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First Person

How to maintain objectivity in the business world

At Thursday’s Massachusetts Conference for Women, Elizabeth Thornton, entrepreneurship educator at Babson College, speaks on the importance of keeping your cool.

“I see myself as someone who can motivate people to start businesses,” says Elizabeth Thornton, adjunct lecturer at Babson.

Photograph by Bill Greene/Globe staff

“I see myself as someone who can motivate people to start businesses,” says Elizabeth Thornton, adjunct lecturer at Babson.

After working elsewhere, I went out and started my own international venture, a South African beverage company. It was very successful for a time, then ended rather badly, which was shattering. I started to realize WE ALL BLOW OURSELVES UP. We seem to be going along fine, then all of sudden, there’s a hiccup, and a lot of times, that hiccup is associated with how we frame our world. WE OVERREACT, we take things personally when we shouldn’t, we read tone in e-mail, and that drives a response that sometimes we can regret. 

Even though WOMEN ARE STARTING MORE BUSINESSES, compared with men, women seem to have more fear of failure. We are less confident in our ability and perceive fewer opportunities. That’s a mind-set. If I believe I can’t get ahead because I can’t get financing, then that’s what I’m going to experience. I can’t negate that women have made progress, but we’re not where we want to be. I think a significant portion is the way we think. Sometimes, OUR ASSUMPTIONS ARE NO LONGER SERVING US. We have to teach women to be more objective when responding. That’s a skill; it’s something they can learn to do.

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I piloted the class [Principle of Objectivity] at Babson in 2008; I’ve been doing it for corporate partners and am writing a book. I would call it A NEW LEADERSHIP COMPETENCY. I define it as being able to recognize and accept what actually is, without projecting our fears, our mental models — and responding thoughtfully, deliberately, and effectively. This is my life’s work. IT FEELS LIKE MY MISSION. Unfortunately, I had to lose a million dollars to learn my brain can change the way it responds. — As told to Melissa Schorr

Interview has been edited and condensed.

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