Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Working and Leading as a Woman

I've talked a little in some past posts about my job.  One of the more important parts of my job is just leading.   Leading is a made up of two critical parts.  First, you need the knowledge and experience to make more right decisions then wrong.  Enough knowledge about the team's functions to gain everyone's natural respect.  Second you need a sense of confidence to make decisions and stick to them.  To focus the group and maintain the teams steady and direct forward progress to the goal at hand.

Nothing in my transition has changed my knowledge or experience set in any way.  I still know just as much as last year.  I have one more year of experience then I had last year.  There is no doubt in anyone's mind that I have the knowledge and experience to do what needs to be done. 

But the confidence of last year has slipped away.  I'm no longer rock sure of my decisions.  I worry about the consequences of each movement,  I allow myself to be talked into and out of ideas.

I lead two teams right now, the first are my employees.  They rely on me for their paychecks.  They rely on me for direction and instructions.  In this team my leadership skills have not been affected.  But this team is a group of women who have been with me for a long time.  There is no questioning of my decisions, there's no hidden agenda.  Decisions here are mine and mine alone.

I lead a second team too,  this team is a group of men whose main job is to deploy the software the first team has developed.  This team is more difficult to lead.  First they are not my employees, then for the most part they have only been with me a few months.  There are hidden agendas here, most of the men in this group are striving for job titles and responsibility.   My decisions and input in this group are questioned and ignored.  It's in this arena that I've struggled this year. 

I took most of the month of October off.  This time off allowed me to review my work and accomplishments of the previous year.  And I was force to admit to myself that my leadership skills in the second team had evaporated.  I had some how relinquished my leadership role in this team to others who were looking to take it.  This happened in several areas.  Big things like not forcing my ideas and thoughts to happen, and questioning my own ability to make the right decision.  Not keeping focus in the team to accomplishing the task at hand.  But little things too, letting others drive me, handling my bags for me, or even picking out a wine for dinner.  Even talking about my transition hurt my abilities to lead this group.

The common thread here is 'me'.  I allowed this to happen.  Sure the men in the group took advantage of all of the E in my system.  Sure they stole my ideas, or just ignored them.  Sometimes even convincing others in the group that their ideas where better and that I wasn't capable of making the right decisions to insure success.  But I ALLOWED all of this to happen.

This lack of leadership on my part resulted in a failure of our task.  My lack of leadership had cost this project any chance of success.  I allowed the entire team to deviate from the path I knew lead to success.  I allowed others with less experience and less knowledge to make decisions and determine direction.

Since my vacation I've spent the time trying to regain control of this second group, trying to lead them out of the hole I allowed them to dig for themselves.  In that time I have noticed a difference in how the men of the team react to a woman's leadership role.  I've seen managers out and out present my ideas and proposals as their own.  I've seen them even take these ideas as their own in meetings where I just proposed them, as if no one there heard me say it in the first place.  I've seen the workers go to less knowledgeable people to find answers to questions only me or my staff would know. 

Curiously even when I have control of the situation or if we a debating a point, the men of the group consistently and constantly fall back into male pronouns and names.  It's as if they refuse to debate or be lead by a woman.  It's a strange pattern that has run through out the last few weeks.   I'm not sure any of them have ever worked for or reported to a female authority, and they simply are not used to being lead or debating points with female pronouns.  It is rare that I'll correct pronoun usage around me.  I figure everyone there is treating me personally with the utmost respect and everyone is trying hard to accept Dana.  But in this case as the wrong pronouns are used in debates and leadership roles I may have to start correcting them.  In the heat of a debate, or the middle of status meetings, it's 'maam' not 'sir', it's 'she' not 'he'.  Female military officers don't put up with it and I'm not going to either.

The surprising thing here is not that the men of the group tried to take leadership roles and advance their ideas.  After all that's what people in our positions do.  We are all paid to have ideas, push for solutions and we all have our egos to deal with. 

The surprising thing is that I allowed this to happen through my inaction.  The difference between leading as a man and leading as a woman is for me, within.  Yes, men want to lead and succeed.  Yes they use strategies and tactics I find offensive.  But they use these same tactics against other men.  They used these same tactics against Rick in the past too.  As a man I was given the gift of confidence, confidence I used to achieve success in this life.  But now as a woman I find it's all gone.  I need to keep telling myself over and over again I'm right, my ideas are strong and correct.  Over and over again each day I have to resist the urge to make sure no one is upset about my strength.  Rick would just say get this done without a care if someones feelings were hurt, now I find myself explaining why I want it done so that I don't hurt any ones feelings. As Rick I neither needed or wanted praise for my decisions.  As Dana I crave a review of my thoughts and decisions.  I find the praise is needed to keep me on this path.  BUT, I must learn to live without it.  My leadership role requires me to be able to critique myself , either good or bad, without any outside review.

I've written this post over the course of the last few days.  Sometimes late at night in the quiet of my hotel room, sometimes alone at breakfast an hour before everyone else arrives.  I wrote this as a private post more to vent and clarify my thoughts then to publish on this blog.. But I've decided to publish an edited version of it.  For two reasons, the first is selfish.  This is my journal of my transition.  And that includes the transition from a man who leads, to a woman who leads.  This is an important step in my transition.  It needs to be a part of my journal.  This post was written in the quiet of the night with my thoughts clear and still.  In the near future I will need to reread this to understand the feelings I'll have during the turbulence of the day. 

But more importantly, I posted this for others that will go down this same path behind me.  As I read the blogs and search the Internet, there is a lot of talk on how unfair it is to be a woman.  How men treat women in leadership roles.  But there is little self analysis on our part of the leadership dynamic.  No one said life is fair, men are filled with T and that T gives them strength, egos and confidence, even if it is not well deserved or even earned.  Women are filled with E and we are gifted with empathy.  But confidence and strength are a large part of leadership roles, and like it or not empathy is a much smaller part of leading a team. 

Before I even started this last trip H told me I'd have to work 10 times harder, that I have to be 10 times better then the men in order regain control. 

This is only partially true.  Yes I have to be better then before because the men in our group will not just give me respect, I'll have to earn it.  Rick could walk into a room and be the one in minutes.  But Dana has to prove herself and prove that her knowledge and experience is greater then anyone else's in the room.  Yes, I have to be the first up and the last one to leave.  Yes, I have to know the answer to every question.  But also I have to increase my self confidence ten fold.  I have to continuous tell myself 'confidence'.  I have to work ten times harder on the leadership parts that come after the decision is made.  To stick with my direction, enforce the decisions on others who drift, and not ask for or need approval for decisions that are mine to make. I have to work ten times harder on HOW I lead, not on leading ten times harder. 

It is a subtle distinction but a critically important one.

Some incomplete thoughts from my private post :

... H is my de facto boss.  He is the one I report to.  He is the one I'm tasked by.  I am a colonel in his army.  He  points to a place on the road map and says take me there.  That's it.  He doesn't tell me how or manage me or provide daily feedback.  The only review I get from him is pass/fail at the end of each project.  We've been together for a long time and I've been able to delivery many more passes then fails.  I've earned his respect and he trusts me.  Nothing in this transition has changed in that regard.  He treats me exactly the same now as a year ago.  (H if you are reading this Thank You.) ...

... Using words I detest, I, Me, Mine even Thank You Everyone.  We are a team, we work as a group, each more then capable at what we do.  Each needing little more then a direction and support.  In team contexts leaders use words like Us, We, Ours, and laugh at dinner, leaders allow others to express their opinions with force.  As a leader the credit is for everyone to share, and the failures are mine and mine alone. ...

... I will no longer tolerate the wrong pronoun in leadership roles or debates.  This is a crutch they use to relieve themselves of being lead or corrected by a female...

...  J and I head off to the woman's room ... In the privacy of the woman's restroom we compare notes, and it doesn't take long before we are both venting not only about the meeting but about the entire week.  A week of conflict and hidden agendas.  A week of being dismissed.  A week of struggle over control of the group.  ...

1 comment:

Karin July1992 said...

THANK YOU for writing this. I am really struggling getting my head around this eventuality BEFORE I start my Transition. In many ways, I am ready. In the ways that you wrote about, I am not. I hope you are able to accomplish your goals at your job, regain the team and "re-learn" how to lead as a woman. I will be taking notes! : )

It is ironic that I found your blog tonight. I survived two Thanksgiving visits that challenged my nerves. The first involved some relatives making fun of Tom Brady's sister when she appeared on TV during a football game (trans/Chaz Bono jokes). The second involved a brief discussion about the lack of seriousness and respect shown women in business still today versus previous decades. My male relative who is a bit older seemed surprised by my perspective (that things haven't changed much, but will in the coming decades as technology evens out many playing fields). In both cases, I probably "wimped" out, but it wasn't worth ruining the Day for myself or anyone else.

Again, THANK YOU and GODD LUCK. Please write again in the future.

("I'm Just A Girl (I think)" blog)