Friday, April 17, 2009

In these tough times, are you biting your tongue?

On Sunday, March 8, I celebrated International Women's Day at an art event in Houston. It was presented by Dancepatheatre and it featured both dance and spoken word poetry on the themes of women, race and diversity. It was a particularly poignant evening because it reminded me of how far we have come on many of these topics, but also how much is still needed to be done.

The two women artists, Sara Draper and Donna Garrett, whose work was being showcased, had clearly found their voice on these topics. They stopped long ago from biting their tongues. And they unapologetically shared their voices.

Their bravery and courage were appreciated. As a result, the audience was moved and transformed. I wasn't alone with my tears. Many wept. You see your voice can be a catalyst for change, healing and transformation. You have the ability to lead others to a better future.

Forbes recently released the top 30 countries that are best for women. The United States of America wasn't even within the top 25! At number 27, the USA was surpassed by The Philippines, Sri Lanka and Mozambique, just to name a few! If you are like me, this news concerned me and quite frankly angered me. After all, there is no excuse for the U.S.A to rank so low on this scale. This country was founded on the basis of diversity and on our freedom of speech to express this diversity. It has long been revered as a "melting pot" of acceptance and equality...and while our history has strayed from this premise over time, it still is unacceptable to stand at #27. Too often, we learn to bite our tongues and not to speak out with our perspectives, particularly if it is unpopular to do so.

I didn't always share my voice, in fact, all too often in my corporate life I thought that biting my tongue was expected of me. And so, I did it far too much. What I didn't realize was that in doing so, I shortchanged myself; I shortchanged others and my ability to impact the business.

During these difficult times, it seems to me that people are biting their tongues even more so than ever before. Ironically, you may believe that it is the way to "be safe" because you believe that if you rock the boat, or stick your head out, the ax will fall. And so you "lay low" and you think that you are far from harm's way. But instead, when you bite your tongue, you don't contribute. When you don't contribute, you lose your ability to impact the business. And when you lose your ability to impact the business, you become redundant and that is one way to guarantee the ax will fall.

Fortune also recently announced the top companies for women. Google was number one for the second year in a row. Why? I believe it is because Google has created an environment where people are encouraged to have a unique voice. They realize how counter-productive it is to have people biting their tongues. Google encourages people to develop and pursue their own projects they see are most relevant for them and for their business. People love working for Google because they feel valued and they are contributing with their unique perspecitves. As a result, Google wins. However, during these difficult times, you may find yourself to be in an environment where fear and doubt prevail. Fear and doubt keep people hiding out, afraid to unleash their voices. You may not be in an environment that outwardly encourages you to express your perspective, but regardless of what your environment may be, don't make the mistake and assume that your point of view is unwanted.

During these tough times, don't fall into the trap of buying into the fear and doubt. Be courageous and unapologetically share your voice. Unleashing your voice isn't the same as complaining, but identifying the issues and asserting solutions to these concerns for which your unique point of view can contribute.

So, during these difficult times when you feel the urge to go underground; don't. Instead, do the opposite.

Help transform the environment around you and be a catalyst for change with your voice. I would love to see the U.S.A. be number 1 on that list one day. Wouldn't you?

And by the way, not biting your tongue is one of the best ways to stay relevant and contribute during these tough times. Don't you think?

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Laura is a sought-after keynote speaker, award-winning author of The Connected and Committed Leader, and business and life coach who has been featured on the Today Show and Fox News. In addition, her accomplishments have been highlighted in several business periodicals including The Long Beach Business Journal, The Houston Chronicle, Latina Magazine, and Central Valley Business Times. Her articles on management and leadership are regularly seen in Leadership Excellence.

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