Three things happened this week that really made me think about women and leadership. The first was a call from a powerful friend in the federal government. She was being manipulated by colleagues to make a public appearance to support an event she viewed as low-priority and possibly even against her values. She had tried many polite methods of making her position known, but the negative behaviors persisted to the point of tying her hands – she now had to attend the event as “host”. She wanted my advice. As her anger washed over me in waves, she couldn’t help but question whether she should address the issue head-on with her staff and colleagues. Her worry: “What if I am seen as throwing my weight around? I don’t want to abuse my power.”
This same week, in the early morning hours my nine year old daughter crawled into bed with me (that’s where she shares her stories) and told me that the reason she took her hair out of the totally cute side ponytail she wore to school the day before was because a fifth grade boy told her it “looked stupid.” I asked her, “How much do you think a 5th grade boy knows about girls hairstyles?” She said, “Well, nothing…” I then asked her, “Why would you let a 5th grade boy who knows nothing about hair tell you what works? When you ran to the bathroom and took out the ponytail, you let him take your power away.” She sat up, puffed up her chest and said, “Well, I won’t be doing that again!”
Then, my co-author Randy Harrington sent me links to two amazing videos – I highly recommend you watch them. The first is Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk on why we have too few women leaders. The second is the Dalai Lama explaining why it will be women who transform India in his speech “The Power of Women.”
In the chapter EVOLUTIONARY WOMEN we showcase advice and success stories from women who are breaking barriers and thriving on the evolutionary path to bring positive transformation to their organizations and communities. But the path is a tough one. In her TED talk Sheryl Sandberg laments that a strong presence of women in leadership will likely not happen in her lifetime. She says it’s the next generation – my daughter’s generation – that will have to take that evolutionary step forward. Yet as I work to raise one of those little girls, I can’t help but worry for the future. If a boy had made fun of her hair when she was three years old she would probably have punched him and I would have received a call from the pre-school. But this is not pre-school, this is pre-teen. And second-guessing herself in the face of a supremely confident male opinion has become an automatic response.
Speaking of second-guessing ourselves, let’s return to the woman in the opening of this story. For advice, I drew from Chandra Brown of Oregon Iron Works and United Street Car who explains in our book that: “Women need to have a tool belt with a bunch of different tools in it. And this is something I think women can actually do better than men. Sometimes you need to use your “sweet and charming” tool and other times you need to use a tool for fine-tuning – maybe asking questions. I think of that as a small screwdriver. And sometimes you need to pull out a mallet and hammer something down. Different situations call for different tools, and there may be some tools you use really often and some you only use on rare occasions. My advice to all women is that you have all the tools and be skilled in using each one of them. Sometimes you back down and be charming and sometimes you confront things head on with the mallet.” Most women don’t have a mallet in their toolkit. And those who do, second-guess using it, even when it’s the right tool for the job. I don’t think women can be truly Evolutionary without occasionally exercising the full extent of their power. Don’t think of this as abusing that power – think of it as a simple reminder to yourself and others that it’s there.
Evolutionary women – what do you think? Do you have a mallet? Have you used it recently?