Nicole Lipkin: 'Spend money on people and things that will free up time and make life easier'
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Nicole Lipkin is a business and organisational psychologist who works with executives around the world. She is also the president of Equilibria Leadership Consulting, an executive coaching and leadership development company, and the founder of Equilibria Psychological and Consultation Services.

Ms Lipkin has a PhD in clinical psychology and an MBA from Widener University in the US. In her spare time she enjoys adventure races, salsa dancing and going to the theatre. She is author of What Keeps Leaders Up at Night and co-author of Y in the Workplace: Managing the ‘Me First’ Generation.

1. What would you do if you were dean of a business school for the day?

I would play around with the curriculum. In my opinion, what’s missing in business school curricula is personal and leadership development classes focusing on emotional intelligence, communication and influence skills, conflict management and resolution, critical thinking and group dynamics.

2. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

To pick and choose what you are going to fill your brain with, because there is a lot of crap out there.

3. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my book, What Keeps Leaders Up at Night. I had so much fun writing it. This book is about how we mess up as leaders and it looks at the psychology and neuroscience behind this. It forced me to take a hard look at what has sent me off course at times and what goes on in my brain when I’m thinking a certain way or feeling a certain way.

4. Who is your business hero?

Ray Anderson, founder of Interface, the manufacturer of modular carpet. He was preparing to speak at a meeting when he found inspiration in Paul Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce [which blames] business and industry for the decline of the biosphere. Hawken’s ideas so impressed Anderson that he wove them into his speech the following day, challenging himself and the company to develop a strategic commitment to sustainability that would create a new, post-industrial business model. Anderson died in 2011, leaving behind the lasting legacy of a better company.

5. What is the worst job you have ever had?

Hands down, the worst job I ever had was my first job out of graduate school. It wasn’t the worst job because the work was bad, it was the worst job because I had the worst boss ever. I got to the point where I would leave crying every day and my behaviour was erratic because I was so stressed out. However, I have to give this awful boss some kudos. Not only did he inspire me to eventually open up shop and become a major competitor, he also taught me exactly what I didn’t want to be when I became the boss.

6. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

That it’s incredibly difficult to manage people. No matter how great a boss you may be, we all have the potential of slipping into temporary “bad boss” mode. A few years ago I learnt that lesson personally when I tried to manage someone who I shouldn’t have hired in the first place. Instead of parting ways, I tried to make it work and I became that “bad boss” in the process.

7. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?

My early career was criminal work as a forensic psychologist, which is highly male dominated, and I learnt some valuable lessons about the importance of embracing both my feminine and masculine qualities, which we all have. Initially I found myself putting masculine qualities out there more. I felt like I was acting tougher, harder and less nurturing than I actually was or really felt inside. I felt clumsy and awkward, especially when my ultimate goal was to help people. Ultimately, I was handicapping my strengths. This was a big lesson. Now, I just act consistently, regardless of whether the environment is dominated by men or women.

8. What advice would you give to women in business education?

I don’t think this is just advice for women, but it’s advice to people in education in general …stop being so academic! I remember thinking vividly during my education that everything was so cerebral and so up in the clouds that I was wondering when I was going to be exposed to some real life. I had amazing professors and I wanted the experiences in their heads, not just the information because often you can get that from a book. To prepare us for business – the politics, the financial realities, the leadership realities, the gender realities – be real with us.

9. What is your favourite business book?

I’ve always liked Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap …And Others Don’t by Jim Collins. Although relatively old at this point, I think its classic point of getting the right people on the right seat of the bus resonates.

10. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

Spend money on people and things that will free up time and make life easier. For example, I should have hired an office manager much earlier than I did. I should have also hired people, such as designers and marketing folks, that were top notch as opposed to hiring based on the cheapest bidder. Recognising that you can’t do it all is a valuable lesson.

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