Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Climb the ladder and keep your cool

April 6, 2012: 10:16 AM ET

Credit: Michele Asselin

This week's issue of Fortune includes Best Advice from Kevin Ryan, a master builder of startups who is co-founder and CEO of Gilt Groupe.

Ryan's partner at the helm of Gilt, chairman Susan Lyne, also has wisdom to share--about handling high-bar assignments with finesse. Lyne has worked for an unrivaled lineup of demanding bosses, rarely letting them see her sweat: She developed films for Jane Fonda, launched Premiere magazine for Rupert Murdoch, ran ABC Entertainment for Disney (DIS) under Michael Eisner, and headed Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO).

Is Lyne a masochist? When my colleague Jennifer Reingold asked her this question, Lyne laughed it off. Reingold, a Fortune senior editor, wrote a terrific profile, "The Many Lives of Susan Lyne", in last fall's Most Powerful Women issue. And as we writers typically do, she left choice material on the cutting room floor. So, here Reingold offers Lyne's tips on keeping your reputation and your cool, in any situation:

1)  Always leave something on the table. "In negotiations, a total win is a Pyrrhic victory. You will meet these people again," Lyne says. She got this advice from Dick Parsons, the former CEO of Time Warner (TWX) and ex-chairman of Citigroup (C): Be sure to give something away so that everyone can leave with pride.

2)  Make time for the small favor. "It may seem like a waste of your time to take five minutes out of your day to listen to someone's career woes or make a call on behalf of a colleague's nephew," says Lyne. "It's about little things. People will remember."

3)  Focus on the here and now. "Long-term vision is overrated. My first season at ABC, I thought I had to fix the whole schedule," she recalls. "Figure out two or three things that need to get done. There are only a few things you can do well at any given moment."

4)  Share constructive criticism. In 2006, Lyne's husband, George Crile III, passed away after a bout with pancreatic cancer. This experience of losing her spouse made Lyne realize the value of communicating candidly with her employees and mentees sooner rather than later. "I have learned that you need to help people now," she says.

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