Why is self-awareness such an important component of leadership?

That’s one of the questions we’ll tackle in this week’s seminar at Running Start, where I serve as Board Co-Chair and where we are working to develop young women’s leadership potential.

A few years ago, I studied at Harvard Business School as part of an executive education program called “Authentic Leadership Development.” At its core, becoming an authentic leader requires understanding who you are and what’s most important to you, and where you derive meaning that will sustain you even when you experience inevitable setbacks or periods of chaos in your job, career and life. A key to reaching self-awareness includes doing the hard work to really understand your personal narrative, but also, and perhaps most importantly, requires reaching out to others for feedback on how they see you so that you can see yourself from their perspective. We all have blind spots, especially related to how others see us. The best way to shine some light on those blind spots is to get honest, objective, constructive feedback. But, it goes beyond just receiving feedback. No amount of feedback will help us if we are not prepared to listen. And frankly, tough feedback can be pretty difficult to hear. So, we’ll talk about how to avoid defensiveness, and how best to prepare for tough conversations that we may not want to hear, but that we need to hear.

One of the tips we’ll discuss in class involves approaching feedback with an open mind and a willingness to grow and improve, rather than with a closed mindset that often accompanies the pursuit of perfection. Feedback is much harder to hear when you aspire to perfection. When perfection is your standard, feedback will make you feel particularly dejected and defeated. But, if you establish a mindset focused on personal growth and improvement, it can change how you hear the feedback, even when it’s negative. Another great tip we’ll discuss: prepare a few lines in advance of receiving feedback that will enable you to respond more constructively and also help you get even more detailed feedback. You might say: “Tell me more about how I could adjust my actions/speaking style/presentation” etc… or ask “Have you ever had this challenge? How did you handle it? Do you have any specific suggestions for what I might do to address this?” Another helpful tip is to always keep a running checklist of your skills. Robert Kaplan writes about this in his terrific book “What You’re Really Meant To Do.” By having a list of your skills and accomplishments, as well as a list of things to work on, that can also help create a more productive conversation by setting a benchmark for areas where you and the person giving you feedback believe you should work to improve. The more specific the feedback and the more open your are to receiving it the more productive and useful it will be.

There is no single approach to leadership development that works for everyone, but developing a stronger sense of self and the awareness of how we are perceived can be particularly useful regardless of where our aspirations take us.  #

Building Strong Women Leaders Through Self-Awareness & Smart Tools

Later today I’m excited to launch a special four-part seminar entitled “Understanding, Building and Owning Your Leadership Potential.” The seminar, developed for Running Start’s “Star Fellows” program, is designed for college-age women to help them increase self-awareness and to learn about tools to build and sustain confidence. The young women in the program are talented, aspiring, young, political leaders who are receiving on-the-job training with current women Members of Congress. We hope to deepen their perspective and awareness around additional themes that are also critical to their leadership journey.Everyone stumbles, especially when taking calculated and necessary career risks. This is true in business, politics, or whatever path you pursue. When you take the time to develop a few tools to help you bounce back, it can speed recovery time and help you grow and flourish so that you are better equipped to tackle the next (likely even bigger) challenge!

Studies have shown that women can often have a tougher time recovering from a misstep or failure. That is due in part to how we “frame” or think about what happened, how we talk to ourselves about the experience, and how quickly we allow ourselves to move on. In the seminar, we’ll talk about the inherent tendency to “ruminate or overthink” these experiences, and what to do to stop that cycle. We’ll also talk about ways to create sustainable approaches to help us maintain our sources of energy, while also learning how to evaluate our talents and leverage them by learning to tell our stories so that we can articulate the value we bring to our organizations and teams. 

We’ll also talk about how to avoid perfectionistic tendencies, where self-doubt and confidence come from, and how to accept and use feedback. And, we’ll look at communication style and how to avoid bad habits like excessive apologizing.

The topics and the tools we’ll be discussing in the seminar are near and dear to my heart. Like so many women, I’ve struggled with many of these tendencies, but my career journey has led me to great experts, amazing leaders, and mentors who have helped me develop awareness and to grow. I’ve found that greater awareness coupled with smart tools are often the most important keys needed to unlock our potential and help us soar in whatever path we chose. Like others have done for me, I look forward to great discussion and the opportunity to share what works. ###

The Productivity Paradox: Beware the Check List! Activity doesn’t always equal productivity, January 3, 2017

By Laura Cox Kaplan

I’ve always been ruled by my checklist, and the rush I get from checking things off. Never is that more true for me than at the start of a new year! I’ve even been guilty of competing with myself for how many things I can accomplish in a day, an hour, or a week.

Working with an executive coach a few years ago, it was brought to my attention that all that “to do-ing” and “box checking” could be limiting my personal growth. How could that possibly be? I’m incredible productive! Or was I?

Checklists are terrific tools for measuring success against short-term activities, and they are incredibly effective for holding yourself to account against tactical activities that must be completed. But if you love your checklist because you get a rush from every checked box and from a long tally of items you’ve completed by the end of a day, beware of using it to push “activity” at the expense of real “productivity” and accomplishment. Activity over productivity can impact personal development.

More strategic, longer term goals and objectives – the ones that help you grow personally and professionally — often don’t lend themselves to the checklist the way shorter term activities do. While there is a short-lived psychological boost from checking things off a list, there is a trade off. Here’s why: tackling the easy items on your list takes work, effort, brain space and time. If you are putting significant energy toward the short-term rush of checking things off your list, you may not be pushing yourself to tackle the really tough, longer term, difficult and stickier issues on the list. Those are the things that take more mental energy and time, but that yield greater personal and professional benefits, including a longer term benefit to your confidence from tackling something really tough. When you use too much energy on short-term or easier tasks, you deplete resources — often substantial ones — that you need to tackle the tougher issues. Plus, you may find yourself too exhausted and distracted to challenge yourself to grow and to stretch, and that can impact your ability to build new executive level skills. And, if your list stretches on for pages and pages, one of those important executive skills may be learning to delegate.

Delegating can be especially difficult for women, particularly early on in one’s career. This may not be gender specific, but I see more evidence of this problem in my conversations with women who are working their way up the career ladder.

As a former partner and executive at PwC, a firm that prides itself on building leaders who get a great deal accomplished in a day, I was introduced to the term “highest and best use.” Essentially, spending time where you, your team, and the firm (or organization) receive the biggest payoff from your investment of time and energy.

It’s not always a question of whether you can accomplish a task, but rather whether it should be you. In other words, taking on every assignment or task limits your ability to build important skills across your team, while also limiting your bandwidth to tackle new challenges. Taking a more thoughtful and strategic approach to what needs to be done is a smarter way to plan and manage a project, while also creating opportunities for team members to grow and stretch themselves in ways that can be professionally challenging and personally meaningful.

When I raised this notion of “highest and best use” with a young woman I was coaching recently, she said, “If I delegate, the work won’t be perfect and that will be a bad reflection on me.”

As women, we often hold ourselves to impossible standards that can deplete our confidence and our energy. By not learning early on in our careers how to build greater support and to reach out for help when it’s needed, we perpetuate impossible standards — standards that can get in our way as we rise to the top. We may also miss opportunities to help other women along the way as well.

The most successful women I know have learned these skills, and get the “work-life balance” ratio right by realizing that it is impossible to do everything yourself, no matter how long your to do list may be. This is especially true when you have significant responsibility outside of work and career.

Allowing ourselves to relinquish some control and adherence to perfectionism in the interest of building additional skills and capacity is an important goal. But, it goes beyond that. Learning to delegate helps others on your team to develop much-needed skills as well, and that can be an important contributor to building a more robust pipeline of talent.

“Not all check marks are created equal related to the impact they have on your personal and professional growth.”

Make no mistake – I am still a big believer in the check list, but for me, the greatest personal payoff comes when it’s used as a tool to drive and measure effort that includes more ambitious, longer term goals and objectives as well as short-term activities. The trick is to make sure you get the balance right, while also staying mindful that not all check marks are created equal related to the impact they have on your personal and professional growth. #

Closing the gender gap: Another way organizations can support female talent – March 8, 2017

By Laura Cox Kaplan

The private sector has made significant progress in thinking about the gender gap. According to a recent McKinsey study, 75 percent of CEOs include gender diversity in their list of top 10 business concerns. Despite that awareness and the attention the issue receives from many (especially at the top of organizations), it has yet to translate consistently into programs and mindsets that yield the results we are looking for.

That’s not to say that there isn’t innovative work taking place. Increasingly, organizations large and small are embracing new strategies for worker flexibility for example. Those programs have been shown to positively impact the retention of female employees. But, the results still aren’t as great as they should be. That begs the question, what’s missing?

For almost 12 years I worked as an executive and partner at PwC. While my work focused largely on political and public policy engagement, I also sat on the executive management team where we grappled with talent challenges including gender equity. The firm developed some innovative programs to address specific challenges that often occur with natural life transitions. Those programs yielded positive results, but they didn’t fix the problem.

More recently, I have been working with several non-profit organizations (including Running Start where I serve as the Republican Board Co-Chair) focused on closing the gender gap in Congress and in elected offices more broadly. This is particularly important because women make up more than 50 percent of the population, and the perspective, knowledge, and unique leadership skills that women bring to the table is especially critical as the world has become both more global and more complex. The need for more diverse perspectives to solve these complex problems has never been more important, and that is true for both government and the private sector. Further, in a 2011 research study by Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman (co-authors of “How to be Exceptional,”) found that women were “significantly more effective on 12 of 16 leadership competencies.” These were competencies the duo found – over 30 years of research –to be important to overall leadership effectiveness. Those qualities even included competencies more typically associated with male leaders, such as “taking initiative” and “driving for results.”

So, if women outshine men in these key areas, what’s the problem?

My interest in the topic of women’s leadership, and specifically closing the gender gap in the c-suite, as well as in elected office — a problem impacting both political parties — led me to develop a course at American University’s Women in Politics Institute under professor and author Jennifer Lawless. The course doesn’t just focus on what makes women unique, but also (and I believe more importantly) on the roadblocks that women often put in their own paths. Make no mistake, there are often external factors that inhibit achievement, but I firmly believe that the roadblocks many women erect for themselves are often even more debilitating and difficult to overcome.

Scientific research supports this. Dr. Daniel Amen, who studied the differences between male and female brains, wrote in “Unleashing the Power of the Female Brain,” that women’s brains actually are more active than male brains, and have as much as 30 percent more neurons firing at any given time. That extra mental capacity is a strength, but it may make women more vulnerable to over thinking, or ruminating (essentially allowing thoughts to run over and over in your head, but not in a way that’s necessarily going to yield a positive or productive outcome). Often we see rumination manifest itself when a woman makes a mistake –even a small one. If she doesn’t attempt to reframe the mishap into a more positive, proactive, and less negative experience she may run the risk of a downward spiral. When that spiral is fueled by negative self-talk, it can shake her confidence, leaving her depleted and less able to bounce back quickly.

To exacerbate these tendencies, women often hold themselves to impossibly high standards. When that standard is perfectionism, it is unattainable and can create self-doubt and what experts refer to as “imposter syndrome,” essentially feeling like a fraud or “not good enough” regardless of what is actually true.

And while common sense may tell you that individuals driven by perfectionism will be motivated to work harder and persevere, the opposite may in fact be true. When perfectionism is the ultimate (but unattainable) goal, it can actually stand in the way of taking action and stop you from taking smart risks such as speaking up, volunteering for new assignments, or even running for elected office. We often watch our male colleagues jump in while we hold back until we believe we are perfectly qualified. When perfection is our goal, it is more likely to limit us from making progress at all.

Let me take it one step further. Think about the value that comes from feedback and mentorship. The more authentic the feedback – on both sides of the table – the more beneficial it will be. But if you are dealing with a perfectionist or someone who pursues perfection as a goal, it can be especially difficult for that person to get comfortable hearing feedback, or even talking openly about areas for personal improvement. Those feelings may manifest themselves in defensiveness, making otherwise constructive feedback all but useless and limiting the person’s opportunity for continued growth (and the organization’s ability to help that employee maximize their value).

For those among us who are perfectionists or who work with perfectionists, we know it can be difficult to turn off this tendency. The trick is increasing awareness, and knowing what to look for (in ourselves and in others). This is where organizations have a real opportunity. If this trait is as common as the science and research seem to suggest, it would stand to reason that a better understanding and higher level of conversation around these tendencies would be useful and very productive. Imagine combining some of the best, cutting-edge programs with increased emphasis on awareness of roadblocks and the potential power that can come from that.

Increasing the number of women in senior leadership ranks and in elected office is a critical and worthwhile goal, but one that must be tackled across multiple fronts. The time has come to engage in a more thoughtful discussion about employee assessments (and self assessments) and how organizations and employees will benefit from more candid conversation and thoughtful awareness.

A corporate and non-profit board member and adjunct professor at American University, Laura is Board Co-Chair of Running Start, a non-profit that encourages young women to recognize their potential as leaders and future candidates for elected office 


My Job as an American, a Mom, and a Republican woman

The following first appeared on US News & World Report and is reprinted here with permission. 

By Laura Cox Kaplan

Waking up to the election returns in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, my emotions ran the spectrum and, as a Republican, I felt very conflicted. Going into this election, I didn’t support either party’s nominee — both of whom I found flawed in different, but significant ways.

And while I’m relieved that this ugly campaign has come to and end, I worry about the underlying and deeply felt angst in the country that was exacerbated by hateful, divisive rhetoric – rhetoric that too frequently showed the very worst of candidates, their supporters, and our political process.

As I try to make sense of all of this in my own mind and heart, I am acutely aware of my personal responsibility not only as an American, but as the mother of two young children – a son and a daughter. My children are just old enough to understand the concepts of winning and losing, but they lack the capacity to fully comprehend what a national election means. As a parent, I recognize that the context I provide for my children now is critical to how they will view the world, and to who they will become as citizens of the world.

Here is how I am seeking to guide my children as we move forward as a nation:

  • it is my job to help them understand and deal with the pain that comes with losing, as well as the critical importance of showing empathy for others when the loss may not be your own.
  • it is my responsibility to tell my children that bullying in any context is wrong and should be called out.
  • it is my responsibility to tell my children that sometimes we have to agree to disagree, but should challenge ourselves to find common ground and areas of agreement.
  • it is my responsibility to tell my children that they need to reach out to and develop relationships with those who are different from them – racially, culturally, and socio economically – to increase their understanding of the world.
  • it is my responsibility to tell my children (especially my very disappointed daughter) that there will be women presidents in the future (and that one of them could be her!)
  • it is my responsibility to tell my children that racism, sexism and so many of the other –isms we saw and heard in this campaign are wrong.
  • It is my responsibility to show my children that we must not belittle or dismiss others’ passions, anger, or concerns, but rather work hard to understand where that passion, anger and concern comes from.
  • and, perhaps most difficult, my job is also to make amends when I don’t live up to the standards I have set for myself and show my children what apologizing and making things right looks like.

In short, my job is to be a positive force for healing within my own family and community, and to show my children – as best I can both through my words and my actions — how we should treat others. In the end, it is an important responsibility of every parent and caregiver, to try to set an example that helps the next generation live more positively and compassionately than the last.

There is one more area that for me is particularly important: I will also show my children that it is important to invest of yourself in public service and in causes that are important, including helping others to succeed. For me, that includes my own efforts to support and help develop a stronger and more robust pipeline of young women leaders who will one day serve and run for elected office. I am confident that we will one day see a woman in the White House, and, in the words of the Democratic nominee, I also hope it will be soon. Until then, I remain committed to helping young women find their voice and their potential, and to encouraging them – through groups like Running Start – to consider the importance and the impact they can have through public service.  #

7 Tools to Own Your Power and Your Purpose

Empowered_Women-50by Laura Cox Kaplan

June 16, 2016

I recently had the privilege of speaking to an amazing audience of women as part of the first ever Empowered Women #OwnYourPower leadership retreat – a day-long program that brought together a broad range of speakers from start-up pro Donna Harris at 1776, to those working on new business models across industries. We heard from experts who are reshaping the media landscape, and from The Hon. Victoria A. Lipnic from the EEOC and Dawn Lyon from Glassdoor who shared the real facts behind the gender and wage gap. We also heard from the always inspiring House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers about her leadership journey and why public service is so important, especially for women. Empowered Women founder, Mindy Finn, and her team, curated an interesting day, including afternoon breakouts where attendees and speakers worked together to develop several action items coming out of the day.

As part of the retreat, I was excited to share a few helpful tools for finding personal purpose and passion, as well as the value organizations can derive from a strong corporate purpose. At PwC, our corporate purpose is designed to help align talent around a shared mission of service. We believe this mission extends beyond the firm and includes our individual personal investments in our communities and the impact those investments have on society.

A few years ago, as I contemplated areas where I thought the firm and I could have a greater impact in the public policy and political engagement space, one area jumped out at me. In spite of PwC’s tremendous record and support of women both inside the firm and externally as well, we had not focused resources, effort or expertise to help address the gender disparity in Congress.

Today, 104 women serve in the US House and Senate combined. That’s great and it’s a record, but it’s only about 20 percent of the total, and a far cry from representing the 53 percent of the voting population in this country who are women.

So my team and I set out to understand this issue better and got input from Members of Congress, academics, and political consultants. In doing so, I became more and more convinced that PwC could play a bigger role and potentially have a real impact. I also became increasingly passionate about the cause on a more personal level.

The challenges impacting gender breakdown in congress are complex and multifaceted. But, at its most basic level, if more qualified women candidates don’t run, more women will not be elected. So we created a strategy based on PwC’s own experience and approach to creating a more inclusive culture, our own knowledge about politics and political giving, and input we received. We also established several new partnerships with talented leaders at NGOs who were also focused on this problem. Through this effort we saw amazing potential, and I also saw my personal passion grow.

While I’m under no illusion that a single organization, or person can move the needle and close the gender gap in congress, I do know that a single organization – setting an example and working together with other organizations and alongside passionate, committed individuals – can. And, that is what we’ve been working to accomplish.

Our work in Washington represents but one example of the way we are thinking about purpose at PwC, and how we are working to align this important element of our culture across the firm.

As I worked on my remarks for Empowered Women, I thought about this notion of purpose and the specific practices and tools that have been helpful to me as I refined my passion and ultimately decided to leave my amazing job at PwC to devote myself more fully to pursuing my passions – passions that have grown and evolved over time.

Here are seven core tools that I found particularly helpful:

1.Spend the time to understand who you are and what matters most to you. Capture what you love, what you don’t, your hopes and your dreams. Really think about this, and – most importantly — write it down. Understanding this is critical to staying centered and focused and it provides a critical road map as you grow and evolve. There are a number of terrific resources to help you do this. I love the book “True North” by former Medtronic CEO Bill George, and its accompanying workbook, as well as Robert Kaplan’s “What you’re really meant to do with your life: A Roadmap for Reaching Your Unique Potential.”

2.Develop a process for regular reflection. Just like physical exercise and brushing your teeth – the discipline of regular reflection is important for good mental health and clarity. It will keep you on track and help you guard against losing your way. And, it works in tandem with #1. Some people meditate, but for me I write a few lines each day (more when I have time). I focus on what I am grateful for, what I’m proud of, what I need to work on, etc… As part of this, I also focus on how I talk to myself. If I write something negative, I try to immediately reframe it in a positive way. Doing both helps me stay more positive by channeling the negative into a positive. And, this practice has the added benefit of getting the negative thought out of my head so I can see it and deal with it more objectively.

3. Push yourself and take smart risks. Taking risks helps you grow, and helps you develop confidence (and, you need confidence in order to take risks). It’s an important cycle that enables you to keep growing by challenging yourself.

4. But, when you take risks and when you push yourself, be prepared to fail, and be ready with a set of tools that help you recover when you do. Those “recovery tools” will help you reframe and bounce back faster. Suggestions #1 and 2 are essential here. For me, they are the tools that help me channel and redirect a negative voice that is often inside my head, or my tendency to “ruminate” in an unproductive fashion.

5. Collect and maintain a diverse team of personal advisers – [I call mine my “personal board of advisers”]. These are people who can challenge you and help you see yourself more clearly and objectively, and who offer you different perspectives. Joanna Barsh writes brilliantly about this concept in her book “How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life.” These advisers can be “mentors,” but don’t get hung up on labels. It’s perspective, input and insight that is most important here. And, be sure to seek people who have different political views than you. That will make you smarter and your arguments better!

6. Constantly seek information and opportunities to learn and to grow. Knowledge will inspire you and help you see and understand the world from different perspectives. This will help you develop stronger strategic and problem solving skills.

7. Set aside time to give back beyond your job. Find causes that align with your interests and use those to not only give, but also to help you learn new things and to fine tune your leadership skills. These experiences can also help you understand your community on a deeper level.

These are the tools that work well for me. When I first started a process of written reflection I was amazed at how something so simple can have such an immediate and profound impact. Taken together, these tips have worked well for countless people who have developed their own personal strategies based on these concepts. I hope the same will be true for you.  #

Knowing When It’s Time To Go

Published on May 25, 2016, Principal-in-Charge of U.S. Government, Regulatory Affairs & Public Policy at PwC, LLP


After almost 12 years as a partner and member of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ executive management team and head of our public policy and external engagement strategy, I’ve decided to make a career change.

I’ve been incredibly blessed to learn from amazing mentors, extraordinary leaders, and true friends who make our firm so remarkable. It’s been a privilege to work closely with these talented leaders to help create a culture that attracts amazing talent each and every day. It’s due in part to these individuals that I am pushing myself beyond what is comfortable and safe, to think differently about my passions, and where I want to invest time and energy. I leave PwC knowing that I will always have the support, encouragement and friendship of my PwC family as I look for new ways to challenge myself, add value and make a broader impact.

My work at PwC has always been immensely satisfying. The importance of what we do as a firm and the contribution we make to the capital markets across all three of our business lines is critical to companies, their employees and their shareholders. While I remain passionate about those issues, I see new ways in which I can use my skills and experiences coupled with my passion for women’s leadership and political engagement to engage differently and help facilitate greater collaboration and dialogue needed to help address some critical challenges that face our country.

Specifically, I will be engaged in several initiatives that have become passion projects for me and that build upon some of the initiatives I began while working at PwC. In particular, I hope to help increase the pipeline of young women interested in public policy and elected office. As a Republican, I am troubled by the lack of gender balance on my side of the political aisle and I see opportunities to do more to address this fundamental misalignment, including thinking more holistically about how the private sector engages with women candidates and how we encourage women’s political engagement overall. I’ve learned a great deal from some amazingly talented women – political leaders, NGO leaders, and academics — on this topic, and look forward to continuing and expanding those collaborations. I will also continue speaking and writing on these topics, as well as on other talent-related topics that I believe are important as we look to the next generation. And, I will continue my engagement on a number of boards and committees focused on topics of concern and interest to me.

I’m very proud of my years at PwC, and the incredible team we built here. The challenges we have tackled together and partnerships we have created – internally and externally – have been critical to the firm’s success. I am also especially proud to have played a significant role in helping the firm adapt to an extensive new regulatory environment, while also working collaboratively to restore our brand and reputation following corporate governance failures of the 1990s. That proud legacy and the expertise I have gained made it both difficult and essential that I push myself beyond what I know and into a world where I can continue to grow personally and professionally. I am enormously grateful to so many people from all aspects of my life who have and continue to support me on my personal and professional journey.

Figuring out when it’s time to leave a job or position can be difficult. I have always been deliberate and thoughtful about my career, and my personal life. But I suppose the flip side of a rural Texas upbringing that instilled in me determination, reliability, and a strong work ethic might be that I’m not a natural risk taker.

A few years ago, a friend wrote a book urging women to “lean in” to their careers. As she prepared to launch her foundation, she asked women, including me, to write about a time when we had taken a career or personal risk that paid off. I agreed, somewhat reluctantly, and doing so changed my perspective. It wasn’t what I wrote that affected me… It’s what I didn’t write – or couldn’t write. I was struck by how safe and deliberate my path had been, and I realized I hadn’t done enough to challenge myself, to live larger and attempt to make a bigger contribution. It was a wake-up call.

Between Sheryl Sandberg’s example and the thought process she triggered, and PwC’s renewed focus on our collective purpose, I started to challenge myself to define a clearer personal legacy both at PwC and beyond. I realized I needed to push myself harder and potentially beyond the confines of my existing role, and to use my voice, perspective, and experience to have greater impact.

Among other things, I took a hard look at what we were doing in the public policy space and realized that we needed to think more broadly about our mission and our level of engagement and outreach. I saw some very specific ways that we could more closely align our culture, brand, and our commitment to diversity in the public policy and political space. My team and I created new and innovative ways to use our brand and our voice, and developed interesting partnerships and unique collaborations to increase awareness of our efforts. One area of focus has been on working to close the gender gap related to the number of women serving in congress (on both sides of the political aisle). While accomplishing that will take more than a few years and greater investment across a number of critical fronts, we are having an impact, and have helped increase awareness of the importance of this goal, which has never been more important.

I am proud of what we’ve accomplished. And, I’m grateful that PwC supported these efforts and allowed us to challenge the status quo in ways that are innovative and that have yielded important benefits, including ones that help call attention to the role private sector organizations can play in doing more to support women in the public policy space. But, as my public policy focus has expanded along with a heightened awareness of critical challenges facing our country, my interests and passions evolved and expanded as well. I’ve realized how much working on women’s leadership, empowerment, and creating a stronger and more robust pipeline of women who ultimately run for office ignited my professional passions and interests and showed me new opportunities to utilize my skills and experiences.

For a non-risk taker, leaving a job and an organization that has been such a big part of my life for nearly 12 years is a bit scary, but the network and strong relationships I’ve built at PwC (along with an amazingly supportive husband, family and friends) give me the confidence and experience to know I’m making the right decision. I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities that lie ahead or more grateful for the support I have received that make those opportunities possible!

I look forward to staying in touch with you as I embark on this new chapter. #

Women Leading Differently – March 10, 2016

The following was published previously on HuffingtonPost and is reprinted here with permission. 

Katie Walsh and Amy Dacey live in Washington, DC and work in politics. They are close friends with similar jobs. Like most close friends, they share perspectives, give each other strength and encouragement, and even tough love when it’s needed. They travel together, debate the issues of the day, cover topics from substantive policy issues to shoes, and they agree to disagree when they have to (which is often). Katie and Amy are both high-powered political operatives, they run opposing parties as chiefs of staff to the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee respectively.

Like many of the women who spoke at the recent All In Together#WomenLead pre-Super Tuesday event at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas, Katie and Amy exhibit the traits that make women uniquely well-suited for leadership – traits that are increasingly valued in organizations large and small, public and private especially as the world grows more complex and more global.

In one of the largest research studies of its kind, The Peterson Institute found that organizations with women in senior leadership and key business unit positions actually produce better investment returns for their shareholders. PwC’s own 2016 survey of Global CEOs found similar results, and showed how CEOs are more keenly aware of the value greater diversity of gender, perspective and thought can have on the company bottom line.

To put a finer point on it — qualities like openness, curiosity, agility, putting yourself in another’s shoes, risk management, and certainly multi-tasking are all areas where women naturally excel. Those are the qualities that are increasingly needed and recognized as more desirable than ever.

As Katie and Amy illustrate, the value of these skills and traits extend to the political context as well, where women use their innate ability to connect with each other and look for areas of agreement in an effort to create paths forward, and to make themselves smarter (by understanding the other person’s point of view) even while fighting it out on the political “battlefield.”

Our democracy was built for compromise. It was designed to encourage debate and discussion, and it was designed to value the skills and leadership traits women in particular bring to the table. Women lead differently than men and those leadership traits that come so naturally to women are needed now more than ever.

Trouble is, the number of women in Congress still falls far short of where it should be (about 20 percent if you add both the Senate and House together). Having been fortunate enough to know many of these elected women, I set out to gain a better understanding of their views and to figure out what PwC and I could do differently.

Women candidates I talked to described a number of challenges unique to them – from raising money early enough in a cycle to dealing with irrelevant criticism of their hair, their clothes, and their shoes. Interestingly, only women candidates (and I have found this to be true in other democratic countries as well) must answer how they plan to manage family obligations while their male counterparts, who also had children, never received that question. They also lamented the lack of a strong enough pipeline of female talent, as otherwise qualified women often take a pass on running because they don’t believe they can make a difference or because they see their skills as more valuable elsewhere.

Based on this input, we refined our political engagement strategy to work on areas that I saw as being within our control, and areas where we could use our brand and reputation to encourage others to join us.

Like most smart investment strategies, investing in increasing the number of women in congress is a long-term investment. Our efforts may only yield an additional seat or two (if we are lucky) in the short-term, but the real value will be realized down the road when there is a higher level of engagement, additional voices, and more corporate entities who put their brands and reputations on the line and who use public policy engagement resources to move the needle to increase women’s voices in the political process (and in elected office).

At its core, our efforts are aimed at magnifying women’s voices to create richer, more diverse, and better-informed perspectives in the halls of congress. We believe that is critical for our democracy, serves our business and the economy, and empowers women in a way that contributes to the betterment of society. And, like the example set by friends Katie and Amy, who are also political adversaries, we hope to see stronger relationships that lead us to more productive debates around the issues that matter.

Because I still believe in the political process, I know each person, each vote and each investment matters and can make a difference. It took me longer than I care to admit to find my voice and to recognize the responsibility I have to think more creatively about how to engage differently on behalf of women. Now that I have, I hope to continue to support creative approaches to moving the needle in support of women. 

Photo: With Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX) and moderator Rina Shah Bharara, at All In Together Forum, Bush Institute, Dallas, Texas

On Twitter: @lauracoxkaplan

Using Corporate Purpose to Enhance Brand & Evolve Public Policy Strategy

CBJ event: Corporate Governance
Principal-in-Charge of Government, Regulatory Affairs and Public Policy, for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Laura Cox Kaplan, made opening remarks at the Charlotte Business Journal Corporate Governance event, at Quail Hollow Country Club.

The following originally appeared on HuffingtonPost and is reprinted here with permission. 

The political dynamics of the 2016 presidential election are as intriguing as any we’ve seen. Extreme dissatisfaction on the part of the electorate–both the political Left and Right – along with strong populist headwinds have propelled unexpected candidates into the race for president, and have blurred what individual political parties stand for. Momentum from the grassroots is driving political debate from the bottom up, and in the process, leaving the political establishment and many in the business community perplexed and unsure how to respond to this new political dynamic.

There are a number of reasons for this, but two stand out. First, societal expectations have changed. There is little patience for the long-term and less tolerance for strategies that take longer than a couple of years to show benefit. That’s true in the political context, and often in instances where we see increased shareholder activism. Second, consumers can self-select information – vast amounts of information — more easily that reinforces, rather than challenges, their point of view. While social media has opened the world to so many, it may also have resulted in closing it for others who don’t seek to understand where those with whom they disagree are coming from. All of this is fueling intense skepticism and lack of trust between more traditional infrastructures and consumers (or voters).

As a member of PwC’s executive management team, I oversee our engagement strategy in Washington. During my 11 years at PwC, and before that in senior roles at the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Treasury Department and on Capitol Hill, I’ve had the good fortune to see Washington policymaking from a number of different angles and vantage points. Much has changed in Washington during that 24-year period, but the opportunities to harness real time information to better inform your strategy and decision-making have never been greater or more exciting.

When I first started working in Washington in 1992, there were three TV networks, limited cable, and hundreds of weekly that I wrote editorials for. Those editorials reached a few hundred people each week. We didn’t have the Internet, and had never heard of a blog or tweet. We had a fax machine, and it was the main distribution channel outside of the US postal service for sending and receiving urgent news.

Today, your ability to get your message out is on your mobile phone, and available 24/7. Social media has reinvented the way communities form and interact, and how movements pick up steam. And, it’s resulted in massive change in how politicians and organizations seeking to work must also evolve.

Historically, government relations meant hiring someone with Hill experience, or someone who worked in the White House, or retaining a top lobby firm to represent your organization’s interest in Washington. Typically, it was based on a specific policy need. The traditional approaches are still used, but they are more effective when combined as components of more refined and integrated strategies – rather than strategies themselves.

Capitalizing on Data
Today, innovative organizations are using data from public and social media sources to track influence and impact in order to inform and fine-tune their Washington engagement strategies. This is especially effective because of the increased use of social media platforms by politicians and regulators, and those who seek to influence them. The result is significantly more information – rich information – available to inform your Washington strategy, information that can be used to analyze and map circles and networks of influence. That’s important because it enables you to: more quickly understand how an issue is likely to play, where the circles of influence are, how to craft better and more customized messages, and how to anticipate issues further into the future. And you can accomplish all of this in a fraction of the time it would have taken you historically.

Leveraging New Media and Your Workforce
In addition, organizations are leveraging social media and a vast array of new media platforms to tell more customized, authentic stories about the organization – stories that bring the organization’s culture and values to life, as much as its products or services. It’s important that stakeholders, including Washington based stakeholders, understand the tremendous value your organizations is delivering, how it thinks about critical societal issues, and how it’s engaging on these issues and supporting the communities that make up its workforce and its consumers. Having a well developed purpose and mission that is aligned with the organization’s business strategy is the first step, but getting the organization and its workforce comfortable engaging on these topics is also critical.

And, while the organization itself is an important messenger, so is its workforce. Harnessing the power of the organization’s workforce to share perspectives via social media about the culture, values and mission and commitment to communities can have a significant brand-defining impact. It can help the organization think differently about grassroots engagement and transparency.

Enhancing (and Innovating) Stakeholder Engagement
In addition to harnessing and utilizing data and technologies as part of your strategy, another major area of change and opportunity relates to stakeholder engagement.

Let me show you what I mean by sharing an example of what we’re doing at PwC in an effort to not only create brand distinctiveness, but to help address a problem that impacts both the public and private sectors.

At PwC, creating a diverse and inclusive culture is important. Indeed, we see tremendous benefit at our clients (and in the firm) when more diverse points of view are represented. Our concern about gridlock in Washington actually led us to focus on one area that we felt was being overlooked in the debate – lack of diversity in Congress. Of the 535 members of the U.S. House and Senate – 104 are women – a record number, but a far cry from representing the number of women in this country. So, if we believe that diverse teams and corporate boards produce better results, then why shouldn’t the same be true for congress?

In an attempt to move the needle, we did a few things. We sat down with members of congress and party leaders and asked them how we could do more to help. We listened and we developed several action items that formed our strategy. First, we adjusted our political giving for viable women candidates – giving earlier in the political cycle and in some cases increasing the amounts we were giving. We also began to give more broadly, including to those who serve on committees that have less direct impact on our business. That’s important especially when you consider the degree of turnover in Congress, and the need to support women earlier as they work to rise through the ranks of party and committee leadership.

We also created a pipeline program to help identify female talent earlier, and we are partnering with a few NGOs who are also working in this space to help support and develop women’s talents and leadership potential as early as high school and college.

And, finally, we began speaking publicly about our political engagement efforts related to this program – something we had never done before. We saw that by using the strength of our brand in this context, we could get others to join us, and potentially inspire greater action that contributes to the overall objective.

While moving the needle on diversity is a long-term investment, in the short term, we’ve already achieved benefits to our brand by illustrating our commitment and our culture in a way that resonates (differently and in many ways more personally) with our policymaker audience. We’re showing a different perspective and a different way of thinking about the bottom line benefits of diversity, similar to the way we think about and advise clients on these issues – and, most importantly, we’re also backing up our commitment with real action.

This program and the approach we’re taking is but one example, but it is illustrative of how we are working to think more broadly and more innovatively about how we engage with policymakers and regulators to solve problems that impact the public and private sectors alike.

While shaping what happens in Washington may seem more challenging than ever, there are ways to break through and to showcase why your organization and its workforce matter. Indeed, organizations take a tremendous risk when they fail to recognize the impact that Washington can have on their business. Leveraging data and social media more effectively, thinking more broadly and more creatively about stakeholder engagement, and talking more publicly and collaboratively about the ways that your organization is helping to address societal challenges give you a better opportunity to define the parameters of potential debates. If you wait for others to do so, you may find — especially in the current environment – that your ability to shape the outcome is extremely limited, and your past investments and great work – no matter how significant — might be overlooked or long since forgotten. #

Follow Laura Cox Kaplan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LauraCoxKaplan

Tips for Building & Sustaining the Best You in 2016

Published on December 31, 2015

By , Principal-in-Charge of U.S. Government, Regulatory Affairs & Public Policy at PwC, LLP

I love the start of a New Year and the chance to hit “reset” and recalibrate what I hope to achieve in the next year. It’s also the perfect time to revisit and potentially reevaluate what’s most important and commit that to writing.

Making New Year’s resolutions isn’t unique, but I thought I would share a few practices that I find useful as we embark on this important tradition of committing – once again – to how we can be our best (or better) selves.

Personal “Year In Review”

My personal “year end/new year” tradition has two parts – a “Year in Review” and a “Personal Plan of Action.” I start by assessing what I am most proud of personally and professionally from the past year. This is a great practice for helping you tell your best story about your accomplishments. It forces you to really focus on where you’ve had an impact, and it helps you build and evolve your personal “elevator pitch” (something that takes work for most of us). I also refer back to written reflections I have made throughout the year, and include areas where I want to improve, or where I didn’t perform as well as I had hoped. I try to be very constructive (and as objective as one can be about their own performance), and I focus on making sure the language I use is more positive than negative, or at least framed toward improvement rather than just self-criticism. I tend to be particularly hard on myself and have to really work at making sure that the way I talk to myself sets me up for improvement, rather than leaving me demoralized. (It’s a topic that makes my list each and every year!)

I also use the “Year in Review” to capture thoughts about experiences, people I’ve met, books and movies that left me inspired and energized.  This year, I’ve been particularly inspired by the incredible women leaders I’ve been privileged to get to know and work closely with. These are women who serve in Congress, who are leading terrific NGOs and organizations, are committed to making the world a better place, and are setting a tremendous example for the rest of us. I’ve also been particularly energized meeting with and speaking to young women leaders from groups like Running Start, as well as through the PwC Public Policy Intern Leadership Program that I created a few years ago. And, a week in Berlin meeting with women leaders from Germany and the US about the impact the private sector can have in shaping the debate around the important benefits of diversity in the workforce and in government was also tremendously enlightening and rewarding. These experiences serve as great reminders for making sure I’m fueling all the parts that lead to a full life experience and that are helping me continue to evolve and to develop new ways of looking at life’s challenges, while also continuing to bring value in my role at PwC.

“Plan of Action” 

Next, I pull specific, tangible objectives that will form my “plan of action” or goals for the New Year. And, I put my goals into a few categories that help me keep my priorities in check. But first, I start with a quick restatement of what is most important to me to help me level set what will follow.

My categories include things like:

  • Legacy/Having an Impact/Making the World Better – lofty to be sure, but the higher I stretch the more I’m likely to challenge myself and grow. I focus on specific investments I plan to make to have an impact on others and in areas where I have skills and perspectives that I think are worth sharing.
  • Mind and Spirit – specific experiences, practices and/or disciplines I will pursue that help strengthen my mind and fuel my spirit. These for me include things like remembering to reflect and capturing on a daily basis things for which I am grateful, as well as my fitness objectives. I actually tend to be more successful with fitness objectives when I link them to a goal of mental clarity, rather than to a number on the scale.
  • Educational/Creative – specific pursuits to help fuel and improve problem solving, and that help me continue to learn, evolve and grow intellectually. Last year, this included taking an online class on coding (in part to keep up with my kids!)
  • Family/Personal Relationships – goals for my family as a group, areas where I can be a better spouse, mom and role model at home.

I have a few other buckets that relate to other priorities. The important thing is that the categories help me prioritize what is often a fairly long list of things I hope to tackle and areas where I hope to make personal improvements, have an impact, and make a difference.

Tools for Overcoming Setbacks 

Finally, in spite of my best intentions and those prioritized categories — all wrapped nicely in renewed hope and optimism — come inevitable setbacks. So, to stay — or get back on — track I recommend:

  • Keep your language and self talk positive – especially when you think you are failing with your goal.
  • Don’t dwell or ruminate when you get off track. Instead reflect regularly by writing about how you are doing and what is standing in your way, and write down new ways to tackle your goal and reframe the negatives into positives.
  • Remember to carve out time regularly to fuel your curiosity and spirit (while this is already one of my goal categories, I actually think it’s probably even more important as fuel to keep you going and inspired especially when you experience setbacks.
  • Take it one step at a time. Breaking big things into smaller pieces or smaller checklists can make the task ahead not seem as enormous.
  • Constantly remind yourself that the objective here is improvement. Even small milestones help move you in the right direction.
  • And, finally, celebrate every victory – especially the small ones, as they are ones that will likely keep you going day-after-day!

As we jump into 2016, I wish you the best in all that you pursue. May you improve not only yourself, but have a positive impact on all of those around you, and may your 2016 year end be even better than it started as you celebrate all your victories — large and small.  #