Posts Tagged Lean In
My daughter commented once that I define myself by my career. That surprised me. I grew up in a man’s world, had no concept of “career” and have always been primarily impassioned by my family and closest friends, followed by music and writing. My number one concern every day was the well-being of my daughters. As a divorced mom, I juggled a lot of roles. This is not to say that my daughter’s dad was absent in their lives. But in our day-to-day routines, I was both mother and father, the disciplinarian one minute and the comforter for the same child the next. Work was something I did – well, because I had to work to pay bills. In fact, I often think I didn’t choose my career. My career chose me.
I never really saw myself as a manager. My role model for work was more like my dad – a laborer who did the best he could every day in the beam yards of Bethlehem Steel. My work ethic, my curiosity, my yearning to solve and explain the incomprehensible to others – these are the things that drove me. My appointment to a leadership position was not expected. I had mentors (unknown to me at the time) who recognized my capabilities, helped me to groom my skills and who then sponsored me to management. I am eternally grateful to those men. (And – yes, they were men.)
And I have loved what I do every day at work as a manager – because I enjoy engaging with a team; I love hearing their viewpoints, listening to their ideas, learning what they know that I don’t know and piecing together disparate and new concepts into solutions. I love the collaboration. And because I care about my team, about my clients, I worked long hours while my daughters were growing up; I was available 24×7 if needed, and I have had the (unexpectedly) best work experience – one I could never have imagined as a young girl growing up the daughter of an immigrant mother and 1st generation father.
And, so, in some ways, yes my career did come to define me. The difference is this: I don’t define myself by my career. I am more than what anyone sees when they see me thru their lens. I can’t be put into a box all nicely, neatly categorized and fitting tidily into one file folder – either by my children, my friends, my colleagues, or my managers. And there’s the conundrum. When my children look at me, they evaluate me by the actions and words they see in their isolated interactions with me. They don’t understand what shaped those words and actions – where my values came from – how I grew up or what motivates me.
The problem is no different in the workplace – except that in the workplace we have a responsibility to understand and accept these nuances between each other. How difficult is that when we don’t have the same kinds of experiences or the ability to know what someone else went through on their journey to today?
When I look around at leaders who came before me, they are mostly – not all – white males that had different parents, different experiences, different education, different opportunities than I did. They have different home life experiences today than I have today. And their paths to success are paths I could not follow. (Pack up my family and move to a foreign country? Not in my realm of possibilities while raising two daughters.) And I think that’s where women and other minorities may have trouble crashing through the glass ceiling.
What I bring to the workplace is unique. And I think it’s incumbent upon me to help leaders understand – in somewhat the way I would help my children understand – what makes me different and why my differences make me stronger.
Let’s talk. You talk. I’ll listen. I’ll talk. You listen.
Don’t judge me by what you expect. And I promise the same to you.
We have come so far in this country in the spirit of diversity. But it really is time to confront the final frontier — that is, not just an acceptance of, but an appreciation for diversity of thought, character, leadership styles and work styles. There’s more than one way to create a fine bottle of wine. And there’s more than one path to leadership. Make a change. Let it start with us.
To my daughters: Hey, for all the things I have done in life, you are the best whine (er, that is, WINE) I have created.
I would like to introduce you to a colleague and friend of mine. Dr. Janice Presser is the architect of Teamability® – a technology which directly measures the way a person ‘connects’ to the needs of the team: not just to other people, but to the team itself as a living entity. I met Janice at an American SAP Users Group event where I had the good fortune to share dinner with her. What she had to say about how the most successful teams are built and how leaders thrive in our post-industrial, social media connected, global workforce was intriguing and really hit home for me. I hope you enjoy her thoughts as much as I do. The following blog was published previously on Dr. Janice Pressor’s WordPress Blog. I am privileged to share it with you here.
Not a Born Leader? So What!
By Dr. Janice Presser on February 20, 2014
I was not born a leader.
When I was born (and this was a very long time ago), there were serious defects in my leadership blueprint. First, I had two X chromosomes at a time when one Y was needed in order to be a leader. Actually, nobody knew what a chromosome was back then, so 42 Extra Long was the preferred measure, and I didn’t reach my full 5’2” until I was 25.
Although I had no choice in the matter, I also ended up with two loving parents, neither of whom was an entrepreneur or executive. It would seem hopeless.
Now, in 2013, diversity is desirable. My dear friends in executive search tell me that they are under the gun to produce diversity slates for the high level positions they are engaged to fill. A diversity slate, one told me with his typically charming sense of irony, is one that includes at least one woman and one non-white.
When pressed to explain, he went on to say that this configuration positioned the first runner up to be the feel-good candidate while there actually would be no danger of hiring a person other than someone who looked like the rest of the executive team.
I think we’re looking at the wrong kind of diversity.
What if, instead, we looked at people from the viewpoint of the organization? What if, instead, the organization (as a living thing itself) were to provide the want-list, instead of the typical laundry list of job specs written by HR? What if we actually treated organization’s needs with respect and consideration?
This would truly represent a revolutionary change in the way we look at leadership and organizational dynamics.
It turns out that organizations – small, medium, large, and Fortune list huge – all have similar fundamental needs. The people who fill those needs best are the ones who feel, deep inside, a connection to the specific organizational need they are serving. This is what gives a person the sense that they are making meaningful contributions, more so than anything else they could be doing.
People may do various kinds of work similar in focus and thoughtfulness, but they experience different kinds of work in different ways; each aligned with the specific need of the organization that they are filling. This has especially important relevance to leadership.
There are those who are drawn to create big visions, as an entirely new product, or service, or level of awareness. They start an organization as a way to draw other people in to make it happen. In the language of Teamability, they are Founders.
There are those who bond to the vision of the Founder and lead the strategic process of putting it on the road to realization. In the language of Teamability, they are Vision Movers.
There are those who take the drive and activity of the Vision Mover and shape and form it into a more elegant, efficient framework. This transforms the team as well as the project. In the language of Teamability, they are Vision Formers.
There are those who adapt big-picture strategies into action. They are the heroes of their teams as they lead them into the fray. In the language of Teamability, they are Action Movers.
And there are those who make sure that every detail is in place, been accomplished well, and that the project is not closed until everything is done. They are extraordinary project managers, no matter what the project. In the language of Teamability, they are Action Formers.
All are leaders. All are essential. If you want to lead, and you feel comfortable in leading, one of these Roles probably resonates with you.
But there are five more needs that organizations have, and without them the organization is incomplete and structurally flawed. If you fill one or the other Roles, you may not be automatically seen as a leader. However, that does not mean you can’t lead. It may very well be that your organization needs you for a special kind of leading that only you can do.
We’re all in this together, and all people were born to serve. Whether your leadership is recognized or not is less important than your desire to contribute. It is really a matter of finding the right niche.
Here are some tactics you can try along your way to becoming a leader:
- Start, or take a leadership position in, an organization that does something good for people. (I was involved in several parenting nonprofits and learned the good, the bad, the ugly, and the ‘well worth the trouble.’)
- People often make snap judgments based on how you look, and they’re often wrong. But, the more you tune into how they see you, the more you can influence their ideas about you. Ask a friend for feedback. (I will be eternally grateful to my BFF Margot for getting me to stop dressing like a mom, even at business meetings.)
- I have to give credit for this one to serial entrepreneur and investor, Vincent Schiavone. He told me his secret in two words: Get Famous! (I have been working on it ever since. Blogging is a good start!)
- Ask yourself why you want to lead. If your answer is to make more money, there are probably easier ways. If your answer is to change the world (or some part of it) start figuring out how you’re going to do that and, more important, who you’ll need to team with in order to get there.
- Finally: don’t give up. Remember that times change and you will change with them. What is impossible at 30 can be possible at 40, probable at 50, and inevitable at 60. (Just remember as you get older to stay young in your mind, your heart, and your body.)
Leadership is, after all, quite simple… and has nothing to do with being ‘born with it’. All you have to do is be the person other people want to follow!
For more of Dr. Janice Presser’s thoughts read @Dr Janice, Thoughts and Tweets on Leadership, Teamwork and Teamability and visit The Gabriel Institute online.
“How Design Thinking is Making ERP Software Better” is featured on Page 78 in the May issue of CIO REVIEW. After proudly posting this picture on Facebook, one tech friend (@MicoYuk) tweeted in response “YES!! I LUV to see women on top of their IT game. Congrats to @SherryanneMeyer for bng featd in @CIOReview p 78 #WIT http://www.cioreview.com/magazines/may14/SAP2014/ …” I realized – remarkably – that the publication was a bigger deal than my byline. I went back into the magazine to check the conributors. I counted males and females. I was one of only 3 women who contributed to that issue of the magazine.
I want to be clear: I do not think the lack of female contributors is because the editors overlooked female candidates. I think it’s because women who are willing to put themselves out there are harder to find. I have a sense that when women draw attention to themselves it is not well received, and that therefore, women avoid opportunities that may shine too bright a light on them. Being vocal as a female is a fine art requiring delicate and adept balance to avoid inciting resentment among one’s peers. (I don’t know that I have mastered that art yet.)
Mico’s tweet to me made me sit up and take notice to how many of us are not leaning in to speak our minds on the broader technology platform. Nearly everything I’ve been taught has come from textbooks authored by men. Nearly every speaker I have had the pleasure to hear at a technology event has been male. And I checked who I follow on Twitter, and – GUESS WHAT!? – of the individuals I follow (not organizations), the majority are men.
Why is it that women don’t step out, say more, get quoted, write, speak, or publish more? Is it too risky to “Lean In” to put your thoughts in writing? Are we too busy being wife, mother, friend and tech genius all at once?
My Point of View: We need to be heard for the generations of young men and women who follow.
The golden girl of the decade – Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer – has just achieved another coup. Sony Pictures has obtained the rights to turn Sheryl’s best seller self-help book, Lean In, into a movie. My life, my blog could be a movie too. (Notice the similarity in our first names: Sheryl, Sherry.) Except I think my story might be titled something more like “Leaned On” and billed more as a Lifetime movie.
I’m not complaining. I have had a much richer life and more experiences than I ever dreamed were possible growing up as a first generation Czechoslovakian on my mother’s side and second generation German courtesy of Dad. It’s just that – well ….I wish I had Sheryl’s book and advice 30 years ago.
Timing is everything.
Born too soon – and now thirty years into my career – is it too late to hope that I can achieve even a small modicum of Sheryl’s success? At 21, I did not know I could be something or someone. At 21, I was in the workforce as a secretary (before the term “Administrative Assistant took root) and working in an organization where name tags on offices signficantly spoke the LAST name of each worker led by first and middle initials. In the early 1980s this perpetuated the archaic practice of addressing all the engineers and accountants (who were, in fact, all men) as “Mr. So-and-So.”
Maybe Sheryl could not find a Ladies Room when visiting a New York office. But I worked with women who called their bosses “Mr.” and whose careers had been interrupted by mandatory child care leave. That’s right, in the latter half of the 20th century, it was still common in some American firms to force a woman to resign once she was pregnant.
These women were my role models.
Understand – I had parents who gave me a wonderful life and tremendous opportunities – and choices that they never had. But in all that, there was little either my mom or dad could do to create a vision of Leadership or Management for me – let alone one that would have a female in the lead role.
Nevertheless, I did have a sort of natural instinct that told me most gender differences were poppycock. When my mother would hover over my brother’s dinner asking if he wanted mustard with his hot dog – and instructing ME to go get the mustard for him – I would very kindly (risking a slap across the mouth from Mom) state: “He can get it himself.”
Now….try to translate that behavior into the workplace. When Mr. Smith stopped me to announce that Mr. Jones wanted a cup of coffee in the 1980s, I handed him a quarter for Mr. Jones to go to the coffee machine himself and get said coffee. My – ahem – “sense of humor” was not well received.
Fast forward to 2014, and I have worked my way up into a legitimate IT Manager position. (Pats on the back here, if you don’t mind.) The world has come a long way. And still has a LONG way to go.
You can agree or disagree with Sheryl Sandberg’s notion of “leaning in.” You can take apart her words and dice them and mince them into something she likely did not mean. The important thing is that she said it.
Sheryl said what few people anywhere have been able to say, and that is simply this: men and women are different.
This does not mean that a woman cannot hold the same job a man had. As I often mentally remind myself, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. . . backwards. . . and in high heels. Thing is, Ginger did not think she had to act like the men or be someone she wasn’t. And neither do I.
In my life, in my career, I strive to be authentic. And what I ask of others is that the be authentic with me. Yes, it hurts sometimes. And, yes, I have gone into the Ladies’ Room to cry at times. But my honest co-workers have made me a better team member, a better manager, and a better person.
So, let’s have the discussion. And bring on the movie, Sheryl! The more that is said, the more that the floor is open to discussion of the issues that are holding women back from leadership positions, the more we have to gain as a society, as an economy, as a community.
I am not the only working female that did not have role models. I am not the only woman that still struggles against perceptions and constraints of who and what I should be. But I’m not so sure that all the other women out there – and all the men who could be partnering shoulder to shoulder with women – will read the book. MAYBE they’ll watch the movie. MAYBE the movie will keep the conversation, the Tweets, the Vines, the SnapChats going and going like ripples on the water, forever changing the shape of the working world we know.
It could happen.