Friday, July 30, 2010

Among Corporate Spouses: Are We Really Friends?

Early in the learning curve as their executive partners are climbing the corporate ladder, corporate spouses often comment and inquire, “We socialize often with people within our company at events. I really do like these other spouses since we connect on many levels. But I want to know, are we really friends? Where do I draw the line?”

What a great question! And if you’re asking the question, you’re already a step ahead by understanding that there should be a line.

It’s true, as spouses in the corporate world, we do connect on many of same subject levels . . . married, trailing, children, often alone, feeling solo, relocated, little time with our spouses, and the list continues. Pretty soon, spouses are commiserating their lists of complaints at parties, over coffee, and the “allied or angry” balance can weigh heavy on the angry side finding blame all around them. With “the list,” they view themselves as bonded friends who have common ground. But as I view them, they’re bonded by complaints.

However, corporate spouses can learn the skills it takes to turn this scenario around 180 degrees to be a positive experience. Through an ExecuMate seminar or one-on-one mentoring, the informed executive spouse develops the awareness to know conversations such as these can quickly turn negative, and use their learned skills to maneuver those conversations in a positive direction. Through sharing ideas, maintaining a positive mental attitude, practiced skills of adaptability, finding your own passions to enrich your life, and sharing the ‘power of two’ experience through seminars or mentoring, corporate spouses can be transformed into a supportive group, helping each other through the journey. They now connect as problem-solving friends.

OK, so did I say “friends?” Well, corporate friends. In the business world, these people will be coming in and out of your life as they continue their own journey. And keep in mind, something that is easier to learn before than afterwards, the information you share with another spouse could be used against you if that person chooses to share that information you consider private. When silently debating whether to share information with them, ask yourself these questions: Could this information hurt another person in the company? Could this information hurt my own spouse’s career? Would I want to read my comments in print?

The balance of corporate friendships tip in your favor when you have the tools and guidance helping you define such gray areas and often controversial subjects.

One final note: I have always been told that you can count your real friends on one hand and have fingers left over. Although this may not be exactly true, it does make a point.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Racing Ahead: A Checkered Flag!

The Andretti family is one of the most well-known names in the racing industry: Mario, Michael, Marco. All capable of driving at incredibly high speeds, winning numerous famous world races.

Today, my story is about Michael Andretti. He uses the same amount of well-honed skill and focus helping people – which he’s made part of his life’s work through the Michael Andretti Foundation and lives it every day, as you’ll read in a moment - as he does successfully maneuvering a race car or coaching from the pits.

While in Toronto, Canada, for an Indy race this past weekend, I dined at the CN Tower, a stunning view atop the second highest building in the world. While lunching, an engaging server asked my friend and me about our visit to the city. When we shared that we were there to support the Andretti Team, especially Marco Andretti driving the #26 Venom car, he beamed a huge smile. “About 15 years ago, I was a bus boy here, and Michael Andretti dined here,” he shared. “He was so nice to all of us. He autographed hats, shirts, and had his picture taken with each one of us. I still have the photo plus the things he gave us. It was a highlight in my life!”

I shared this story with Michael at dinner that night, and he smiled, blushed a bit, and nodded with “that’s great,” sotto voce.

I exclaimed, “You can’t buy that kind of great advertisement, you have to live it!” I knew he did. Every day.

Isn’t life remarkable when the good seeds we sow find fertile ground and the crops may be reaped for years? Isn’t life great when we choose integrity and kindness as a balance of life and work? People do notice.

As we all race ahead in life, those who win practice what each of us in any walk of life is capable of doing every day: small acts of kindness, integrity and respect.

The checkered flag is waving - Michael Andretti, once again, you are a winner!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Executive Promotion: The Transition

Regardless if it is our first job or one later in our career, the news of a promotion feels joyful. I often compare it to when I was auditioning for a major role in a play or musical. I would tell my friends, “Oh, that’s the easy part.” When you hear the news that you landed the part and you’re handed a five-pound script . . . now that’s the time to get nervous!

Recently, I attended several Broadway shows. During the outstanding performances, I was curious to know the daily schedule of such a performer. It boils down to the same questions I would ask of executives and their spouses concerning quality time, unusual work hours, etc.

Executives or couples in a dual-career family experience the same types of high-pressure challenges those Broadway performers do. The promotion means more time spent at the job (rehearsal), huge focus on your new role (getting your role face on), new people to work with (cast and crew) and delivering great work (an encore performance).

Moving into a new work role is challenging, time consuming and often a bit frightening for both executive and spouse. However, your bridge in a successful performance is to gain the support you need – and this is where ExecuMate can help you. I’ve played the supporting role of executive spouse for more than 20 years, and while each couple’s experience is different, we understand the issues and challenges – and can help you balance your life and work through personal experience shared in
seminars and one-on-one coaching where spouses can feel at ease discussing these issues in confidence. We’ll help you achieve success in the form of an encore performance at work and at home!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Traveling: The Art of Packing

I would like a dollar for every time I have presented a carry-on for a week’s worth of travel, and heard a gasp! I would definitely have some fun pocket money. It’s true, I have the gift . . . truly, just lots of experience. Regardless, I hope these tried and true packing tips will take you a long way, whether executive or spouse:

Practice discipline. It is absolutely necessary when packing. Make a plan – then stick to it. Do not be tempted to throw in a few more items “just because” or “just in case.” Yes, already, I can hear the groans.

Outline your trip on paper. List a daily schedule and note if it is necessary to change clothes for the evening.

Ladies first. Choose two colors to coordinate, and then find a splash of color to accent such as a top, blouse or sweater. For example, black is a basic color that is forgiving when traveling, so I add beige, brown, or silver as the coordinating color. Next, I choose my accent color, often red. Using a couple of suits, I add blouses or sweaters with the skirts or slacks and create multiple outfits. Don’t leave it to chance – list the designated use of each piece according to the time you will wear it, and with accessories including shoes. Choose your travel shoes, knowing when you will wear them again, and the same with evening shoes, handbag and daytime shoes. I limit myself to three pairs only, one I will wear traveling. After I have chosen my clothes, I add one more blouse in case of a spill. I place travel-size toiletries (cosmetic counter samples) in a gallon baggie, meds and basic make-up in my purse and I’m ready to go!

And the gentlemen. Men, we ladies think you have it very easy. Use the same outline for the trip. Wear the blue blazer, pack the suit, dress slacks that coordinate with the blazer or suit jacket, add dress shirts (don’t forget your cufflinks and color staves), and an extra pair of shoes for rotation. Add one short sleeved knit shirt as an extra. Prepare your ditty bag with mini-sized products from the travel aisle (new one each trip), and away you go! Meds go in your briefcase.

Ease of packing comes with practice. What one MUST adhere to is the discipline not to start improvising or compromising towards the end. The bonus of this discipline and well orchestrated plan? A lighter and smaller travel bag you will have in your possession the entire trip, more time – not wasted standing near the luggage belt – and no risk of the airline losing your luggage. Try it!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dining Etiquette: Help! My Fork Has Fallen . . .

I have dined with them all . . . celebrities, ambassadors, politicians, musicians and plenty of C-level executives. There’s one thing that all have in common: concerns of table manners – the right ones!

What brings this to mind is that Larry and I had the most privileged opportunity to host a dinner for the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year Finalists. What was this intimate dinner about?

First, personal goals are attainable if you stay the course, enthusiastically explained and exemplified by Dr Pepper Snapple CEO Larry Young. The other purpose:
table manners.

Co-hosting this event was Lynn Duncan, Director of Catering,
Anatole, Hilton in Dallas, who led us through the basics as I pointed out guidelines of appropriate social conversations. Truly, we have all navigated through these waters, and you can imagine who was listening most intently – yes, the adults sitting among the young people.

If you are that executive or ExecuMate overwhelmed at a dinner viewing a sea of glasses or wondering which bread plate is yours, you’re not alone. It is a common concern among executives and spouses when dining. When I address ExecuMates and ask what they need information on, they always express their desire of dining in good graces.

ExecuMate can assist you through attitude-boosting, positive power-of-two building seminars. Upon request, we can also address social etiquette and table manners through a custom-designed seminar tailored just for your needs. If your company would like to plan one of these seminars, contact us at

Are you a good ambassador for your company via table manners? People do notice.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Moving: Making the Transition

Confidence is a great feeling. It can be noticed in one’s facial expression, posture, tone of voice, dress and stride. But when we embark upon a new life in a new place and are shaken in degrees, how can we regain our confidence?

“Fake it until you make it” is an expression we have all heard for those going through difficult times. Even though my insides were unsure of what was going on, my outside appearance needed to show calm demeanor. So, how did I learn this?

Blazing a trail from Missouri to Poland, back to the midwest and onto Dallas certainly has built my confidence in making difficult transitions. But prior to that, 20 years of classical piano performance prepped me for those uncertain moments! No matter where I had to perform, if I had my music inside me . . . prepared, skilled, confident, I could perform it . . . anywhere! Once I took a deep breath, relaxed, and started playing, it all came naturally. The music sailed out as rehearsed.

So it is with being prepared for moving. Prepared? Skilled? Confident? This is where ExecuMate can help you.

ExecuMate can prepare you for your future cultural experience, equip you with the necessary tools for this move, and be in daily contact with you the first 30 days of your new adventure.

Buy new address book – check. Pack boxes – check. Put ExecuMate on speed dial – check. Gain confidence – check. No faking it now!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Building a Foundation

Have you heard of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? It was back in the news today, when Melinda Gates announced that the organization would spend $1.5 billion dollars over the next five years on health programs for women and children in poor nations.

The foundation was created by the Gateses in 2000, and demonstrates acceptance and teamwork in their successful executive/spouse relationship. And it also provides some lessons about what can happen when an executive and his or her spouse set goals together.

When you and your spouse are heading down the same path, following a plan you both had a part in creating, you have reached the crucial element of acceptance in your relationship. You’ve each accepted working toward common goals that will benefit both of you. Doing this, and persevering along the way, can provide very rewarding and fulfilling results.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was a dream the Gateses had as a team, and they followed through on making it a reality through a lot of hard work - together. Their joint dream has rewarded the executive/spouse couple with an organization that is changing and improving lives on a daily basis. Two of those lives they have changed, on their journey, are their own.

What can you and your spouse work on to accept and commit to? You both could be pleasantly surprised with what the power of two can do, and you will become a stronger executive/spouse team as a result.

To learn more about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation click

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mutual Support

A recent article in Reuters reminded me of one of the critical components to a successful and committed relationship, the component of absolute support.

The article focused on John Stankey, President and CEO of AT&T. When John was asked what he does with his limited free time, he responded he spends it with his family.

If you read the rest of the article you will realize what a crucial time it is in John’s life. He is playing a large role in making AT&T more successful than it has ever been with the addition of the iPhone into the AT&T operations. Yet, even with the obvious stress and complications of John’s career, he still maintains a level of commitment to his wife and three children, by spending his free time with them.

John demonstrates his absolute support of his executive spouse by balancing his commitment to AT&T and making her and his children his focus. He also says in the article that he wouldn’t wish his lifestyle on any of his family members, but by being there for him, his ExecuMate is showing her absolute support for him in return.

Demonstrating unwavering support for your executive spouse, and him or her demonstrating it in return, is one critical piece of the puzzle that will make your executive/spouse partnership a rewarding and successful journey.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Celebrity Apprentice

If you happened to catch Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” last week, you may have noticed my husband, Larry, making a guest appearance. As the CEO of Dr Pepper Snapple, he introduced the final challenge to the remaining two competitors (Poison’s Brett Michaels and actress Holly Robinson Peete). I watched with pride as Larry laid out the challenge: create and market a new Snapple flavor weaving in their charities’ messages.

I also had the honor of dining with Mr. Trump before Larry’s spotlight performance. Among those at the table we discussed some of the challenges and opportunities that come with being an executive spouse. It boils down to a few critical elements of a successful executive/spouse partnership, including:

Team and trust. Both spouses must establish absolute trust in each other and know that they are in it as a team for the long-term. They need to accept that they’re in it together, know that they have a plan, and be willing to make it happen.

Relationship and responsibility. It’s about the power of two, and each member of the couple needs to be accountable to the other, and to themselves. It’s vital that both spouses realize that they need to approach the challenge as a team. The spouse climbing the corporate ladder can experience extreme pressure and loneliness along the way. Or, when one spouse gets a shiny new promotion and picks up the family to a new city or country, for instance, it may be difficult for the other spouse to immediately find a job in the new community. Instead of placing blame on the executive and bottling up resentment, the spouse needs to take responsibility and communicate his or her feelings and find a way pursue their own interests.

Understanding. For both the executive and the spouse, huge doses of understanding and acceptance are essential to staying connected – for the long term. Demonstrating understanding and support is a critical piece of the puzzle. Both spouses need to make concessions to make sure the other one is happy and fulfilled, and appreciates the other’s contributions. It’s incredibly rewarding when your spouse recognizes you as a valuable resource and partner, and it’s doubly rewarding when they share it with peers who recognize it, too. Watch any awards show on TV, and you’ll see countless examples of high-powered people profusely thanking their spouses for years of support.

Mettle. It isn’t easy, but being an ExecuMate is a natural mettle-building exercise. It’s easy to get lost and overshadowed, but remember to stand up for yourself and your spouse - be true to you.

Passion and perseverance. These two attributes are keys to success, no matter what you do. Find something you love – whether it’s a career, classes, hobby, philanthropy or volunteering – outside of your responsibilities as an executive spouse to ensure you are fulfilled.

It may take years to achieve your goals together, and both executive and spouse need to commit to not only the end result, but the journey, as well. Both need to recognize that there will be sacrifices along the way and it will take perseverance, but the end results can be rewarding on many fronts.

If you’re an executive spouse and seeking support from those who are on the same path, I’d love to hear from you. Sharing each others’ experiences is the best way to learn and grow. And no one will tell you “you’re fired.” I promise.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Daily Question: What's for Dinner?

Recently, I was particularly surprised when an ExecuMate empty nester mentioned that her executive expressed disappointment that dinners weren’t regularly prepared. Now, having gone through the family journey myself, I understand that it’s important to gather family at the same table, at the same time, and regularly during the week, when possible. That’s another blog post. However, as an empty nester myself, I took pause with this one.

Truthfully, I have seen this discussion fall into two categories: A) Couples who say life has moved past cooking every night – and they enjoy the freedom of winging it, and B) Those who have not. So, what’s this all about? Control? Expectations?

I say it’s about communication. Let’s talk about a solution for Group B. Although this may sound a bit stilted at first, after a few runs, it will become part of your regular routine. Let’s say, on Sunday night (assuming it is the night before your work week), both spouses sit down and review their schedules together. You know, “I have a dinner this night, I have a meeting that night,” and each partner shares their known schedule. This way, there are no surprises, and quality dinners - and time spent together - will be meaningful, even special.

Another quick tip: Plan the type of food you’ll share on a specific night. For example, Italian on Wednesday night so both spouses can plan NOT to have Italian for lunch. It’s simple, it’s easy – and everybody wins. Bon app├ętit!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Daily Issues: What Lives in Your House?

Meeting with ExecuMates is the best education possible. Every time I have the privilege of discussing “what issues live in your executive house,” a short list quickly reappears. Loneliness. Single parenting (well, almost). Relocating. Unfair work issues for your spouse.

If just one of these issues lives in your house, you are not alone. Many executive spouses are living with them in their houses and within themselves, quietly, hidden, and unspoken.

At ExecuMate, we’re here to help – through personal experience shared in
seminars and one-on-one coaching where spouses can feel at ease discussing these issues in confidence – and find ways to move forward. I’d love to hear from you - please feel free to contact me at

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

ExecuMate Perks

Whether dining with Gene Simmons of KISS, or co-hosting a party of 230 top performers in Bora Bora, one thing you certainly do know: Unless you are an executive spouse or a celebrity, this is not an average day. Appreciative? Yes!

As an ExecuMate, I humbly reflect on these fabulous experiences, both mine personally and those I’ve heard from other executive spouses – and these are the moments and memories that make those not so pleasant times all worth it. These amazing, once-in-a-lifetime moments serve as the equalizer making up for the missed dinners, missed holidays, loneliness associated with
corporate moves, and of course those horrible personal experiences that only an ExecuMate can fill in the blank.

If you’re in a particularly unsatisfying place in your journey that feels seemingly unbearable at the moment, hang in there – and focus on the rewards of tomorrow. Good things do come to those who persevere and wait. But in the meantime, during the uncomfortable wait, fill your life with supportive people who have walked in your shoes, positive thoughts, and enriching experiences that you do have control over.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day: ABC's of being a Spouse

Appreciate each other's efforts to secure your family financially, and live within your means;
Believe in each other; encourage one another during difficult times; praise each other in success;
Consult each other; ask for opinion and advice when making decisions;
Desire each other physically;
Endorse each other in front of peers, friends, children, family; when you disagree, take it aside.

Freely enjoy your day celebrating 'the power of 2'...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

An ExecuMate C-Level Etiquette Discussion: Lunching with a Nonprofit Recruiter

Recently, a discussion arose among my nonprofit arena recruiter friends stemming from a question they often ask themselves: if a nonprofit recruiter invites a potential supporter of that organization to lunch or dinner, who pays?

After making a few phone calls to top recruiters and having been in the situation myself several times, I came to this conclusion: the invitee, the person with the funds that has the potential to donate to this non-profit organization, pays.

The reasoning: Although the recruiter has extended the invitation (and in just about any other social situation, of course, we know the answer), this time it does not apply. Why? If you have come this far to accept the invitation and are serious enough to consider donating, truly, you wouldn't want to take money out of that organization's pocket. AND, even if you decline the position, please...pick up the tab.

Executives and executive spouses: Have you been invited to dine by a charity recruiter? Accept only if you are willing to pay for lunch. Also, it would be really nice if you let them know as you accept the invitation. And very importantly, the offer and deed also demonstrates you have the frame of mind to be a supporter.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010---The New Year Plan

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2010. As we reflect back on the year, the top of mind thought seems to do I improve upon last year's plan? Hey, so many choices, lol.

If you were 'home for the holidays', you might be considering how to make that time a bit smoother. Let's talk about that...what is so 'normal' in family from everywhere gathering under one roof for days, 24/7, to blend naturally? Ok, so it works most of the time, but if it didn't for you, hey, it's ok.

As an executive, has your mind relaxed during those days, or were you still needing to answer phone calls, emails, texts, while nodding to relatives as though you were listening, yet you were managing a business in your head? If it was the latter, hey, it's ok.

As a spouse, were you trying to help everything, everybody, smooth out, juggling tasks and personalities, hoping for the best? Did you find yourself one exhausted heap landing in a comfy chair by 9 p.m. only to know it will be 'ground hog's day' to do over the next day?

So how do we plan better for the coming year to make all this smoother for the next holiday? How do we find a nice balance so we may enjoy 'creating memories' that are positive for our family? How is it done?

My suggestions begin with organization. Make a list of what needs to be done, even as long as it may be, and then start eating that elephant one bite at a time. How?

I start in the summer buying presents along the way and keeping a list of who they go to; wrap and keep in one place along with that list; if you travel to a holiday destination to see family, plan ahead with members making a plan and then a back-up plan; keeping things simple. If a 'family tradition' is just not working out, why are we so reluctant in keeping them? Make a new plan; make a new tradition. Holiday cards...address in the summer and keep ready to mail. Anything you can do ahead of time, do it. Trust me, even at that, there is a full schedule waiting, but perhaps it will be the fun events that you enjoy instead of chores.

Trying to do this holiday plan alone? Solicit family help. This should not be a solo event...involve the choir (ok, my music background analogy).

Home for the holidays? The novice are trying it out, experimenting what works. For those of us who have done it for many years...well, we are still trying to master it. Regardless, the efforts are well spent, but a plan that makes it easier is always welcomed!

Have a Happy and Blessed New Year...Colette