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Be cheerful, but plausible

Safe to say last week the Business Executive Academy pulled off a bit of a coup. Securing Anji Hunter to speak to a room full of BEA delegates and Angela Mortimer consultants is not an every day occurrence and I’ll explain why. Anji has had and is still having a remarkable career. Beginning life working for a little known back bench MP in 1987 by the name of Tony Blair, to being known as the most influential person in Downing Street in just a decade, to working as the Director of Communications for BP, to being hired by Edelman as a Senior Advisor. The latter being a role she advised everyone in the room snap up on the spot if they were ever lucky enough to be offered.

Anji was billed to talk about female empowerment and progression in the workplace and she didn’t disappoint. She said she’d talk for twenty minutes and then answer a few questions. In reality she spoke for an hour, but no one was bothered about being late for their social engagements that Thursday evening as the stories she recounted were both fascinating and inspiring in equal measure.

Anji opened by touching on how HR and PR weren’t highly revered when she first started out, but that the situation had certainly come full circle, with both areas now being viewed as business critical by progressive companies. After chronicling her career timeline Anji turned attention to her rules for success that she imparts on the team of ‘girls’ she mentors at Edelman.

What goes around comes around: simple enough, but a great mantra to follow in both facets of ones life. Nice guys don’t actually finish last.

Criteria, confidence and aim high: you’ll get nowhere unless you know where you want to go and how you want to get there – so make sure you have a criteria. Anji utilised stories from Sheryl Sandberg’s book to emphasise how important it was for the women in the room to have the confidence and conviction to put themselves forward at that moment when they needed to meet their criteria.

Steal from your male colleagues: an important factor throughout was taking note of how the men in the office conducted themselves and pinching ideas. Anji had experienced time and time again examples of women being backward in coming forward when it came to asking for promotions or more money. Not something she’d experienced with their male counterparts, who often weren’t as deserving as their female colleagues in the same situation. So why not learn a little from the bravado, harness it. You never know. You don’t get if you don’t ask at the end of the day.

Feminine wiles: although Anji stressed the importance of learning from male counterparts, she also made an important point of embracing our differences. We are different and that’s a good thing, we both bring different things to the table and this isn’t something to be ignored despite what some feminists may say or think. Especially in a networking context, where Anji touched on the story of the pretty 23 y/o who used to sit in the front row at the weekly LSE lecture. The girl in question leapt up at the end of one of the lectures to present the lecturer, Boris Johnson with her card. Anji didn’t tell us where said girl is now but implied that it wasn’t the worst move she ever made.

Aspire to leadership: a question Anji always asked her ‘girls’ upon arrival at Edelman: ‘where do you want to end up?’ Upon receiving the answer ‘may be chief of staff’, Anji’s response would always be: ‘why not CEO?’ That said, Anji did stress that not everyone would want to be CEO.

Be cheerful, but plausible: note to self, no one likes a grumpy colleague. That said it’s also important to be plausible so there’s a balance here to strike. Anji finished with an anecdote from Tony Blair’s book where by Tony had mentioned how Anji had the ability to always put a positive spin on any situation. But in this particular instance she had over stepped the mark and wasn’t believable after particularly negative response from the Women’s Institute. So remember, make sure your positivity is genuine. It’s boring when it’s not.

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