Thursday, August 25, 2011

Is your nemesis part of your solution?

I have always been a supporter of diversity, both professionally and personally.

Since an early age, my friends have always come from a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures and interests. Often, the only common ground across my varied groups of friends was the fact that they were friends with me.

When I went off to college, I rejected the idea of joining a sorority, despite its philanthropic fundraising efforts and its central role in social life on campus. I felt at that time that any group that had to judge its members prior to being included was not a place I wanted to be. Despite these feelings, I never held it against anybody if they choose to be a part of it. In fact, I had many friends who were actively engaged in a variety of sororities and fraternities.

But, cliques have never been my thing.

I have struggled with the fact that cliques are commonplace in most social structures, especially in the workplace. An unfortunate result of the fundamental human need to belong is the formation of cliques. The intent is not mal-intended, but the result can be detrimental You have the exempt/non-exempt clique. The execultive/non-executive clique. The Manager/non-Manager clique. The Company lifers/ newbies clique. The women/men clique. The Hispanic/non-Hispanic clique. The line job/support job function clique. And the list goes on.

The thing I hate most about cliques is that by mere definition of a clique; you are either in or out. Cliques foster exclusivity and exclusivity always limits progress and productivity.

I was reminded by this on my recent trip to South Africa.
I wasn't particularly attuned to all of the history and details about Apartheid prior to my visit, but being immersed in a post-Apartheid South Africa, it became clear to me that this country is progressing and healing simply because Nelson Mandela saw that the solution required changing the country's clique mentality.

You see no matter what side of the clique you are on, a clique mentality always perpetuates the clique by maintaining the judgments and blame towards the other side.

Mandela saw that it was futile (and common) to perpetuate the clique by blaming the other side. He saw that the other side of the clique ( ie: the white people of South Africa) had to be part of the solution.

Too often, I see the same dynamic at play in the workforce. Cliques continue to exist and don't progress forward because each side keeps the other at bay and in blame of the problem. Women blame men for their career advancement problems. Hispanics blame non-Hispanics for their career problems. Exempts blame non-exempts. And the list goes on.

However, the fact is that your nemesis (the other side of your clique) needs to be part of your solution. Your nemesis must become your ally for the situation to change. Great leaders like Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King understood this very well.

Much of my work today supports women entrepreneurs and corporate executives to become more effective leaders. This work can lead to having women-targeted workshops, meetings and events. Many men colleagues and men friends have often given me a hard time about that, feeling that these activities exclude them and other men.

But, this isn't true.

From the inception of many of these seemingly "exclusive groups" there is a fundamental belief that sponsors and members are needed from the other side of the clique to help solve the problems being faced. Perhaps even sororities and fraternities operate under this same premise today. Many men are on my list and many are included on the invitation to attend these events because they can be women's best advocates and are in fact, an essential part of the solution.

So what about you? Can you lead your situation to a better place by making your nemesis an ally and becoming part of your solution?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Are you a good follower?

As far back as I can remember, I was a fairly intense, passionate and determined person.

I remember my equally intense, passionate and determined brother telling me "take a chill pill, Laura." I assure you that coming from him, it was the kettle calling the pot black.

But, looking back, he was right, I did need to chill. I was actually more intense than him, if that was at all possible.

I didn't realize that my intensity had a lot to do with my strong desire to tackle challenges and succeed; wanting to drive things, all things, forward to where and how I wanted them.

After all, I liked getting results and I thought I knew what it took to get them.

My competitive intensity poured into my life on all fronts; academics, work, sports and travel. You could say that what charged me up more than anything was conquering life single-handedly, or at least trying to.

I was a full-fledged, self reliant, steam rolling woman on a mission to get results.Growing up in the '60's and '70's I had internalized a strong feminist message that I didn't really need anybody in order to succeed.

I believed that self-reliance was the key component to success. I saw that needing others or relying on others was considered a sign of weakness.

Being a follower was a dirty word.

When I entered the workforce, there were many bosses whose jobs I aspired to have. I always wanted to be in their shoes. I didn't want to follow them, I wanted to be them. I wanted to be the boss and to "lead."

"Lead, follow or get out of the way" for me was "Follow me and get out of the way". I was fortunate to have many bosses that did give me the freedom to excel and flourish. I think they understood the value in doing so especially because they saw me as a "go-getter".

Thank goodness for me and for them that they were effective leaders and didn't try to stand in my way or micro-manage me. And so I blossomed and grew into having more and more responsibility.

But as I gained more leadership responsibility, I started to see that the way I had excelled in the past wasn't getting me the results I needed in the future. That self-reliance at all costs, worked in the short run, but then it got in my way as it began to demotivate others around me. It became a liability.

Since I hadn't learned how to be a good follower, I was being hampered at becoming an effective leader.

But then I remembered an important lesson I had learned (and forgotten) about the importance of following others.

I drew back on my High School Field Hockey days and remembered my coach saying "when the team captain calls the play, you all must follow through. The team won't win if you all don't follow her lead."

You see the lesson about being a good follower is a lot like being a good leader, it doesn't really matter who scores the goal.

My coach got that. My bosses got that.

What matters most is the end result.

After all, being a leader and being a follower are two sides of the same coin. Sometimes you lead by following. And sometime you follow by leading.

You can't do one effectively without understanding the other. So, next time you think that being a follower is a dirty word, think again.

How well are you following?