Welcome to The SHAPE of a Leader. I write this blog with the SHAPE leadership development program (for women pastors) I lead in mind, but it is for all who are interested in leadership, faith, and the intersection of the two.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gender Equality

Twice today I've been nudged into the topic of gender equality. I guess that means I need to do some thinking on it. :-)   Here I share a well-written exploration of one woman's feelings of her recent unfair experiences.  But I didn't want to share this blog post without exploring and sharing my own views on gender equality or feminism. 

Here's the blog post, called Gender, Church, and the Art of Alternate Endings, by Dr. Michelle Garred.

And here are my thoughts as I muse on her post:
I grew up as the product of the extreme feminist generation. I never considered my mom a flaming feminist, though she had her views on equality, I'm sure. But it was everywhere. You couldn't be a young woman and ignore that for which women all over the United States were advocating and fighting. Somewhat naively, and somewhat because I was just plain tired of what I believed to be a broken record, I thought that if we just didn't make a big deal of it, if we just treated everyone equally and ignored the issue, it would be a non-issue. I felt the same way about race.  Never understanding how anyone could consider themselves better than, or someone else less than, based on color, I determined that I'd make it a non-issue.

It worked for me. I went to college and then worked in a male-dominated field in a male-dominated company quite successfully.  I never felt put down or put out, passed by or passed over, except by those few blatent sexists at whom even other men shook their heads. I felt like I was evaluated on the merits of my work and character, and that was fair. 

It works so successfully for me, in fact, that I guess I had my own version of blinders.  I didn't understand that some women have experienced gender issues as oppressively as some people have experienced racism.  Clearly Dr. Michelle Garred in her story felt some of that oppressiveness (mild as it may have been compared to others' experiences).

The writings of Cornell West, challenging to me, taught me that race does matter.  And given that gender is another form of diversity, then gender matters too.  It does matter where we come from and whether we have female or male anatomy.  It contributes to who we are and informs how we think and act. The sum total of our experiences and the culture in which we were raised, as individuals and as a people, matter greatly.  I think when President Obama was elected, and I saw the tears of joy in the eyes of our black brothers and sisters everywhere, I finally realized that until that moment, they still felt less-than as a race.

In 1970, the first woman was ordained in the Lutheran Church.  Today, we have 65 Bishops in the United States and only 6 of them are women.  There are only 15 female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies (ok, maybe 16 in January when IBM crowns its first female CEO).  Those numbers don't suggest equality, and yet in under 50 years - a blink in time really - we've come so far.

I admit that without those flaming feminists shouting until they lost their voices; without people like Martin Luther King, Jr rallying for civil rights until his final breath - we wouldn't be nearly where we are today. So, we can't stop having the conversation.  Conversation leads to transformation.

Where the red flag in my brain flies is when we jump to conclusions that every difficult conversation, every roadblock or speed-bump along the way, can be blamed on gender discriminiation or racism.  Maybe I didn't get that promotion because I WASN'T the best person for the job! Maybe it had nothing to do with my anatomy or ancestry.  I've seen too many cases where women are too quick to blame a situation on the fact that she's a woman in a setting dominated by misogynists or at least the goold old boys club.

And so, being a self-awareness-as-core-to-leadership-development junkie, I have to encourage us to look carefully at situations in which we immediately want to jump to gender blame, and consider the possibility that it's the lens through which we view the situation. We need to ask ourselves:  am I overly sensitive to gender inequality, such that my view might be clouded?  Could there be another reason why this is happening the way it is? What happens when I view this issue from their perspective?

I'm not saying that Dr. Garred didn't experience discrimination or disrespect. She certainly experienced the latter if not the former. But I wouldn't be doing my job as a leadership coach to not ask us all to consider each situation we encounter with a wider lens.

By the same token, we all (men and women alike) need to examine the biases, baggage, experiences that color the lenses through which we enter the other side of the situation. As Dr. Garred so aptly pointed out, we all - women included - have some of the same biases even toward other women. Where do I make assumptions about other women, and other men, that are clouded by my own experiences?  I really appreciated Dr. Garred's self-reflection that allowed her to come to her alternate ending.  We'd all do well to examine where our baggage gets in the way, so that we might, too, create alternate endings that ultimately change the color of that particular lens.

I believe in equality. I believe that more women Bishops, who are well-qualified, would make this world a finer place -  and more female CEOs, who have proven themselves, can only make Corporate America better.  Why? Because, just as extraverts and introverts bring different competencies and attitudes to the table, so too do women bring a balance and perspective that's needed in a harsh world... It's the "sum of the whole is greater than its parts" thing. Let's keep the conversation going, with blinders thrown off, and grace tried on, and we'll all be better for it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Mind Needs a "Why?"

My mind recalls my mother exasperatedly exclaiming, "You ask too many questions!"  I don't know the nature of my curiosity - my memory's not that good - but I'm sure most of those questions started with "Why....?"  We're born with a need to understand the order and purpose of things.

Some why questions help us understand the nature of the world - how things work, what's customary, why we do the things we do. In the movie "Finding Forester," the challenged youth asks the elderly mentor "Why do you use milk in your tomato soup instead of water?" Turns out the answer is that the elder could afford it, and probably the adolescent's poverty-stricken mother could not.  The simple question and its answer reveal something about the order of this world for each of the conversation's participants.

Then there's the more cosmic "Why?" Why are we here? Why me? Why NOT me?  Why this? Why that? Why now? The answers to these questions are critical to life purpose, to happiness, to growth, and to leadership. The more we understand our purpose in life and leadership, the more our confidence increases, and the more we lead from a foundation of authenticity.

It's easy to run from the cosmic Why. Sometimes we're so busy getting daily life done that we simply don't take the time to ask the big Why questions.  Sometimes, we don't want their answers. We'd rather be blissfully unencumbered with the plan God has in store for us and skip along our merry way. A colleague and I were just sitting with a potential that has appeared in front of her. Her question was "Why me?" My question was "Why NOT you?"  She might not want the answer, but her mind, and her heart, need it.  And the world needs her to answer it.  

By not answering the cosmic Why, our place in the world isn't quite right. We haven't quite fulfilled our intended purpose. By not answering the Why, I, and you, deny the world what only I, and you, are perfectly suited to offer.  

So, what Why does your mind need an answer to?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Repost: Optimistic Enthusiasm as a Form of Realism

Here's a Seth Godin blog I thought was right on the money:

How does your organization respond to new opportunities?

Most companies launch new things, try out new initiatives, brainstorm new approaches. The internal response (or reaction) to these ventures is a cultural choice, one that often turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If your organization is both pessimistic and operationally focused, then every new idea is a threat. It represents more work, something that could go wrong, a chance for disaster. People work to protect against the downside, to insulate against the market, to be sure that they won't get blamed for anything that challenges the system. In organizations like this, a new idea has to be proven to be better than the current status quo in all situations before it gets launched.

On the other hand, an organization filled with people who are rewarded for shaking things up and generating game-changing products and services just might discover that outcomes they are dreaming of are in fact what happen. The enthusiasm that comes from believing that this one might just resonate with the market is precisely the ingredient that's required to make something resonate.

One more thing: outsiders are way more likely to approach your organization with fabulous projects if they think they're likely to both get a good reception and succeed when they get to market.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Leader's Grace

Someone asked me what the word "grace" means.  I once heard a very succinct definition: undeserved favor.  But that doesn't cut it for me. The word "undeserved" comes with judgment, and grace withholds judgment always.

I was just in an elevator and a woman entered, and by the scent that followed her it was clear that she was "a smoker." Before I could even take hold of my brain to control my thoughts, judgment happened. I have strong feelings about smoking - I hate it. 

Grace forgives.  Grace gives the benefit of the doubt. Grace comes from a place of curiosity, reaching for understanding.  Grace puts one in the shoes of the other. Grace understands that humans are flawed and there are no exceptions to that.

Whether a leader uses the term grace or not, a strong leader does well to practice the actions of grace as a consistent part of their leadership development plan. Might as well put it in ink.  It's one of those that never gets perfected.  But then again, I guess I should speak for myself there and not judge others.  It will be on my leadership development plan - forever.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Leader's Tools

The tools a leader has to work with can be categorized into one of the following areas:

  • Ability
  • Authority
  • Character
  • Influence
Character reveals a leader's heart and influence is how the leader transfers what's his/her heart to those who follow.  Ability are the skills that make it all happen.  Authority?  Yes, it's a tool, and yes, sometimes it's necessary to wield (in an emergency situation, for example). But if it's the tool relied on day in and day out, then the leader has lost control, lacks confidence, is ego-centric, and in it for the status.     

Authority as the main tool in the toolbox is just unacceptable. (Check out this link to a blogpost from Pastor Kris Capel on an exercise we did at leadership team this week.)

What leadership tool do YOU rely on most?