Mommy Wars – Top Performers

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This week we are very pleased to feature Leslie Steiner, she’s the editor of the LA Times best-selling The Mommy Wars and writes “On-Balance,” the popular daily Washington Post online column about working motherhood.

Her newest book, Crazy Love, is causing a huge wave focused on abuse. She has taken her messages from the newsroom, to the boardroom, across the country, where her work is being celebrated by people everywhere.

In this week’s program, Leslie Morgan Steiner will share her insights on being a top performer and being a writer for top performers based on her best-selling books, The Mommy Wars and Crazy Love.

We want to talk with Leslie about her innovative, breakthrough ideas of both being a working mother and the possibilities of overlooking the possibility you might have for being in an abusive relationship or being abused by others.

Leslie is a frequent television and radio guest on NBC’s Today Show, The Diane Rem show on National Public Radio, MSNBC, Fox News, and other programs. Leslie is now a very happily married woman with three children living in Washington, D.C. As a speaker she has been acclaimed for her unique ability to blend her experience with her own authentic and inspiring style.

She’s been featured on major radio and media outlets. Leslie is also available for keynotes, radio, TV, and interactive workshops at

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Welcome, Leslie.

Leslie Morgan Steiner: Thank you Cathy, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Well, it’s been an honor to have met you in person at the Global YWPO program where we were together back in March. I’m so happy and thrilled that you have agreed to come on and talk about your new book. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to work in the field of journalism.

Leslie Morgan Steiner: Well, it started when I was a very young child. Pretty much as soon as I could read I wanted to write; I wanted to be a writer. I just was very drawn to words. But I also, was really interested in business and how organizations functioned. So I was an English major in college and then got an MBA soon after that. Since then I have blended a career of marketing and public relations with writing books.

I worked for Johnson & Johnson and the Washington Post for almost 20 years and currently I’m focused more on writing books because the first book, Mommy Wars, did well enough that I could transition into writing a column and write more books. It’s been a very satisfying career to kind of go back and forth between the business and the writing.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Let me ask you, in that time, when you were kind of making decisions about how to do this, you were also a mommy yourself?

Leslie Morgan Steiner: Yes, I wrote Mommy Wars when I was working full time at the Washington Post, I had three kids under the age of 5, and I would write every night from about 9:00 pm until midnight, after working a full day and taking care of three kids. What I learned from that is that when you want to write a book, you can become very focused and high-performing.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Yah. It sounds like when you want to do anything, you can become very focused. Just another background question, before we get into the meat of the issue here; this is always one we ask our leaders who come to share their thoughts about being a top performer. Who have been most influential in your thinking and your writing and work to date, that you can really, really feel and see them have an impact on you?

Leslie Morgan Steiner: I think that over the course of my entire life the people who have influenced me, this sounds like such a corny answer but it’s really true, are the teachers that I have had. Because I feel like teaches, starting in elementary school, and high school, and then definitely in college and business school, I think that people who are drawn to the teaching profession usually are able to see things in yourself that you can’t see.

My high school English teacher predicted that I would have a career in business. He didn’t tell me this until much later, until I actually had a career in business. I think that it was such an incredible thing for me to have older, wiser, adults who knew a lot about life, cheering me on and telling me I could do anything that I wanted. So there’s probably a group of about 15 professors along the way that really inspired me.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: That’s a beautiful way to announce to the world the influence that all the people who have touched you have actually been able to influence you. We had another speaker on in the not too distant past, his name was Bruce Tolchen, and he talked about the X and the Y generation and how important it is that they have been brought through their career world with the idea of self-actualization by their parents. So, it sounds like you’ve been gifted with many people of how you self-actualized.

Leslie Morgan Steiner: I really have, and then I have one critical last one when I was at Johnson & Johnson. He was the president of my company and he was one of the first people in business who said to me, I want to know what is in your head. Don’t ever tell me what you think I want to hear, or what other people have told you is the right answer, all I want to know is what you really think and that’s really valuable to me.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Aren’t those the best leaders? They are the ones who, it’s like kind of the good news is good, but I think sometimes the bad news and the things that are really a challenge and make you struggle and make you better, are the ones that make us the real people who we become in life.

Leslie Morgan Steiner: I think that is really true. He was very important to me, especially within a company like Johnson & Johnson, which is so hugely successful, but it’s also very corporate. At places like that their does tend to be the idea that there is a one right way to achieve success, and that boss just showed me that a much more entrepreneurial way, and individualistic way, and really a much more rewarding way to pursue a career. To really value your own voice.

In some ways, I think it ultimately led me to the path of writing. It gave me the confidence to say, you know what I think, maybe it could be important enough that I could put it into a book and that people would buy it.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I’ll tell you, that brings us full circle to the subject that we are going to talk about today, which are two hard topics. Which you, my friend, have done an outstanding job of creating memoirs around both for the working mom and actually for the abused lover. So, let’s talk a little bit about how you came to these topics. Can you explain a little bit about your interest in both of these special interest topics?

Leslie Morgan Steiner: Sure, and thank you for those kinds words, Cathy, it’s very gratifying to hear that.

Mommy Wars is a collection of twenty-six essays by very opinionated mom’s writing about their decision to work or stay at home once they had children.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I wouldn’t know any of those women..

Leslie Morgan Steiner: I came to Mommy Wars because as a relatively new mom myself, and somebody who really felt quite strongly that you can do it all, you can have a great career and raise you children, and be very involved in their lives, all at the same time. I was really curious about how different women were figuring it out and figuring out their own balance.

I was drawn to get them together and I always say that I could have flagged down the first 26 mom’s driving by house in their mini-vans, because every mom has a great story. Motherhood is such an individualistic, personal thing to do and everybody does it differently.

At the time that I was writing Mommy Wars, it was published in 2006, it wasn’t such an open subject. It was a little bit of a taboo subject. Most moms I knew were obsessed with being politically correct, and not judging each other and they took it too far in that they weren’t even talking about their own choices.

The book, Mommy Wars, allowed people to really have candid conversations about the compromises they were facing and the sacrifices they were making in order to work and raise kids at the same time, and how hard it is, no matter what your circumstances are. No matter how supportive your husband is, or not matter what a great job you have, it’s still hard work.

It became much harder for all of us when we were told by our society or have decided among ourselves, that we shouldn’t talk about it. I think Mommy Wars is really about being very candid and not saying to people, oh, my life is so perfect, my husband is wonderful, my kids are great, my job is wonderful, I’m just so lucky, but really, talking about how hard it is every day. I loved doing that book and I spent almost five years doing nothing but talking to moms about their lives and it was very wonderful work.

One of the wonderful things I found about putting together Mommy Wars is that everybody was really interested in telling their own story, but not necessarily criticizing or judging other women and their choices, which was very good news from my perspective.

The book, as a result, is not at all judgmental. It’s just really candid, pretty much shockingly candid. The things that the moms share in the Mommy Wars essays, are things that they never told their best friends and didn’t tell their neighbors, and sometimes didn’t even tell their husbands. The struggles they faced along the way in balancing career and family, included infertility, infidelity, depression, anger, sexual harassment, single motherhood, it goes on and on and on.

I think I learned a really good lesson from that book that a key quality for happiness in your life, and I think any kind of successful leadership, is being really candid with yourself and the people around you. It is an incredibly powerful quality. There’s a lot of honesty in Mommy Wars, and then my subsequent book, Crazy Love, and it’s also the thing I use whenever I speak publicly. I try to make it clear within the first few sentences, that we are going to be really honest here.

People are always really energized by that and I think that they are able to take home some truths about life that makes them feel better about their own lives and also makes them feel really inspired to go forward and achieve whatever they have to achieve, whether it’s in their work or their family or their health, or just how they live their lives.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Well, I couldn’t agree with you more, because I do believe that being honest, acknowledging that something has happened, accurately, and as you say, being candid, just the way you said it, creates a healing. It’s an opportunity for someone to really reflect on what happened and why and get past it. So bless your heart, you are not only advocating that you are teaching others how to do it as well.

Leslie Morgan Steiner: It has amazing results. The books that I have written, I think you can see the results there, but I’ve also had a lot of professional experiences.

One type of example is that I took over the Washington Post Magazine in 2001. The Magazine had been losing money for many years, and within two years we were making. The way that it turned around was really just being honest with the team working on the magazine. Saying, look, we are losing money. If we keep doing this, we are going to be shut down. We’ve got to all pull together. That simple rallying cry created a sense of teamwork and comradery and gave people goals to go after: profitability. A pretty simple goal that you would think that they would have had before but nobody had really been candid with them before and said, this is a bad situation. It was remarkable to me how even in a professional setting, people respond to that kind of honesty.

Listen to the complete interview above.

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