If all business is selling--selling yourself, selling your goods, selling your company's image and brand name--then I owe a great deal of my success to the Girl Scouts. Selling Girl Scout cookies door to door in Queens was my first real experience of the business world. It required a confidence that I didn't know I had until I tried, a courage to approach and talk to strangers, and the character to keep going after rejection.
Selling cookies also had its own intrinsic rewards. It turned out that I really liked persuading people to buy Thin Mints and Samoas--and that I was good at it. I sold boxes and boxes of the cookies and was a frequent candidate for the top-selling awards.
Even more important than individual accomplishment, though, the Girl Scouts taught me--along with countless other young women--how to work effectively with my peers, a skill set that has been absolutely critical in the business world. When I was 30 years old, I was working as an analyst with absolutely no management experience. After working with colleagues to develop a business strategy for entering a new market, I was suddenly picked to head a department of over 100 people. Being able to work with my peers as part of a team was probably the single most important attribute that qualified me to lead this effort, and I'm not sure I could have done it without the positive experiences I had in the Girl Scouts.
Today, I head a company with 200 employees, nearly all of them making daily decisions about how best to serve our customers. Our culture values those traits that the Girl Scouts emphasize: courage, confidence, and character. We must have the courage to do things differently--for instance, we follow a sustainable and responsible investment process when most other firms focus only on the corporate bottom line. We must have confidence in ourselves and our team members, working to foster an inclusive culture where everyone's input is valued. And we must have the...