Women Leaders: Why do we need them…..now?

The start of the women’s movement was a necessary joint action by those who came before me. It seems so long ago but truly, even yesterday, an older woman explained to me that people do not listen to women’s words but only judge them by their exteriors. Is she right? Perhaps. Have I seen it in my professional life? No – or at least not to that extent. Am I missing something? Possibly. But at the end of the day, does it matter?

“There is a 50% increase in outcome prediction with gender diverse teams. This is a DECISIVE advantage.” – ADM Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations

There have been many studies that articulate the benefits of women on military teams – the dynamics change and with that change, comes increased thoughtful consideration and debate. Why does this matter in our nation today? Because we have taken on an increasingly contentious political interaction style that is creating significant division among our people.

However, unity is the strongest position we can take as a nation – both economically and defensively. When we work together toward a common goal, outcomes are always better. Yet, our emotions, our fears, our anger, our need to be right can often reduce our ability to work as a national team.

We no longer need to hire women to be leaders in order to prove that they can lead – we need women leaders because their skills and differences in approach are valuable and increase success.

At one point, we needed a women to run for president to be an inspiration for my generation and the one after me. But now we need our female political leaders because our nation needs help healing, connecting, and unifying. It’s no longer about proving worth but rather about recognizing the qualities and experiences women can provide. In business terms, it’s not about proving one is right but rather, it’s about finding the right answer that addresses the problem. That’s the solution that sells.

I think you will find more and more women leaders running in and winning political races not because they need to be right but because they are the right answer for what our nation needs today.

Photo by Thomas Hafeneth on Unsplash  Photo by Clarke Sanders on Unsplash Photo by David Hofmann on Unsplash Photo by Bruce Dixon on Unsplash defense.gov 

Men, Women, and the Great Divide

Women are on the move. We are on a path to declare who we really are. We are pressing forward with not only a personal set of goals but with a sense of joint purpose.

I work at a very high level in my job – and I work mainly with men. I spend much of my personal time at political activities where the female average age is much older than me. I also mentor young people both girls and boys. What do I notice? And why does it matter?

It matters because the United States has significantly shifted from being a patriarchal society where one assumes roles based solely on gender to one where even among those that wish for the old ways recognize that the assumptions no longer hold. There may not be acceptance everywhere but there is generally recognition that the tides have turned.

This matters because it means the situation for women has changed – we are not in the same fight we were in 40 years ago yet our message is the same.

When I work with older men, even ones that are my subordinate, they often want to advise me. Now I could take offense – but generally I don’t. Most are just fulfilling a role they know. They mean only to help and even though some of it is condescending, I recognize it for what it is: they are trying to maintain their sense of worth in a working environment that confuses them – in many cases, they also see what they are doing as displaying respect by trying to help me succeed. What we women often see as controlling insults (e.g., if I’m competent, why are you telling me how to do my job?) could actually be just fumbled attempts to help.

The other group though…sees my gender as a possible weakness and ‘advises’ in a way that is really just poorly hidden attempts at manipulation to help themselves. Now with these men, I could become angry or aggressive and force them to respect my status, back off, be quiet. While that might be satisfying in the moment, the better tactic is to let them tell me themselves everything they are thinking, let them proudly display their own weaknesses. To these types of men, I say, a) never underestimate my poker game, and b) at least try to be more sophisticated in your one-size-fits-all methods.

Many of my female colleagues become at least extremely frustrated and at worst enraged by the treatment. Don’t they know we are competent? Don’t they know we are capable? Don’t they know we got to our levels by working hard, studying hard, and being prepared? In a word, no.

Much like in middle school, people oftentimes don’t pick on you because they truly don’t like you – they do it because they are trying to figure out themselves.

Women, as a collective, have decided to press forward and declare ourselves able to be and do anything we want. We’ve demanded change. This is great! Opportunity should be equal across our people – if for no other reason than that it is the strongest position to take as a nation. But how have we helped men change with us? As we have demanded acceptance of our expectations, have we also considered that it necessarily requires a lot of people to adjust too? Without a clear path or plan for how to do that, confusion is a predictable outcome – even among the most supportive.

As I sit with older women and hear their woes of the past – the way men so often in their working world made it clear that the only way they would rise was to compromise their bodies – I can fully understand where the communal anger and resentment stems. I am overly grateful for the work the women before me have done – because, as I tell these ladies, I have never, ever been asked to compromise my body in order to achieve in the workplace.

But when I talk with young girls…many don’t even understand the issues. I’d like to say it’s because they aren’t yet old enough but I’m not sure that’s true. The gender divide has been highly disrupted for young people by the multiple gender options available. It’s almost as if gender as a construct has begun to fade for the generation after me so much so that the question of, “Are you treated poorly because you are a girl?” is almost confusing. And the idea of getting special opportunities because they are female borders on upsetting for many. They don’t want special treatment. They want to know they earned their spots, their achievements, their ranks the same as everyone else.

So my question is…what’s our exit strategy? When do we ease off the pedal and let the car coast to its final destination? Is there a point at which pressing hard tips the scales to create more divide and resentment than to help our cause?

I’m not sure we’ve reached the summit yet but I do think the generation after me can see it and wants to be part of not so much a push to be equal as defined by ‘same’ but rather to be equal as defined by ‘opportunity.’

In our nation, we not only need to unify across political parties, we also need to embrace our people as individuals who can add uniquely to our collective power. When we do, we will be able to create the strongest teams based on whole person contributions rather than satisfying a list of generalized requirements based on group identification.

….for my daughter…
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College: Is it for everyone? Or have we missed the boat?

  I read a recent ethics editorial that featured a college professor who was expressing frustration over how the college at which he or she worked was, out of financial necessity, admitting students at higher rates. The professor said this has led to a large number of entrants who a) don’t have the skills that make them ready to learn and perform at this higher level, b) are working and having families when studying, leaving them very little time to commit to their studies, and c) are there to acquire a skill/proof of knowledge rather than to learn to think and expand their minds. Given the lack of what we might term, ‘learner readiness’, the professor has witnessed high failure rates for individual classes and eventually from the entire college experience…which leads to high rates of college debt. This is a great example of how a well-intentioned plan (encourage more people to attend college in order to get better jobs) has created a ripple effect that while helped some, also hurt others.

It is vital when creating large-scale changes across a nation as populated and diverse as ours that we think beyond first order effects – if we don’t, we risk shifting a problem rather than solving it.

The error in assumption that has been made about education is that there is a one-size-fits-all pathway and that if everyone followed that path, success would follow. This is not only short-sighted and an over-simplification of the issues at hand, but more importantly, this framework is a predictable failure. What is baffling to me is that I believe most Americans know that college isn’t for everyone – and I don’t mean because there is a difference in innate intellect. I have a brilliant son…who chose a music conservatory over a traditional college. It isn’t that he isn’t smart enough – he’s plenty smart enough. It’s that for what he wants to do with his life, he requires a high level of intense study and practice in a single area.

Attending college has become a badge of honor, a measure of a person’s human worth. Yet, it should be viewed like any other personal experience: an opportunity to grow, learn, and hone one’s skills. There are many ways to do this and none of them make someone more or less worthy as a human being. I have a Ph.D. yet I did not, and could not, play Division I basketball. Am I less valuable because of my lack of talent? Human worth is innate. Achievement is a mix of talent, effort, and luck. And if everyone were the same, we’d fail as a society. Value comes from contributing to the gestalt, the whole system. We need everyone.

Job fulfillment of the future will require our people to be capable in a variety of areas – which necessarily demands that we appropriately, and intentionally, diversify our education and training programs.

Further, to optimize our nation, it would be best if students were engaged in those programs that a) fit their interests and talents and b) balance the debt-to-need ratio. In other words, wouldn’t it be great, and frankly logical, for students to be engaged in learning opportunities (to include personal growth experiences) that will help them develop into their most authentic self while minimizing cost and maximizing employment opportunities.

Our nation needs to stop solving one problem, only to create another and instead start developing holistic country-wide structures that promote individuality while optimizing system level success.

Photo credit: Jonas Jacobsson, Janko Ferlic, Baim Hanif


Solving National Problems: It’s not about winning

I’ve received a lot of feedback about the blog and it often goes something like…I love the topics and how you make me think but how do we solve these problems? Great question!

Let’s start with how you *don’t* solve complex national level problems. Don’t oversimplify and don’t reduce the options to only two opposing choices. Right now, we allow our people to be pro-choice or pro-life. We suggest that all gun violence in schools will be fixed by removing certain types of weapons from our nation or arming our teachers. We look to congress to solve our budget problems by cutting spending. We think a wall or open immigration are our only choices.

When we oversimplify and create only two choices to solve a problem, predictably, we create division and disagreement – but fail to change the situation.

When we oversimplify, we miss important underlying problems that will resurface again and again and again. When we dichotomize solutions, we force people to take sides and focus on “winning” the fight rather than solving the problem. Both scenarios will predictably fail in the long-term because even if one side ‘wins,’ the simplified approach is akin to what I call putting a band-aid on a severed arm.

It only pauses the bleeding in one small area but fails to address the overarching issue.

Instead, we have to consider more holistic solutions. Why couldn’t someone both believe in healthcare privacy and want to promote life and health in our people? Putting guns in the hands of teachers could result in an accidental shooting and removing certain guns from people who want to cause harm may only refocus them on other means to do the same. Budgets in large systems are rarely improved by reducing line-item spending because the real issue is typically born out of system-wide power struggles or bureaucratic constraints. And neither a wall or nor open immigration are long-term solutions to what is more about global over-population at the highest level and desperation at the individual level.

So why do we do this? We do it because we want to see change and we want to see change now. We do it because it can be shared in a soundbite. We do it because politicians string together these ‘solutions’ to create a platform. But….then we wonder why the world seems like we are constantly solving problems.

We are constantly solving problems and arguing basic solutions because we have set up the system to be this way. We are reactive instead of proactive.

Scientific progression was predictably going to make abortion a question of the future. Human nature was predictably going to result in people harming others. Creating policies in Government that strip the ability to reward excellence and punish good spending habits was predictably going to create overspending and inefficiency. And over population mixed with wealth division was predictably going to result in illegal immigration attempts.

Solving complex national problems well requires several ingredients:

  1. Diagnose – we must fully understand the problem before we can even attempt to answer it in any useful way.
  2. Predict – we must use modeling techniques to determine problems of the future and address them when they are marshmallow fires rather than forest fires. Be proactive, not reactive.
  3. Solve holistically – we have to consider all elements of an issue if we have any hope of success.
  4. Buy-in – ‘winning’ a single solution fight is severely undermined in its success if only half the population believes in it. It is important to create win-win solutions so that everyone supports the outcome.

By way of example, my solution to gun violence in schools and the workplace includes 7 major areas that need attention and at least 5 departments across the executive branch, the administration, congress, and local systems. This is not an easy problem to solve and it won’t be solved by singular solutions.

The leader brave enough to suggest holistic, complex solutions, is the one that will change the course of history. The politician recommending clear, simple solutions, will ensure job longevity for themselves.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash Photo by Alex on Unsplash Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky on Unsplash