18 Questions with Tiffany Dufu

18 Questions with Tiffany Dufu

Tiffany Dufu, author of Drop the Ball and founder of The Cru joined us for an Ask Me Anything session on June 18th.

Tiffany revealed the secret behind her infectious energy and talked about her passion for advancing women & girls. She also shared some brilliant insights regarding time management, networking, how to stay focused and productive while working from home during the pandemic, how to become a mentor, and other topics.

We also talked to Tiffany about some of her favorite quotes, books she recommends, as well as some of the most influential and formative moments of her life.

Here is the complete transcript of the event.

Q: Question by community member

C: Comment by community member

Q: Tiffany, what prompted you to write Drop the Ball?

Tiffany Dufu: In 2012, I started to receive a lot of questions about how I "managed it all." Meaning how I juggled my career, family, civic obligations and my ambition. As a feminist, I used to dismiss this question as frivolous and one that men never received.

But I had a "Tiffany's Epiphany" one day when I realized that all of these women weren't asking me the question because they were just nosy about my personal life. They were asking "How do YOU manage it all?" because they were wondering "How am I going to manage it all??" I felt compelled to support them in their journey.

Q: Yesterday when we were doing a preparation call, you mentioned that stories are the only thing people remember. I was curious to ask if there was any particular story that stuck with you, or had an impact on your life?

Tiffany Dufu: So many! Probably the most important is the story of my mom's affirmations to me during my childhood. Every day she would look at me and say, as if she had never said it before : "Baby you're so smart. You're so loved. You are SO beautiful!" By the time I was 13 I found it quite annoying. But now I see it was the greatest gift she gave to me. Every day I try to get to as many women as I can to whisper this in their ear.

Q: There are a lot of things that I was inspired by in your book and talks….! One thing I still struggle to do is to decide which balls to drop. When we look at our to-do lists and our goals, how can women distinguish between balls they can and should drop, others we should delegate, and the tasks we should take on ourselves?

Tiffany Dufu: Well, that's a big question! The best way to figure out which balls to drop is to :

1) Get clear about what matters most to you

2) Figure out your highest and best use in achieving what matters most to you so you know what to focus on

3) Ask others for help

It's a pretty big psychological journey. As a short cut you can try writing your to-do list and asking yourself these 5 questions in relation to each one :

  • Is this an essential task relative to what matters most?

  • Do I do this really well with little effort?

  • Is this something only I can do?

  • Is this something that would be highly irresponsible or callous to delegate to others?

  • Does this task bring me joy?

If you answer NO to three or more of these questions, #droptheball.

Q: Can you share with us a bit about your experiences as a launch member for Lean In, former president of the White House Project, and as Chief Leadership Officer at Levo. How did these opportunities shape your career and how they helped you grow as a leader?

Tiffany Dufu: In every one of these jobs I was executing my passion for advancing women and girls. That's why I'm on the planet so the work was incredibly rewarding. There was also a mentor or sponsor associated with these roles. My mentor Laurissa Sellers sent me to Marie Wilson who founded The White House Project. Marie introduced me to Sheryl Sandberg who led Lean In. Sheryl sent me to Caroline Ghosn and Amanda Pouchot who founded Levo.

I'm the cumulative investment of a LOT of women who have supported me. I learned to send the elevator back down for other women. It gets lonely at the top if you don't do that.

Q: What are some of the obstacles and challenges that female entrepreneurs/start-up founders face in developed countries like the United States today? If you look at the last 10 years, do you think there’s been an improvement?

Tiffany Dufu: Um funding, funding, and funding. Did I mention funding?

Of the nearly $500 billion in venture capital raised since 2009, only .0006% went to black female founders. There is so much innovation left on the table because of this.

There's also not having the ability to give sweat equity because of familial obligations, not having access to the right networks, and general underestimation.

Thankfully we're resilient and have found ways to slay despite not having access to all of the resources others do.

C: Thanks for the answer! Makes sense - it seems like there are several new funds that have diversity as their core thesis, so hopefully this situation improves soon.

Q: I am a big fan of your work and have a lot of respect for the consistent effort to help other women see themselves better! What would be your core advice for other women who want to see themselves in a leadership position? Women, who aspire, not only to be successful in their own career but to become mentors for others, like you are?

Tiffany Dufu: It's like our friends at Nike told us: Just do it. Right now, there is a woman who would benefit from YOUR insight and experience. Spend time with her. I try to connect with almost all of the women that reach out to me. It makes my calendar crazy but I've found that the only way I can solve problems for women is by listening to their stories over and over. 

Q: In many of your talks, you speak very transparently about your own process of introspection. You talk about your emotions even if they are, at times, negative. For instance, in many of your talks you’ve discussed feeling resentment at someone you love, and then explaining how you worked through it and channeled it positively. A lot of us don’t talk about our thoughts so openly for fear of being judged, how did you overcome that fear?

Tiffany Dufu: No one has ever asked me that before! I can't help anyone if they don't trust me.. if I'm not accessible enough. I use vulnerability as a way to create intimacy and to encourage people to believe me.

Especially as a leader, it's so important, otherwise people won't follow you and you'll lose credibility. I want every woman I meet or touch to know she's not going crazy and she's not alone.

Q: You’ve said that one of the best secrets to women’s success is to develop an ecosystem of support and to recognize that our leadership journey is a team sport instead of a solo endeavor. Given that some people struggle to ask for help, do you have any tactics or strategies to help them do this?

Tiffany Dufu: YES. First, try to remember the last time you helped someone. How did it feel? Awesome, right? Now imagine how you're depriving another person of this feeling by you not asking for help.

Our journeys aren't solo endeavors. It's a team sport. And it's your responsibility to recruit the team. There's a section in Drop The Ball on how to delegate with joy. Knowing how to ask for help is so critical. 

Q: How do you start your day and split your time between writing, public speaking, managing The Cru, engaging with your mentees and readers, the three non-profits boards you sit on, and your family? More importantly, with so much going on, how do you manage to stay so full of infectious energy all the time? 

Tiffany Dufu: LOL it looks crazy right?!! So here's the thing. You are mentioning all of the things I do but what you're not seeing are the things I DON'T do. In fact, I'm thinking of drafting a bio for myself that includes all of the things that I don't do.

Right now in the middle of this crisis here are some of the things :

1) Parent. My kids are binging on Fortnite and YouTube as I write and will probably be for the rest of the summer.

2) Open snail mail. No joke there are holiday cards in a pile in a corner of my apartment

3) Be on social media. If you check my feeds you'll see my time there is really minimal these days

4) Respond to anything I'm bccd on...ever. The list goes on…

I also spend a lot of time on things that bring me joy and fuel my energy. Here are all of the affirmations spread on my desk right now.

Tiffany Dufu Affirmations

And I dance to Shakira, Beyonce or Janet Jackson pretty much every night. 😊

Q: When I read/hear your story, I see you as a very balanced person with femininity (your motherly nature of taking care of your family, people around you, and supporting others) and masculinity (strong drive and passion to lead other people). I’m curious what is your definition of femininity and masculinity? And how can we leverage femininity in leadership or career?

Tiffany Dufu: Whoa, I've never thought of it this way but that's so true. I guess as a black woman it's never occurred to me that I wasn't supposed to be a nurturer and a leader. We have always taken care of others, been the breadwinner, and driven change in our communities.

I feel that I stand on the shoulders of a lot of people who have sacrificed for me to get here. They've already paid the price for my success with their blood and their flesh. So I've never seen a conflict between taking care of others and pursuing my own potential and achievement and leading others to create an impact in the world.

Guuurl you've really made me think. I've got some reflection to do now.

Q: As an ex Minister myself, I curious to know if growing up as a daughter of a preacher helped you in some ways with your public speaking and made it easier for you to connect with people?

Tiffany Dufu: When I was young my father used to turn the booster seat upside down on a chair and assign my sister and me a scripture to use as the basis for a sermon we would take turns preaching to the family.

Years later when I invited him to hear me give a keynote where I had written out my remarks he commented afterward, "You're a public speaker, not a public reader. That was a waste of your gift."

I've never used notes since then. He definitely taught me how to connect with an audience. He taught me that a speaker's job isn't to say what you want to say. Your job is to say what other people need to hear in order to help them create a life they're passionate about.

Q: Do you often directly connect with people who have attended your talks or read your book? Are these mostly women or have their occasionally been men who have reached out for advice or a chat after attending one of your talks or reading your book?

Tiffany Dufu: Totally. I say yes to as many women as I can. I'm an introvert so I love connecting with women one on one.

In all of these years, I can count on my hands the number of times that a man has asked for a meeting with me. 😓 I'm here for you too fellas.

Q: What can you tell us about The Cru, what was your idea behind founding it, what have been some of the challenges you’ve faced and milestones you’ve accomplished since founding it?

Tiffany Dufu: I believe that every woman needs a peer group that can inspire her and hold her accountable for achieving her goals. But when you have a full-time job, kids, a dog, a commute, and all of the other demands of life it's actually not easy to find an incredible group of diverse women who can do this for one another.

Even if you did, no one has time to organize everyone! So that's where The Cru comes in. We take the work out of networking and help women to achieve their goals.

You should check it out at https://www.thecru.com/

Q: With so much on your plate, are you still able to read every day? If yes, what kind of books do you read, what are some of your favorites that you often recommend to women?

Tiffany Dufu: I do love to read, but remember.. I don't watch TV (seriously I never saw an episode of Scandal) and really books are my primary way of helping me to learn and grow.

I'm always recommending Amy Cuddy's Presence, Brave Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani, Insight by Tasha Eurich, Untrue by Wednesday Martin and Becoming by Michelle Obama, because who doesn't LOVE Michelle Obama?!!

Q: What’s your favorite quote?

Tiffany Dufu: Oooh I have several.

1) My parents taught me that if you want something you've never had before you'll have to do something you've never done before in order to get it.

2) My mother-in-law says that if things are getting easier it's probably because you're headed downhill


3) Kwame Nkrumah said that "Those who would judge us by the heights we have achieved would do well to consider the depths from which we started."

Q: Networking is important for professional success and it comes naturally to extroverts, but how do you think introverts can manage networking since this is one thing that might be particularly challenging and at times exhausting for them?

Tiffany Dufu: Dude why do you think I'm the founder of a company that uses an algorithm to match people? I fall apart at the idea of showing up to a cocktail party to mingle! 🤣

When I'm at an event I pretend that I'm a journalist and ask people questions in quick enough succession that I never really say much. People will just go on and on talking about themselves. That usually does the trick.

C: are you saying.. you're... an .. introvert? 😮

Tiffany Dufu: TOTALLY

Q: As more and more people are working from home during the current pandemic situation, what’s your advice to stay productive and focused, especially for women with kids at home?

Tiffany Dufu: If the kids are really young (like under 5) GOD BLESS YOU. You deserve a gold medal right now and honestly, should just focus on not beating yourself up.

If you've got a partner, obviously, take turns. But if not, this is a beautiful time for your kids to grow up real fast.

I announced to my 11-year-old daughter and my 14-year-old son that I needed them to start making dinner for the entire family 5 nights a week. I was only cooking on the weekend. They were like WHAAT?! It's not Michelin star material but I'm not in the kitchen when I have a company to build.

Just do your best and BREATHE.

Q: What do you do to relax and unwind at the end of a long and busy day? and.. how often do you go on vacation or just off the grid for a while? I’m talking about a period of time where you don’t take any work-related calls, respond to any work-related messages or emails, do you do that? Do you think it’s important for us all to unplug and go off the grid at times?

Tiffany Dufu: I dance every night. I always say it's going to be just one song but before I know it I'm sweating from Beyonce's Homecoming. I (pre-COVID) travel so much for work that lying on my couch is my idea of a vacation! Everyone needs to take a break on their own terms. It'll look different for everyone.

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