Feature Story

Diane Paddison

Diane Paddison: Executive, Author and Founder of 4word

In April 2012, I wrote a Forbes blog on “Shattering the Work/Life Balance Myth” – that there is really no such thing as work and personal life in perfect balance at all times. But what about when you add faith into that mix? To find out how women can have a fulfilling career and family life while also cultivating their faith, I sat down for a discussion with Diane Paddison, founder of the national nonprofit 4word, an organization for women who work…love…pray.

Inspired by a passion to connect and mentor professional women, Diane founded 4word, a national nonprofit designed to connect, lead, and support young professional Christian women to fulfill their potential. She even wrote a book on this topic, “Work, Love, Pray: Practical Wisdom for Young Professional Christian Women.”

According to Diane, the vision of 4word is to connect businesswomen at monthly lunch events to share experiences, support, and encourage each other. “On our website we also offer support with links to resources recommended by our seasoned leaders to help manage God-given talents, time and treasure,” she added.

Diane Paddison is a very busy woman. She is currently the Chief Strategy Officer at a commercial real estate firm, serves on two corporate boards, and has held several executive positions for corporations, including Chief Operating Officer for two Fortune 500 companies. She is also an author, wife, and mother to four children.

In our Q&A session, Diane offers advice on the importance of mentors, creating both a fulfilling personal and professional life, preserving time for our priorities outside of work, and how to avoid getting overwhelmed by it all.

Q&A with Diane Paddison, founder of 4word:

Q: You have a passion for mentoring other women. Why do feel so strongly about the need for young women to have mentors?

Diane: Because women don’t easily find the practical mentoring and support that men naturally extend to each other. Young women need Godly role models who have walked in their shoes with integrity and success – as they enter the post-college world dreaming of prosperous careers and forging healthy relationships with lasting potential. It is important to find mentors and sponsors. My life has been blessed by all of those who were passionate about supporting me, and today, it is so much fun to have the opportunity to mentor others.

Q: Describe your most important mentor and how they helped you achieve success.

Diane: Don Williams was the most important mentor in my life as I grew in my career. He was the CEO for Trammell Crow Company for over twenty years. When I joined the company in 1987, I knew that Don was anchored by his faith, his family was his priority, and he was passionate about women being successful in the commercial real estate industry. A few years after I started with Trammell Crow, I went to Don and asked if I could come to him for advice. Thankfully, Don was not only a mentor, but within our company, it is also important to have a “sponsor.” A sponsor is someone who is always looking out for you when new opportunities arise in your company. Don would say, “I would like to have Diane take on the diversity project and report to the board,” or, “Have you considered Diane for that job?”

Today, I have many mentors in my life, and most have been outside of my company, but I want to mention one more, Bob Buford. Bob pushed me to write “Work, Love, Pray”, helped me make it happen, and is always there to assist when my “ask” is something he can do for me.

Q: Leading a fulfilling life is something I think most women strive for. Can you tell us a little about the path you followed to find both a rewarding professional and personal life?

Diane: Get to know “you” and what is important in your life. My faith is my anchor and my family is my priority, so my career came third to these. I tried to have that focus throughout life, although I didn’t do it perfectly. Career-wise, first, you must find a company that supports your priorities.

Second, you need to understand what makes you tick. What gets you to jump out of bed in the morning? I am project and process oriented, plus, I love working with people. Being a Chief Operating Officer at the peak of my business career was the perfect fit for me. My favorite part of my career was the 18 months that I had the opportunity to pull together the Trammell Crow Company and CB Richard Ellis teams serving corporate clients. I had 4,500 employees that I needed to pull into a well-functioning team, serving our clients, stabilizing and growing our $600,000,000 in revenue and creating a platform that would serve our clients well for the long term.

Third, you have to enjoy the people that you work with day-to-day. Even though I had the same job in another Fortune 500 company, the culture didn’t support my priorities and the people did not work as a cohesive team as the team at CB Richard Ellis did, so it is very special when you get all of the pieces right.

Q: Many of us face challenges and decisions in our careers that could easily compromise our personal lives. What advice would you offer women who want to advance their careers while preserving time for their family, faith, and other personal priorities?

Diane: Set boundaries and make sure you follow them! I said I would be home every day by 6 p.m. so that our family could eat dinner together. It didn’t mean [my husband] and I didn’t work later in our home when the kids were busy with homework and activities, however, we attempted to have one time of day when the family was together.

Second, set travel boundaries. I agreed with my family and boss that I would travel an average of one night a week. This was good for me and for them. I examined my calendar often to make sure I was following this boundary. There are many others that can be put in place, like a date with your husband once a week. The key is setting them and following them.

We are asked to do so many things, but as Jim Collins found in his research about great leaders, you have to “focus.” You may be in the stage of life where focusing on your career and family is all that you can do well. You should say “no” to room mom or volleyball coach. At another stage when the kids are grown, you’ll have a lot more time to give to volunteer activities. I have just moved into this stage over the last two years. “No” has been my favorite two letter word in the previous twenty-five years of my life.

Q: When you’re busy with a career, family, and following your passions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. How do you harmonize all of these things?

Diane: Many of us don’t take the opportunity to share the journey with others. I don’t know how I would have done it without my wonderful husband. We have been “partners” throughout our eleven-year marriage. We had to work together with two careers and four kids. Sometimes, one of us needed to slow down to support the other or focus on one of our kids who needed our special attention.

We must also be great delegators when our co-workers are ready. And when they are ready, they love to be treated like you can trust them to take on more. My assistant, Theresa Romack, was such a blessing to me. We continue to be great friends today.

Also, take outside help when you can. We were blessed to have the opportunity to employ a nanny from our kids’ births until our second had gotten her driver’s license. It was a huge help, but I know not everyone has the means to handle childcare in that manner.

~ Lisa Quast

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