Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Choosing to Show My Face

Choosing to show your face, back your beliefs, and accept accountability for your actions all point to comfort with transparency.

Leading at a young age is a challenge.  At every turn, you find yourself hiding the developmental features of your age and asking those around to accept an alternate version: an overdeveloped fa├žade of maturity.  You fell into a position of leadership because you understood what leaders do, you understood how to make decisions, you could identify a quality decision, and you knew how to follow through.  Similarly, your analytical processes allowed you to assess and replicate how leaders act.  But you were left continually apologizing for the obvious lack of years behind the intuition and expertise.

With school leaders representing a fairly consistent middle-age range, accepting leadership at the age of 26, I found myself trying to emulate a middle-aged educator.  I accepted an unassuming, middle-aged style and kept deadly quiet about my not-so-middle-aged hobbies.  Over time, I found myself developing two distinct paths of maturity, working to maintain aged credibility at work while living out my youthful preferences during my free time. Not surprisingly, I was terrified of transparency.  I preferred to withdraw socially from my staff, community, or parents in fear that someone would discover that I really wasn’t a middle-aged educator.

The tragic consequences of accepting an alternate version of myself has been a collection of less than impressive personal judgments and decisions.  So many of these choices have left scars of remorse and regret. 

Ultimately, we all make the most bizarre choices when we are uncomfortable with who we are.  When we feel ashamed, we hide.  And it is when we hide that we are most vulnerable to the egregious decisions, lapses of judgment, of which we are most embarrassed.

So, I have determined to back my beliefs and be held accountable for all I do and say around them.  What do I believe?  I believe that every human is innately beautiful and it is the manifestation of our highest social being to draw out this beauty in all that we meet.  I believe that love is to be given freely, even when we are broken by it.  In the end, we grow from having loved, not by receiving it.  I believe in making the tough choices that lead to the greater good for the people I serve.  I believe that it is done with kindness, affirmation, and support.  I believe that life is to be lived to its fullest with as little judgment as possible on what brings individual happiness. 

The most liberating step I took was to align my beliefs and my actions to accept full transparency.  It is in the spirit of this transparency that I show my face next to the words and beliefs that I espouse. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Choosing Femininity Sometimes

Power. Powerful. 

Word choice has shifting value.  A word reserved for worthy ideas preserves its strength.  A word used indiscriminately loses its potency.  Some words empower us to aspire to greater versions of ourselves.  Some tear us down.  If we want to change the lens through which we see our world, we must wrestle with the influence of our language.

I am a woman.  I am strong. I am powerful. 

It may surprise you find out that these words, recited before an exam, an interview, or within a context of pressure may actually serve to negatively impact performance.  For example, studies have shown a correlation with diminished math performance when girls consider their femininity prior to an exam.  In a moment of pressure, accessing language fraught with complicated underlying messages suggesting that women aren’t good at math or competition may serve to subconsciously reinforce gender-based insecurities and diminish performance.

There is a time to apply gender-neutral language.

Ultimately, powerful women want an androgynous career field.  We aspire to neutrality in handling the daily demands of our job.  It shouldn’t matter if we are male or female if we are together to complete a task.  We achieve together because we are talented. We do not want achievement because we are women or in spite of being a woman.  So, in handling our work, our self-talk avoids the topic of gender.  We rely on mastery language, aggressively speaking and acting knowingly on our topic of expertise. 

There is a time to celebrate gender-specific language accentuating our femininity.

The femininity of power must be widely displayed for the next generation.  Millions of young girls are subconsciously developing impressions and perspectives of how the world works.  They are internalizing social rules, not by hearing them, but by watching them role-played.  Girls who see only men in specific roles of power, fail to imagine a female alternative.  Of course, thankfully, there have always been renegades, adventurers who pioneered early fields like law, medicine, architecture, philosophy, government, and business.  But, to explode myths of the male monopoly of specific career skills, we want power accessible to the population of women at large. Women must reach out to their society’s budding successors to debunk the very complicated underlying messages that interfere with the use of gender language as an asset to performance.

Parade the femininity of our power to our girls.  Convince them that the world is theirs.  Refrain from focusing on femininity to complete our acts of power.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Choosing Faith: Wrestling with Religion

Politically, the natural enemy of a Powerful Woman is organized religion.

Not God. Not faith. Not monotheism.

Every 70 years, fundamentalism raises its sleepy head, notices how progressive the church has become, and swings a sword to decapitate the new growth.  As sure as the sun will rise, any new attitude of the church toward women will be stifled and suppressed as soon as there is a trumpet call to return to the days when the church was dominant, powerful, and patriarchal.

So, naturally, a Powerful Woman's first face-lift is removing the baggage of religion.  But, in doing so, too many aggressive women miss out on the salve of faith.

Faith: the sister of intuition, the parent of hope, the child of submission. 

Submitting to the idea of a higher power is much like the idea of submitting to another.  Full power is retained by the purposeful and voluntary relinquishment of the exclusive control of our own being.  We recognize that there are forces we cannot manipulate, ideas that we cannot reconcile, and a standard of perfection that forever remains out of our reach.  Faith is the gentle ointment that fills in the raw wounds, connects our consciousness to a higher sense of order, and calms the nagging voice that reminds us of how far we must go to meet our own expectations.  Faith is within us, a mental process that parallels logic, as prolific as our daily self-talk and present in all of our decision-making.  And yet, for so many, it is unrecognized, underutilized, or mismanaged. 

Every day you are either intentionally or unintentionally relying on faith.  Whether you believe in the higher order of capitalism, the consistency of science, the beauty of the human spirit, the complexity of the human mind, or monotheistic divinity, you are acting in reliance on a set of underlying, foundational principles that govern your life--principles that you can't prove exist but have provided you with enough discrete examples that give you the confidence to predict future transactions.  No matter how much you would like to believe otherwise, you are submitting to something.

The greatest gift that organized religion has given us is the structure to develop our spiritual dimension, to introduce us to the powerful capacity of the mind to believe, hope, and find pleasure and the joy within ourselves that relies on no external stimulus, no ideal set of circumstances, or degree of perfection. Much like years of school that trained us to develop our rational selves, religion presented us with the discipline to develop our capacity for faith.

Unfortunately, this structure also has a crippling effect.  Over time, if an individual relies on this structure, in the absence of independent thought, it has no more developed the capacity for faith than its absence has for those who have never encountered it. 

So, were we right?  Should we just abandon it altogether?  No, we are social creatures and collective beings.  However, we must be aware of the conflicting forces that grant and take our greatest asset and source of power - our independent thought.  Find your source of faith, invest in learning to intentionally apply it to develop your whole being, use external sources like the church to refresh and reenergize your faith, and align your core to these set of beliefs. 

Organized religion is a love-hate relationship.  I will be forever annoyed by its abuse of faith to achieve political means or to perpetuate a collective morality.  However, I am eternally grateful for its lessons in intraspection, discipline, and submission. 

My guiding principle is faith.  Not religion.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Fear of Gender Disparity in Leadership

What if all the issues that females write about in their experiences as emerging leaders turn out to be the same issues that emerging male leaders have?

Great.  My book is already knocked of the best-seller list and it's not even written.    I already had titles picked out:  I Am Woman. Hear Me Whine., Last Woman Standing, Stop Picking On Me, I'm a Woman!

Are we really afraid of a difference that may not actually exist?  Another example of the fear of fear? Remove all the deeply rooted resentments of how difficult it was to get to positions of power.  Respect, but move past, the last generation's fight against the glass ceiling. Recognize the fact that we still have a ways to go to see equitable representation in female leadership.

But...once we're there, how different is it? Comparing notes with male leaders; leadership struggles, pitfalls, and successes arrive and abate neutral to gender.  So is it just the visual of female leadership that tickles our imagination and aspirations to step into the ring? 

Once you're there, both men and women will guide the way.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I Choose You: A Post-Feminist Perspective on Submission

I choose you.

Considering that powerful women barter for choice in most areas of their lives, the idea that such a woman would set out to choose a man isn't a far stretch.  Why allow fate to determine our relationships?  If we can choose the best candidate to grow our organization, what prevents us from finding the best man? 

Beware. This is a trap. Like the man who took the genie's three wishes and made himself a genie found: greediness for power will enslave you in turn. Choosing a man is an exercise in submission to self.

If you were lucky enough to brilliantly negotiate Erickson's developmental stage of intimacy v. isolation in your twenties and find a mate early on, growing together or mutually constructing interdependence was a natural progression. You grew into adulthood with ideas of self that were inevitably shared with the ideas of self of another. Subjugating your own will to that of another occurred seamlessly, likely without notice.

However, if you didn't, and you spent your early adulthood developing independent ideas of self, it is a surprising revelation to find that choosing interdependence requires a rather conscious act of submission to make room for the other. The irony comes when an extra-powerful woman decides to be extra-intentional about the man she chooses. If a woman decides to embrace the challenge of pursuit, activating her feminist ideas of equality, does she actually violate those same ideas of female power?

Trap 1: The greater the challenge of the task, the greater the subjugation to make the match happen.

We must first assume that such a woman is choosing the man wisely.  An overzealous approach to doing whatever it takes tends to hide the more obvious red flag that this may simply not be the right one for you. On the other hand, choosing a man later in life infers the tolerance and acceptance of the inherent baggage that all of us carry at this point: widowhood, divorce, or hyper-independence.

Intimacy was so much easier when we were in adolescence. We were all at the same starting point, baggage-free, with ubiquitous availability of options. But we are mid-stride now, and the second, and perhaps the more significant, challenge is finding congruence in timing.

Trap 2: The woman decides to hunt; exercise her skill in making things happen; and finds the right man, wrong time. If anyone has encountered "wrong time" politics, it comes with frequent sacrifices of self, significant periods of waiting, and a skewed distribution of feelings; choreographed as a push-pull dance. It is an enormous exercise in the delay of gratification. I'm sure that most women accustomed to the immediate results of power find this last experience especially excrutiating.

Through the test of timing, how purposeful will her choice continue to be? How submissive to her choice will she become? Is exercising her full right to choose, and thereby keep power, an appropriate application of feminism? If so, how do you categorize her subsequent choice to subjugate herself to this choice? Is this a legitimate exercise of feminism or is it moving beyond?

I propose that the intentional exercise of choice, regardless of the nature of the choice, is the full manifestation of the intent of feminism. That the choice involves the submission to a male is truly irrelevant, moving beyond traditional feminisim. The premise of feminists as perpetual opponents of men mistakenly establishes men as the central tenet of female power. If men do not grant a woman her power, men cannot inherently take it. The critical question is whether or not women maintain their right to choose. Thus, though choosing a man may lead to the intentional submission of self, choosing a man does not violate the tenets of modern feminists and may be considered a post-feminist perspective on the relationship of men and women.

So, what separates this idea from pre-feminist powerless submission? Feminism.  Its era, contribution, and the equalizing right to female choice created to permit a newly liberating platform of power.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Powerful Women Grow Opportunities to Choose

Combing the internet for voices of and about powerful women, I was surprised at the socially recognized definition of a Powerful Woman.  Powerful women appear in list form by their popularly recognized achievement or financial worth.  Given that few of us are yet on that list, what does a budding Powerful Woman look like?  How do you get there?

To say that an emerging Powerful Woman exhibits a high degree of control is too easy, and frankly, misleading.  Controlling what is around us may just as well limit our world as expand it.  How often do we recognize women who circle their wagons to protect what is theirs, living guarded in their small controlled worlds?  No, control doesn't create a Powerful Woman.

The greatest indicator of latent, budding power is the talented wielding of choice.  Choice is a responsible and accountable version of control.  It is controlling with intent, direction, focus, and vision.  Through choice, we take ownership of the consequences and benefits of our lives to this point, and our direction for tomorrow.  Nothing happens to us, or follows, that doesn't provide the option for choice:  a choice to grow, rise, or accelerate.  While all of us are familiar with choosing, not all recognize how to take advantage of choice. 

A startling secret is that a good choice is one that exponentially provides additional opportunities to choose.  Powerful Women have caught on to this and are making the most of it. 

An example in education occurs when teachers in training recognize that the standard Liberal Arts major will position them as one of thousand similarly situated.  Forward-thinking women will add on the bilingual and special education degrees to increase their marketability.  In law, graduates with Juris Doctorates that attach to an established resume in another field will find themselves significantly more employable than those whose credentials are limited to the legal profession.  The mother raising her children who starts her own organic baby food business or takes online classes that prepare her to reenter the workplace with contemporary skill sets, is demonstrating the savvy of advance thinking.  Examples of expansive thinking and opportunities for exponentializing choice exist in every facet of life.  

The average woman evaluates only the first impact of choice.  What options does this choice present for me today? Powerful Women consider secondary and tertiary impacts on the capacity to continue to choose.  What options will this open for me tomorrow?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reframing our Blind Spot

We do it everyday:  build and expand profit, negotiate, litigate truth, heal, write, create, and produce.  Powerful women are intelligent, competitive, confident and intuitive.  With a steady hand, we make decisions that cause multiple butterly effects.  Failure doesn't occur to us.  The higher the stakes, the clearer the focus.

So, when a stunningly beautiful woman with an MBA and JD told me that she was too afraid to risk disappointment to pursue an ambitious and successful man, I was floored.

When was the last time any of us handled a work issue with such preemptive failure?  What she was really saying was, "I don't know that I have enough going for me to land this one." Or, "I am not worthy of this man."  This reasoning sounds outlandish, especially given the numerous personal attributes she displays for everyone to admire.  However, the prolific nature of this script among powerful and professional women prevents us from discarding it as an anomaly.

Powerful women have a blind spot.  We don't recognize our own remarkable selves.  We come by it honestly.  After all, what drove us to pursue power in the first place?

Likely, we came about the thirst for power one of two ways.  The first rewinds to show an awkward teenage girl more interested in being Valedictorian than hearing the latest gossip.  It wasn't always her priority though.  She emerged to the same adolescent scene everyone else did, with the same curiosity, naivety, and vulnerability.  But, for a number of possible reasons, she didn't survive the social hazing:  physical immaturity, poverty, glasses, babyfat, or her dad showed up to the most recent Board of Education meeting to protest the teaching of evolution.  Regardless, rejection beget rejection, and soon she found herself watching rather than participating in the political forays of youth.  To her credit, she didn't waste her time.  Unencumbered by boyfriends, she learned new languages, studied, read, and traveled.  While her peers were negotiating sex, she was negotiating and translating in a third world country for humanitarian efforts eager to spread their influence.  Once her generation hit the work force, her far superior skills propelled her forward.  Every step or promotion was an opportunity to ease the early social insecurities and pain of rejection.

The second path, more tragic, shows the travels of a woman, who, as a young girl experienced abandonment and violation; stripped of control repeatedly.  She survives, but finds herself incapable of releasing control over every aspect of life and work.  For her, every step or promotion is one additional layer of protection from the ever-encroaching threat of powerlessness.

Either route brings the very baggage that leaves powerful women confident about everything but themselves and their lovability.  So how does a such a woman overcome her fears and take risks that involve her emotions?

The answer begins with how she categorizes her successes.  If she believes that her success was happenstance, or a lucky draw, she is likely to persist in her fear of risk.  After all, if she can't explain why she was successful, how can she guarantee that this success won't mysteriously disappear with equal random?  She replays the script that reminds her that she wasn't worthy of this by virtue of self, but chance smiled on her.  Her early perceptions of the cause and effect of rejection persist and she fails to move forward.

However, what if she begins to believe that, in fact, it is actually something about HER, that brought survival and success? What if she finds that she was genetically predetermined to survive in an accelerated fashion?  Wouldn't that change the script?  Instead of telling herself that her unlovability caused rejection, she is able to tell herself that her remarkability and uniqueness caused her to succeed despite being dealt a tough hand.  What if she was able to tell herself that she was predetermined to succeed?  Wouldn't that allow her to release her grip on self-protection and permit her to risk?

Scientific theories of a "survivor gene" are currently being explored in survivors of some of the most intense physical traumas.  Scientists are finding that what separates a survivor from one who succumbs to the trauma, may, in fact, be genetic.  While science is a long way from establishing data that can demonstrate a link to mental trauma, it is a worthwhile jumpstart to our own cognitive framing; a significant influence on who we are and who we may still become.

Powerful women must recognize, embrace, and deal with this blind spot.  You survived for reasons that are uniquely and amazingly you.  Start here and aim to risk. After all, don't we know how to deal with disappointment?  I'm not sure that any of us is really good at inaction.