Every week, Dorie Clark, well-known strategy consultant, communications trainer and professor of economics at Duke and Columbia Universities, hosts the Tekk.tv interview series LinkedIn Live Better. She talks to business leaders, writers and founders about the latest innovative ideas and trends and answers questions from viewers of the live stream.
She recently spoke with entrepreneur Tiffany Dufu, founder and CEO of The Cru, a peer coaching service for women, and author of Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less. This is now a particularly timely message. In a world turned upside down by the pandemic, almost everyone is trying to juggle more than they are used to.
Here are some highlights from their conversation, prepared for more space and clarity. You can watch the entire episode on Tekk.tv’s YouTube channel or turn on the live show every Thursday at 12:00 ET/9:00 PT on LinkedIn Live.
You were ahead of your time. How did that happen?
I wrote a book called “Drop the Ball” because I am a person who used to be terrified of ever dropping a ball. It basically meant that you did not act in time, that you let yourself, your family, your community and your boss down. In my case, as dramatic as it sounds, I was a disappointment to the entire black race.
What happened was that I had a life-changing event that caused the person who had always held all the balls perfectly in the air to come down. It was the birth of my first child. What happened when I started dropping balls was that all the things that I always thought would happen, that I was terrified that they would happen, that I was terrified that they would happen, none of that happened. Armageddon was not hit. No one called me to tell me that they didn’t love me anymore. I wasn’t fired from my job.
I began to ask myself, “Tiffany, why did you feel all this pressure for so long in your life to have all these balls in the air? That took me on a journey of reappropriation of the term. So for me now, it means that I have let go of my own unrealistic expectations about how to keep them all in the air. I have found out what is most important to me, I have found out what my highest and best use is to achieve what is most important to me. And, what is most important, I have found out how to get help from the people around me.
How do you start to draw the line between the balls you are allowed to drop and the balls you should never drop?
The first part is to create a kind of filter for yourself. And the first part of the filter is to realize what is most important to you. And when I say that, I mean in your life as a whole.
One of the questions I am often asked is: What if I have no idea what is most important to me? I love Stephen Covey’s funeral visualization exercise [Covey wrote the bestselling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People] in which he asks us to think about what people should say about us at the end of our lives.
You then need to figure out which balls you will drop, what your highest and best use is. Your highest and best benefit is usually a combination of what you do really well, usually with little effort, and the things that only you can do,
One of the things I do very well with very little effort is to help other people achieve clarity through guidance and encouragement. One of the things only I can do is to teach values to my children. My highest and best benefit in educating conscious world citizens is to have a meaningful conversation with my children every day. I am confident that I will use my highest and best means to achieve what is most important to me. This means that I can drop the ball when I know exactly what the schedule for my daughter’s middle school is.
I would like to ask you about your startup, the cru. Can you tell us a little bit about the vision? I think it’s right on target for the COVID era.
Part of my “drop-the-ball” journey was to learn how to get the help I need, to learn how to ask for help. I needed to more consciously curate a group of people who would hold me accountable and help me advance my personal and professional success. I call these people my crew. I have been working with my personal crew for years, and they are a group of nine other truly incredible women. We share our ambitions. We help each other make plans to realize those ambitions.
In January 2018 I was in this beautiful, women-oriented space of collaboration and met with this woman. I told her about how to find her crew. I don’t know if you have ever talked to someone in your life and you could tell that they didn’t feel what you were saying, but I had one of those moments. And luckily, this woman was honest with me. She basically said, “I don’t think you appreciate how much work it is to find this group. I came to you because you wrote this book called “Drop the Ball”. I thought you wanted to make it easier for me, not give me more to do.”
I realized, “Oh my goodness, if your life’s work is to promote women and girls, you should probably stop preaching about how to find your team and you should just find the damn team. So this is what the Cru literally does. You just give us 20 minutes of your time to fill out an application, and we’ll put you in touch with nine other people. You 10 become one crew, and you work together to achieve your goals together.
Here is a question from a viewer who asks: “What is the most important thing that women and girls should know on their journey of self-discovery and growth?
The first thing I want everyone to know: If you want something you have never had before, you have to do something you have never done before to get it. It’s like my mother-in-law, who is from Ghana, always says: “If things get easier, it’s probably because things are going downhill with you. So I want us to accept the conflict, I want us to face the challenge, that is the process we are all going through, because on the other side of it, on the other side of it, we are making a breakthrough.
Another viewer asks: “If we know that soaking up the simple pleasures of life and maintaining meaningful relationships is a core value and we also want to build a thriving business, how do you honor dancing between these things?
My answer to this question was to make them one and the same thing. My life’s work is the advancement of women and girls. That is pretty much the reason why I am on this planet. So all the recruiting of venture capitalists, planning meetings, hiring people, it’s all in the interest of the women I want to serve. I’ve also found a way to monetize that. Not everyone is in a place in their career or in their life where they can do that. But I think it’s a really beautiful thing to approach that place.
Dorie Clark, author of “Entrepreneurial You” and professor at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, moderates the weekly interview series “Better” on Tekk.tv on Thursdays at 12 noon ET/9 pm PT. Learn more and download her free Stand Out Self-Assessment….