Chronicle of Philanthropy features a thoughtful advice article https://www.philanthropy.com/article/what-to-know-about-3-charity-monitoring-groups summarizing the key strategic and operational assets the top three charity-monitoring groups look for when evaluating nonprofits.  They include, in varying terms: governance, financing, fundraising, and effectiveness.  An excellent reference tool, the article is also an impetus for strategic planning.  After all, few would argue that a fully operational strategic plan encompasses the assets that smart funders – like those on the popular CNBC series, “Shark Tank” – look for in deciding whether to support an organization.

As a former private-sector marketing executive who transitioned to nonprofit fundraising after the events of 9/11, I know it’s almost impossible to secure adequate funding from major donors and foundations without a fully operational strategic plan.  [More at: www.beam-impact.com.]  A strategic plan needn’t comprise dozens of pages. In fact, some of the best strategic plans I’ve produced are under five pages, and one of the first grants I ever secured for over $1million was presented in a one-page proposal.  It was to a corporate foundation whose previous gifts to my client’s organization had topped out at $100,000. The proposal reflected my client organization’s strategic plan, which I had recently revised.

If developed and written well, a nonprofit’s strategic plan indeed can be distilled to a single page or graphic that also can be used to secure internal engagement of staff, board members, and other volunteers.  Which brings us back to Shark Tank.

[To book a 15-minute pro bono session with me on how to jump-start your strategic planning process, please send me an email – lizweinmann@gmail.com – and we’ll make it happen.]      

Here are just a few reasons why a few episodes of Shark Tank – perhaps binged early in the day with a triple espresso (oh, just me?) – could serve as a master class for the importance of a strategic plan when meeting with demanding funders:

  1. With increased competition for funding, and fewer resources to accomplish goals, there is more intense pressure to demonstrate how and when your organization’s strategy and operations will create measurable positive impact. In times of crisis, a strategic plan becomes much more than a road map.  The plan should drive – i.e., operate – the organization, so that leaders look forward and move ahead, while also dealing with short-term priorities.
  2. The intensity of the Shark Tank “plot structure” is how fundraising meetings often play out, i.e., it’s not just for TV. The principles and scenarios of Shark Tank apply in real life.  As one who has faced discerning and demanding funders (and aren’t they all?), I know having a strategic plan to reference is crucial.
  3. Nonprofits seeking funds today are expected to commit to memory myriad facts and figures about their organization. A strategic plan provides a framework for that data to be presented with the precision, clarity, and confidence that convinces donors to give.
  4. Venture capitalists and private equity investors (such as those that appear on Shark Tank), often stipulate that a firm’s pitch for funding be summarized in an oral introduction of no more than five minutes, and that written summaries be limited to a single page. Impossible for a nonprofit? Not for someone who has done it a thousand times, with a high success rate.

If you’re a current or aspiring nonprofit leader or board member who has an upcoming meeting with a demanding major donor or foundation,  then here’s what you should watch for on Shark Tank to prep for your meeting:

  1. Watch to see if the private-sector entrepreneurs present a concise case to scrupulous venture capitalists, about how their product is a solution, or enhancement, or completely different, than anything currently on the market.
  2. Watch to see how succinct and precise contestants are about their entire business plans when hoping to secure funds, whether for thousands or millions.
  3. Watch to see how they deal with the most scrutinizing questions and objections when a “Shark” requests more of a profit share than the entrepreneur thinks is fair.
  4. Watch to see how the word “profit” can become an analogy for your organization’s stated theory of change, or projected outcomes, or desired societal impact, and what a major donor or foundation might expect.

Now imagine your toughest donors, and the nonprofit monitoring groups they consult, will behave like those “Sharks.” As we all know, they often do.   While there is much defensiveness and protest about whether nonprofits should face the same – and sometimes higher – expectations of transparency and accountability than the private sector, it is no longer a question of “should”.  The reality is that the expectations are already there, and they are mounting – with every grant proposal you write, every business cycle you evaluate, every quarterly report you distribute, and every 990 you file. For those reasons alone, a fully operational strategic plan is no longer a “should” proposition, or a “someday” option.  It is a must, and that day is now.



The COVID Career Chasm – How deep, how long

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 800,000 women left the workforce as of September 2020, and that number is probably underestimating the women who have home businesses they have put on hold.  It is a dire trend that will reverberate for at least one generation, if not more.

Many of the women affected are professionals in their prime, ages 38-53, spanning Gen-X, which is already hard-hit from the squeeze of more nimble, less encumbered Millennials and baby-boomers who also need to stay in the workforce.  These prime professionals are lawyers, accountants, surgeons, professors, and other high-intensity achievement-oriented women.  Many of them will lose promotions, face reductions in salary, and deal with a drastic diminution of their retirement funds.

As they go, so do the women who help them run their homes and their careers – the childcare workers, household helpers, classroom aides, bus drivers, and numerous others.   Generation X, indeed.

A few rays of hope:  many notable women in the 20th century did not come into their own until after great adversity – founding valuable businesses, nonprofits, and social movements after the age of 40.  These include: Juliette Gordon Low, who founded Girl Scouts of USA at age 57; Jean Nidetch, who founded Weight Watchers at age 41; Ethel Percy Andrus, who founded AARP when she was 74; and Rachel Carson, biologist and author of the landmark book about dangerous pesticides, “Silent Spring”. At age 55, suffering from stage 4 breast cancer, Carson testified before Congress about what she called “biocides” – chemicals that harm humans as well as animals.  She died just 18 months after “Silent Spring” was published, but she is often credited with the launch of the Environmental Protection Agency.

While not many of us can aspire to Rachel Carson’s greatness, perhaps we can be  optimistic about pondering the many miles to go before we sleep, to paraphrase Robert Frost.  Here’s hoping we all get to have many more miles, days, night, weeks, months, and years, to, as Eleanor Roosevelt put it, “…do the thing you think you cannot do.”