Cowgirl Power: How to Kick Ass in Business and Life

January 09, 2018


In this excerpt, Gay Gaddis—CEO and Founder of T3—explains how to make your own rules and take on the mantle of leadership.

To Take Leadership, Make Your Own Rules

Whether you’re looking to lead from the C-suite, positioning yourself to head up a department or management team, or—as a new hire—taking steps to separate yourself from the pack as an asset worth developing within the company, you need to strategize, making your own rules to achieve your goals.

Take Responsibility for Getting Feedback

I learned the hard way to speak up early if I was not getting the information I needed for my job. It was a lesson I never forgot.

Think about the way you receive feedback. Do you seek it out or sit back and wait for it? Are you open to it or do you try to avoid it? People with an open mindset listen with a focus on improving and learning. Open people look for ways to learn to welcome feedback, including criticism.

In the business world, getting constructive feedback can be a real challenge. If you are in an organization that provides regular constructive feedback, congratulations. But my experience is that most companies are terrible at this and too many still rely on the awkward ritual of annual employee reviews, which is about as useful as pounding sand in a rat hole. Both sides usually leave these events more confused.

Shelley Correll and Caroline Simard of Stanford University did a research project that “shows that women are systematically less likely to receive specific feedback tied to outcomes, both when they receive praise and when the feedback is developmental. In other words, men are offered a clearer picture of what they are doing well and more specific guidance of what is needed to get to the next level.”[1]

Feedback for women tends to be vague and focused more on communication style. When you do receive feedback, be sure to ask questions so that you get information about how you are specifically impacting specific business outcomes. Do not settle for comments like, “You have done a great job.”

Cowgirls continue to ask questions until they get useful answers.

Round Up Your Rough Riders

Who is your coach? Who is your trainer? If the answer is always “my boss,” you are going to come up short. Build your own feedback system. Do not wait for someone to do it for you.

Start a small group of people who will tell you the truth and ask for their feedback. Think of this group of trusted souls as your “Rough Riders.” They are there to give you insights to make you more powerful. Who else is going to tell you if you are “up talking” or not speaking with enough authority? Who else will challenge your logic? How are you going to improve if you don’t understand your strengths and weaknesses?

Reciprocate by being a “Rough Rider” for others. Think about the power of this and the impact it could make on your life and career.

Try it. You will be amazed what it can do for you. And, I promise you’ll have fun and kick some ass.

Don’t Dally Around – Be Decisive

Make decisions quickly and move on. Perhaps the deadliest sin in our businesses is to allow ourselves to angst over decisions for weeks and months. For example, in our 16-year relationship with Dell, the mantra was to get things 80% right and execute fast before the market dynamics changed. In those days, prices of computers were falling rapidly. Being at the wrong price point in a monthly catalog could spell disaster. If you wait to get that last 20% perfect, you set yourself up to lose. Big time.

Do what you can do and then go. Always default toward action. You can iterate, improve tomorrow. What you get done today is what counts.

I have seen people pause and freeze in business situations. For example, in my business, the one fatal error is to hold onto overhead when you know your revenue is coming down. We sometimes hope that we can reel in that new piece of business to cover for a loss. If you are lucky that can happen, but you cannot count on it. My position has always been to cut your losses fast. Carefully and precisely, but fast. You can always rebuild when that next piece of business is signed, sealed and delivered.

Women get hung up on perfectionism because they were taught to be more poised, polite and make better grades in school than those rowdy boys. Girls were cleaner, more buttoned up and not as loud. That worked great in the structured school environment. But when young women are thrown to the wolves in the business world, they often dither too much. They want each report to be perfect and fuss over it too long. They don’t answer questions unless they know the answer with certainty. Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson, the authors of The Plateau Effect, call this tendency the “enemy of the good,” leading as it does to hours of wasted time. The irony is that striving to be perfect actually keeps us from getting much of anything done.[2]

There is a lot of data out there that women often do not apply for jobs or promotions unless they meet every criterion. Men are not as hung up and rarely limit themselves. Men take risks. Cowgirls, like our Dell clients, understand that there are times when you get it about 80% right and go for it. This does not mean you settle for the imperfect solution. It means you prioritize action over perfection.

Go With People Who Pull You Forward

Time is your most precious asset; spend it with people who inspire you. Run away from anyone else. In this day of social media, focus on the quality of people you spend time with, not the quantity, which can steal your mental energy. Have lunch with people you admire. Get to know them better. Ask questions. Reach out and, for goodness sake, follow up.

Do not follow the crowd, especially if you feel something is wrong.

If you want to become a powerful person, hang out with people with powerful ambitions. Find interesting people from all walks of life who are doing inspirational things and include them in a network that helps all of you. Friendship is always a two-way street. Maintaining a relationship, even if it is distant, with someone you admire is a smart, healthy thing to do.

And help people when you can. I have built an amazing network of powerful women I know all over the world through the executive women’s group C200. We have a rule that we never solicit business from each other. But, when one of them reaches out saying her daughter is looking for a new job, I’m all over it. One more drop in the bucket of goodwill! I try to be very honest about my ability to help. I cannot do it all, but for a close friend, if I can, I pull out all the stops.

1. Shelly Correll and Caroline Simard, Harvard Business Review, Research: Vague Feedback Is Holding Women Back, April 29, 2016, https://hbr.org/2016/04/research-vague-feedback-is-holding-women-back
2. Hugh Thompson and Bob Sullivan, Getting Unstuck: Break Free of the Plateau Effect, Penguin Group, 2014
Excerpted from Cowgirl Power: How to Kick Ass in Business and Life.
Reprinted courtesy of Center Street, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.
©Gay Gaddis, Publication Date: January 23, 2018.
All Rights Reserved.



Gay Gaddis is CEO and Founder of T3. In 1989, she started her company after cashing in a $16,000 IRA. Today, T3 has offices nationwide and creates innovative digital marketing programs for Fortune 200 clients. T3 is a top-ranked innovation firm and one of the largest agencies owned by a woman. Gay has been nationally recognized for the unique family-friendly policies she has initiated at T3.

Gay is on the Board of Directors of Monotype Imaging Holdings and on the Dean's Advisory Council to The University of Texas McCombs School of Business. She is also the first female Chairman of the Texas Business Leadership Council. Gay is a regular contributor to Forbes, and her Texas landscapes have been featured in galleries in New York and Texas. She and her husband own the Double Heart Ranch in the Texas Hill Country.

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