From Being The Only Skirt to Being A Voice That Matters

By: Terre Short, Founder and CEO of The Short Group

In my late teens to early twenties, I worked at my dad’s company procuring supplies for manufacturing control panels and control houses that ran nuclear power plants. My female voice initially surprised the steel distributors and I worked hard to learn how to order wing-nuts, not be one. By my mid-twenties, I advanced to a more glamorous role as a leader with Four Seasons Hotels and was typically the only skirt at the board table. During this time, I heard myself say things that were not aligned with what was in my heart. I asserted myself to make a point, to be heard, to prove my worth in the room. It was exhausting – and energizing – and felt important.

It took me decades to fully understand that my power lies in what I say, how I say it, when I say it, and to whom. The transition from saying something more to be heard and represented, to saying exactly what needed to be heard, unfolded over many years and diverse leadership positions. My competitive nature had served me athletically, (I played lacrosse and hockey at university), and it seemed to drive my connections with male counterparts. I excelled at being competitive.

I also excelled at observation, intuition, cognitive agility, complex problem solving, and other skills that I felt compelled to keep on display with my word choices. I approached most interactions focused on how it might benefit me, how I might advance, what I might gain. Then I settled into my skin: my 40+ year old mind, body, and heart full of experiences and connections. Instead of hearing the voice of mentors or my dad telling me I was capable, smart enough, brave enough, I heard my own voice. A voice that was supportive, confident, and not competing with any disparaging thoughts.

I began to see others differently. My male counterparts needed me to be my best self, who could then help elevate them. So did the women in my world. Perhaps they held no perception of their need or the service I was providing by choosing just the right words to enable collaboration, exploration, insight. Peeling back the layers of another proved my superpower, one wrapped up in my very being. My job became more about connecting on a deeper level, perceiving the needs of others, and serving them because I could, and I wanted to – not because I had to. My only sense of competing in the workplace became competing with my own instinct and my reactions. Contemplating my response and the purpose it served became second nature. My sense of self equipped me with exactly what I needed to make huge leaps in my career, to take chances, to lead with passion.

I learned that I do not own how others respond. I own ensuring my messaging is true to my intention and that my intentions serve my values. This ownership, coupled with listening to hear and honoring challenges others may face, lands me in the sweet spot of leadership. If a colleague struggles to control their need to be right, or reacts in a way I find disruptive, I rise to the challenge of using my skills to lead us to a productive path. I am confident I will find words that matter – ones that create a win-win space, ones that advance, inspire, or influence in a positive way.

My fifties have been a time of refinement. Every day presents the challenge of speaking my truth and in alignment with my values. I acknowledge challenges for the growth opportunity they are, and I run the full show of my “Personal Podcast” – the one playing in my head 24/7. I own the rights to all of the content, I choose the guests, and I moderate the conversation at all times.  It is liberating – and soul-filling and feels important.

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