The NCSL Blog


By Holly South

Los Angeles—What does a football executive have in common with legislative staff?

Amy Trask, former CEO of the Oakland RaidersNCSL Staff Chair Chuck Truesdell alluded to a few similarities when he introduced the speaker for Wednesday’s “Salute to Legislative Staff Luncheon” at NCSL’s Legislative Summit in Los Angeles.

Amy Trask spent 30 years with NFL’s Raiders, rising from intern to the league’s first female CEO. She has succeeded in two other arenas as well: serving as an analyst for CBS Sports, and as chairman of BIG3, a three-on-three professional basketball league founded by Ice Cube. “So, in brief, she has spent a career as a woman in a male-dominated field, full of high-maintenance personalities who aren't used to being told ‘no’ and who don't always play nice with each other. Sound familiar?” joked Truesdell.

Trask offered her playbook for the business world, highlighting these three key lessons she’s learned: 

“Stop thinking about the fact that you’re a woman.” And if others continue to waste time thinking about your gender, then you’re doing a better job than they are.

“Work hard, as hard as you can.” And “when you don’t think you can work any harder, work harder. Hard work really matters.”

“To thine own self be true.” She learned this from her mother – and is the single best piece of advice she’s ever received. You can’t create or effectively lead, she said, without being true to yourself.

Trask emphasized that it’s “OK to make mistakes. The only people who don’t are those who don’t innovate or try new things.” She related a story from her Raiders years, when she made an error that would cost the Raiders more than a million dollars. She admitted it to the owner, Al Davis, and expected to be fired. Instead, he told her, “You made a mistake. You won’t make the same one again – you’ll make bigger ones.”

She admits that she did in fact make bigger ones, but Davis eventually named her CEO. “I learned on the job and stayed with the same organization for 30 years, so my mistakes stayed with me. And that’s OK.”

She also shared some wisdom from her book, “You Negotiate Like a Girl: Reflections on a Career in the National Football League,” including her critical 4 Cs: communicate, cooperate, collaborate, and coordinate.

As for negotiating, be honest, she said. Know what you want – and don’t waste time and energy fighting over issues that are important to the other party (but don’t matter to you). Ideally both parties will get what they want, and that becomes the basis of a good working relationship.

“It’s OK to disagree,” Trask emphasized, noting that disagreements can be productive. “We can learn from one another,” and then we can all do our jobs better. “But bring your facts…disagree agreeably and productively,” and once the organization makes its decision, “then it’s everyone’s duty to make that decision the best it can be.”

Holly South is a policy specialist in NCSL's Legislative Staff Services Program.

Email Holly.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.