:: Rewriting the Fairy Tale

An interview with Carolyn Buck Luce


What if the story went… .

Once upon a time, in a boardroom far, far

away, Cinderella earned her Six Sigma

certification, led a multifunctional launch team,

made it to the PTA meeting and was still the

fairest in the land? Or, before Rapunzel let down her hair, she calculated the

EBITDA in time for the next earning cycle while serving on

the board of her favorite charity?


And, rather than cooking and cleaning for team Grumpy, Dopey, Bashful and the rest of the dwarves, Snow White was running a global project in seven countries and still made it to the school holiday pageant?

Would women and men have a different view of themselves and each other?

Hundreds of books have been written on what makes the different sexes tick and the motivators that drive women and men to achieve success, not to mention what that success look like. And, some of those theories and titles are just as farfetched as expecting Jack Welch to come swooping in on his company jet to right the wrongs of the day.

Maybe it’s time to redefine happily ever after and what that means in the modern day world of the corporate kingdom. Carolyn Buck Luce, 2012 WOTY and cofounder of her newly launched business consultancy Imaginal Labs, contends that as children we are read the wrong stories—girls should be reading boys’ stories and vice versa.

Boys’ stories involve tales of daring deeds and duels, and at the end of the quest the reward is the beautiful princess. Mind you, the hero always has a lot of help in slaying the dragon—his trusty page who minds his horse, the blacksmith who forges his sword and the jester who is at the ready with an entertaining interlude in case things go wrong—but the princess doesn’t get split among the team (that would be a tale of another genre), she is destined for the guy in shining armor.

And, the girls, well, silly them, they are always getting caught in some mess they can’t fix themselves as they await Prince Charming to come to the rescue.

It’s these allegories that often frame our perception of leadership and self-actualization. Buck Luce says to overcome the challenges of what she calls the “good girl” problem and the Goldilocks syndrome, women need to take an innovative approach to being all they can be, by declaring their purpose, claiming ambition, constructing a 10-year plan, building a network, creating a personal brand, getting digital and owning their identity, and assembling a personal board of directors.

A horizontal approach

Buck Luce says beyond dispelling the old stereotypes, there is another story, one more recent, which needs to be updated. “The story women are reading now around being successful in business is that they have to get to the top, but this is not right either,” Buck Luce says. “In my experience, I’ve found what’s important to women is getting to the center and understanding how to truly be the anchor—the heart, soul and mind of a high impact team—which doesn’t necessarily mean being the CEO.”

Climbing the corporate ladder isn’t what it used to be, in fact, Buck Luce says women should avoid ladders altogether because that’s what boys climb. Inherently, a ladder represents verticality and hierarchy opposed to a horizontal approach to relationships. According to all the gender research, pecking order, status, where one sits, etc., indicates how men create order and their understanding of how they fit into an organization’s framework.

“Men look at the vertical order, decide where they fit and then they know what direction they have to go,” Buck Luce says. “The research that Deborah Tannen has done reveals that women relate horizontally. Men walk into a room and understand how to relate to others by noting the differences. Women walk into a room, and they understand who they are based on finding likenesses versus differences.”

 Redefining your job description

There is an old axiom that men get promoted on potential, women on their track record. “Women want to be seen as competent and tend to define their job based on what someone is paying them to do and not on their potential,” Buck Luce says. “I suggest to women that they redefine their job definition and job description, because it’s not about what the company is paying them to do, it’s learning how to be a good leader so that they can go to the core of any situation and know how to lead a high impact team. I say define your job description differently— to be a good leader whether in your family, the community, the workforce and the world.”

Defining “it”

Buck Luce has spent a lifetime defining and redefining her personal and professional job description. “I’ve rarely felt the conflict between the time spent working in the paid workforce, the time allocated to the community, the time I spent with family, because as long as I’m awake I’m working. I’m learning how to be a good one,” she continues. “One of the comments that I’ve gotten the most feedback on from my HBA Woman of Year award speech was was ‘you can have it all, you just can’t do it all.’

To do that you must define what ‘it’ is and for me ‘it’ is learning how to be the best leader that I can be to help facilitate, enable and empower high-impact teams, whether that’s at home, at work or in the world.” One of Buck Luce’s innovative life and leadership best practices is having a 10-year plan. She suggests that women define how they want to be known in the world 10 years from now. Then the job description will naturally illuminate the areas that need to be mastered. “The plan will uncover the experiences, skills and knowledge needed, as well as the people one needs to meet along the way,” Buck Luce says. “The job description is learning how to be a ‘good one,” whatever that ‘one’ is as you grow and master the different areas necessary for success.” Rewrite your story and learn what “it” means to you.

You never know …

happily ever after might not be what if … after all.