Betsy Myers: How She Does It

Betsy Myers

Betsy Myers

Besty Myers 52, married, one daughter, CEO of Bentley’s Center for Women and Business, senior advisor to Barack Obama for President 2008, expert on leadership, and author of  Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You”

You had a very high powered and visible job as the COO of  President Obama’s first presidential campaign with a small child. How did you manage?

That’s a good question. Like anything, it took a village. My husband was supportive and was willing to take total reins of our family responsibilities for much of the 2 year campaign. He really stepped up. It happened very quickly. From the time I met Barack, it was two weeks to my taking the job. I just thought:  this is an incredible opportunity and I would figure it all out afterwards. It was not the easiest for my family. You can kind of do something for a shorter period that you couldn’t sustain forever. We weren’t sure he would make it through Iowa. It was one year. For the first six months, I commuted to Chicago. I’d jump on a plane on Monday morning. Back on Friday. The good part was that I could work really long hours for those five days. That’s all part of being part of a political campaign. For the second six months my family moved to Chicago and when my husband returned to Boston, my parents–who live an hour from Chicago stepped in.

What is your secret to integrating work and life?

That is the beautiful part of this position at Bentley.  It is five minutes from my house, and is a job that has amazing flexibility. It allows me to integrate in a sane way, my home life and my speaking business. After the Obama campaign, my daughter’s needs were different. She was having difficulty transitioning back to Boston and I needed to be present and accessible. She needed more of a stable routine. As parents, we need to access the changing needs of our kids as they grow. What they need as a baby is so different than as a tween or teen. Academia is great to have balance in life.

How do your views on leadership inform how you integrate work and family?

Every leader has to lead themselves. First, you are leading your own life. I‘ve gotten very clear about what the most important things in my life, are. How does my schedule reflect that? What matters is my family, and self-care, exercise, and time alone. So every invitation I get, I think how does this invitation move one of the areas forward. I’m very careful about my calendar. When I was young and single, I was always looking for someone to have dinner with. But now, I’ve gotten very choosy who I spend time with.  Is this an A priority? That is how I am able to manage my life now. You have to say to yourself, “I am not going to be perfect but I can be strategic and thoughtful.”

Who did you admire growing up and why?

I admired my mother. She was a stay-at-home mom. She dropped out of school at 18.  By age 23, she had three babies. When I was a teenager she went back to school. And I watched her transform herself: she went toward the light. She showed us girls that you can change your life at any time by going toward your dreams and working hard. My dad had to adjust and he did. She was a happy person.  I respected him:  He would say “If you say you are going to do it, do it. Take the step.  Be tough.”

What do you think about the feminist movement?

I’m so grateful. Gloria Steinem just turned 80. I had the good fortune to cross paths with Betty Friedan. The only way we are going to make progress today is with men in partnership. They are the support and the teammates we need.

What role should government play in helping manage this balance?

Government can lead the way. When I was in the Clinton White House, it was the era of public-private partnerships. If the President sets the tone, then it sets the tone for the business sector. Another wonderful example: Massachussetts Governor Deval Patrick.  He said “we are still not there yet.” Even though almost fifty percent of his cabinet secretaries are women, he came up with the idea to create opportunity in the statehouse: the Women’s Leadership Fellowship. This is another example of a public private collaboration. Bentley and my center, CWB, will be coordinating the professional development around the 1 year program. Phase 2 of the initiative will be inviting Massachusetts businesses to do the same.

Tell me about your worst “house of cards” day.

I was in a staff meeting on the Campaign and I got call from my sister in law and then a call from my husband. My father in law passed away unexpectedly. I just picked up and had to get on plane.  I shared with the airline representative what had happened and she found me a seat on an over-booked flight home to Boston. These are the times that you are reminded of what really matters in life. Your career or job is just that — your career. You also learn from situations like this that you can leave and the organization keeps going. Even then Senator Obama called and said, “Betsy, you are right where you should be…take as long as you need.” Stuff happens in life and you have to deal with it one foot in front of the other.

 Photo credit: Bentley University


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