Co-Owner, The American Book Center
Lynn Kaplanian Buller traveled to Amsterdam 46 years ago with no plans at all to stay. She walked into a bookstore and fell in love; she felt that this is her place; this is where she should be. Lynn grew up in Minnesota but has been living in Amsterdam for 46 years now. In 1977, she became the director of the bookstore and in 1983 bought the business with her husband and sister. (Her sister left after one year for Colorado, where she is an award-winning woman to watch as well.) Lynn is co-owner of “The American Book Center”.
“Lifelong colleagues and a wealth of books make this the nicest job I’ve ever had,” she says.
Name something that guides both your personal and professional development and helps you regain focus during challenging times.
Well, I did some courses that helped in guiding my professional development and made it easier for me to embrace change within the organization and manage it. Change is inevitable, we just need to realize this and deal with it. I also read broadly, which helps me understand things that are happening and get insights.
I stay focused by not taking everything personally and realizing that I don’t need to be in control of everything all the time. I am not going to be in the organization forever; I see myself as a steward and I make sure that I give my all the care and effort to keep the organization going. I also ask for help when I need it and I always get all the help I need from the people around me.
What do you believe is at the core of women’s hesitation to step out and pursue leadership roles where they are?
It is difficult for women to be disrupters; I think there’s a lack of a perceived need to step up as long as things are going along like they always have. Women are more likely to step out when there’s a true necessity. Women focus on building a network within organizations and keeping the harmony in the hope that chaos doesn’t happen. I don’t think that women generally have the ambition to be leaders per se. But they will clean up messes when needed, step out and take the lead.
Do you think it’s because of the way women were brought up or because of culture or maybe lack of ambition?
I just think women are more interested in making connections than becoming top dog. Psychologist Robert Johnson explained it in a nice way: he said that men are like a mountain; it goes from broad to narrow all the way at the top. While women work more like fjords; they’re interconnected waterways between the mountains, keeping them together. The mountains aren’t even aware that there is this interconnecting waterway at the base, because it doesn’t make a lot of noise, but it’s very deep, very wide and very powerful. Finally, I think women mostly wish for everybody to rise rather than only themselves.
Tell us one of your greatest professional accomplishments and why it meant so much to you?
I would say moving the bookstore from one location to another in Amsterdam. We had to move to a smaller space and I had to make sure that everyone was on board. There was a lot of uncertainty about this project and many stakeholders were not happy about it. But I managed to handle it in a way that allowed people to embrace this change instead of fearing it. I had to know which information to share with everyone and which to be discussed with only a few people first and then shared with everybody. This was necessary to control the anxiety and uncertainty that can arise from such change.
The world is a scary place – how do you manage fear and anxiety in both your work and personal life?
Managing the bookstore, I used to take all kinds of precaution to protect and take care of everyone working in the store including my children, who also work there. But with the support of my daughter and other staff members, who made me realize that I don’t need to do everything on my own, that they are here and they are willing to take their share of responsibility, I feel much more relaxed and less anxious.
What do you believe will be the greatest benefit to having more women as leaders in the world?
I think that women are more mission-oriented; they concentrate more on the shared mission. So, if there is an issue, they try to get everyone together and think practically to solve it. They don’t care who gets the credit in the end, it is not something that they worry about. Also, women sometimes, being a minority in some corporations, have some sort of power to speak up because they have nothing to lose. I think we have a lot of guts to speak our minds as well and I really hope that as long as women are a minority, we can be sort of the canary in the coal mine. But it’s nice to sing in a choir, altogether and strong, so I hope we won’t stay a minority.
Tell us what your greatest personal challenge is and how you’ve achieved success in spite of it.
Well, I think my greatest personal challenge is raising a family in three different cultures and running a business, in a foreign country, with people from 12 different nationalities at the same time, figuring things out as we go. Being a warm, calm person with a sense of humor through all that. So, I had to build a network and understand different cultures in order to be more immersed in the local society. My husband and I managed by being clear that we’re immigrants; we have a different way of saying yes or no and of dealing with things. It is not better or worse, it is just different. We didn’t try to be something we are not; we just want to always be authentic.
What role should men play in supporting more gender diversity?
Men should focus more on the shared mission; they need to leave the ego and the testosterone in the pocket a little bit more and make some space for other views that are enriching for any organization. Also, value everyone, make them feel included and motivate them so that they can keep positively contributing. Men should also recognize the different roles that women can play in an organization and the diverse perspective they would bring. There should be a balance. For instance, men are more structured and we love them for their structure because we’re always swimming around , doing the needful.
If you could know the answer to only one of the following, which one would you choose, and why?
- What happens after death?
- What is the meaning of life?
What engages me every day is what is meaningful now. It’s not just the meaning of life in general but what is meaningful today, this minute. What can make a difference? So I try to fulfill the meaning of the fact that I’m here and I have a purpose.
What advice would you give to young women out there?
Don’t try to do it all by yourself; get some buddies, mentors, friends, and people to support you and help. Some sort of a support system or a net that catches you when you fall and helps you get back on your feet again. I also think that women should be part of a group to grow and be more successful, however we define success.