May 20, 2017

Long reflective post about leadership and work

Still thinking about the woman who spoke out yesterday at a women’s leadership event- about being not valued – about not being promoted, about developing others but being overlooked herself. And working with people who were “culturally incompetent”. Brave woman.

Leaders have a responsibility to work constantly – really relentlessly – to create welcoming workplaces. Appreciative places where strengths and skills are valued. It’s the toughest challenge – because we all have to work on ourselves to make sure the lens we use when we look at one another is clear and open. We have to be able to see the person in front of us. If we occupy a position of power, get to “award” opportunities, then we have to be in constant self-checking mode.

I get help from other people. I need people around me to whom I can say: How am I doing here? Am I being fair? Am I seeing this person and their contributions clearly? Especially when I am struggling – when I know my lens is clouded by my own fears or frustrations. I have to check myself.

The alternative is someone ends up feeling the sad desperation or rage that comes from being overlooked and undervalued.

I have joked that leadership now can be like being a waste water treatment plant. Crap is coming your way faster than ever and you’re supposed to turn it all into something pure and drinkable. In a sense our ability to do that is the very core of what it means to lead. Can we create respectful, appreciative environments even if that’s not what we had? Can we craft approaches that foster participation even if no one did that for us?

Of course I think the answer is yes. But it requires imagination and perseverance. And sometimes we will just fail. We’ll slip up and let the crap coming at us just flow right on to others. We’ll emulate the people we survived and not the people we admired.

“I’m sorry” works. If you mean it, it becomes the start of a new conversation. A future different than the past.

And for the woman who spoke up – thank you for the reminder.

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