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.  ...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Back when I first started down this path I mostly worried about the physical changes E would bring to me and the effects it would have on my relationships with the people in my life. I read all the blogs, I read the research and the papers from the doctors and I had a good idea of what would happen.

The physical changes, I had a general idea of what would happen to my appearances. These changes were the exciting part. These were the changes I looked forward to, the ones that couldn't happen fast enough. My only worry about these changes was getting stuck in the middle. Stuck somewhere between woman and man. Even today, these changes are still happening and even now not fast enough. In this regard the Internet was right, the changes they said would happen did, and the ones they said would not haven't.

The body changes too, I'm not talking about the outside changes, I'm referring more to how my body actually works. I was prepared for these changes too. I knew the sex drive would decrease. This was originally one of my largest concerns. Indeed it has decreased, dramatically I might add, but It's not gone and I actually don't miss it. But there were small changes that I was unprepared for too. My strength has dropped dramatically. It still surprises me how much more a gallon of milk weighs now then it did a year ago. My tastes have changed too, foods I used to love are no longer that great. Foods I'd tolerate before are now my favorite. As M would laugh at, I actually look forward to a Greek salad now. The Internet was mostly right about these changes. Most everything that the Internet said would change did, but it seems my body threw in a couple extra that I didn't see coming.

But it turns out the mental changes ended up being the most important. And the Internet did a poor job of preparing me for these. It been said that E makes you think as a woman. And, man does it. I was prepared for a little, the crying and the moodiness, but these are just side effects of the brain working as a woman's. I see the world differently now. I have different cares and worries. I've lost the aggression and the ego. But I've lost my confidence, too. But all of that has been replaced with compassion and an empathy I didn't have before.

In the end it's the mental changes that make you a woman. Sure the physical changes are important, they allow the outside world to see you as a woman. But, it's the internal changes to your brain that actually make you a woman. I suppose when I started on this path if you had told me my body would change 45 degrees, but your mental state would change 180, I would have been disappointed. At the time I believed it would be the physical changes that mattered. But I would have been wrong. It's the mental changes that matter, it's how my mind wonders down the path of life and how it processes the world that make me a woman.

As a side note, M's blog was on the front page of t-central last week. She has a big heart and an unique voice for our community that she's decided to share with us all. I encourage everyone to read her blog and experience her world as only M can describe it.

When you read her writings you'll understand why she's the love of my life and my best friend.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Life is good, and the days are too short

It’s Friday morning and I’m having coffee with my FF friends at Starbucks for the first time in a few weeks.  I’ve been traveling a lot lately, both work wise and to enjoy a nice vacation. So, this is the first gossip hour lunch I’ve had in a while.  As always we talk about the usual stuff, kids, TV, clothes, just everyday things.  Towards the end of the hour one of my friends asked how M and I are doing.  Normally this is just a throw away line and you’d just answer fine and move on, but I know she means ‘how is M doing with my transition’.  I tell them M is doing great and that the vacation was just what we needed.  That it was the first time in the transition that we were really taken by everyone as just two women who happen to be a couple.  That it was nice to have a glimpse of our future and that no one so much as looked at me twice.  I told her that no one on our cruise ever thought I used to be a man.  So she tells me that I seem to be blending in to everyday life, that no one in the store has looked at me funny and that she doesn’t think anyone even suspects.
Needless to say I was thrilled to hear that.  A little later on I was thinking about that and then it occurred to me, I didn’t notice.  I was sitting there at Starbucks surrounded by housewives laughing and giggling for over an hour and I never once looked around the store to see if anyone read me.  And it’s not the first time.  More and more I don’t seem to care. 
I’m not sure ‘care’ is the right word.  It’s not that I don’t care; it’s more that it’s become a needless chore.  It’s only been a few months now but people just don’t see it. It's like why bother.  I suppose I mean my brain has grown tired of scanning rooms and faces for that telltale giggle or double take.  If no one is noticing, why spend all the effort to look for it? 
And if I back up and look at the bigger picture, I can see it happening with everyday life too.  More and more I’ll do some simple thing, some mundane thing thousands of women do every day, and afterwards I’ll look back and think oh my God, I’m a woman.
For years now, getting through the day meant analyzing every move, and every thought, to filter it through a man’s filter.  To make sure I lived as a man would, acted as a man would, and talked as a man would.  I don’t think I ever realized how much effort it took from me, how much effort it drained away. 
But now, just a few months into full time that effort is gone.  More and more I just walk through my day.  I spend less and less time everyday making sure I’m doing the right thing, saying the right thing, walking the right way.  My filter is gone now, and I just do what I need to do. 
I've said before how much happier I am now,  how I'm happier now then I ever knew I could be.  Life is also just easier now.  I'm not talking about work, or M, or the kids, or any of the things you work at throughout the day.  Sure I have bad days at work.  I still have thousands of things that need to be done yesterday.  But I'm not working as hard just to get through the day.  'Being' is easier now.
H was asking about me a few days ago.  He just wanted to know how I'm doing and if I was still OK.  A curious thought popped in my head.  I'm actually looking forward to the rest of my life.  I go to sleep excited about tomorrow and I just want it to hurry up and get here so I can do another day as Dana. 
Life is good.  I'm happy.  I have my bad days, and there is still a long path ahead of me, but the days are too short and I'm excited about doing it all over again tomorrow.