My Name is On the Label

My Name is on the Label: (My name is courage. My name is math whiz. My name is loser. My name is fat. My name is old. My name is strength.)

Let’s start with something simple: Math.  For many years, math and science were the domain of men.  Girls grew up believing they were not supposed to be good at Math. They were encouraged into Language Arts, Social Science and History.  And this twentieth century cultural phenomenon created a generation of women who believe they have no aptitude for Math. The most important word here is “believe.”  Because, we know the truth is that women can do Math!

I was that generation. Until 11th grade, I always received good grades in math. But, I grew up with the idea that I should be good at English, History and Social Science, not that I could be an engineer or a scientist or a mathematician.  On the other hand, I also grew up with a mother who worked and broke barriers for women entering the workforce.  So… I also believed I could have a career; I could be successful.  Ultimately, I am happy with my career path. However, I can’t help but wonder how my generation contributed to the void in STEM careers for women.

We are influenced on many different levels to wear labels that shape who we are. Like the example above, there is a cultural/societal element.  There is also family.  And finally, there is our genetic blueprint.  All of which create the complexity of who we are and the narrative in which we live.

Some of these labels we wear proudly and boldly; others work quietly in the background. They sometimes work together harmoniously, but often they undermine each other.  They feed the voices of our inner critic.  And they become the affirmations that foster our positive mental energy that allow us to move out of our comfort zones. The question we have to ask is: What labels are you living with today?  How are they influencing your choices and decisions?

Are they stopping you from doing or being what you want to do or be?

Or

Are they enabling you to defy your own expectations ?

About the author: Adrienne Seal is a co-founder and Managing Partner of Dragonfly Consultants.  She is an ICF professional certified coach.  She is known and appreciated for her insight into human nature and team dynamics and her thoughtfulness and innovative approaches to coaching, organization effectiveness and culture transformation.

All Talk or Do you Really Live it?

Are you an Effective Leader? How do you Know?

Leadership is a topic that has been studied and debated for centuries, and simply one definition of leadership would not suffice. There are distinguishing differences between a manager, leader, and an effective leader, but they are not mutually exclusive. Over time, leadership styles have changed to adapt from a stability model to change and crisis leadership; some willingly and some hesitantly. The greatest leaders are high influencers, relationship builders at all levels, and are highly adaptable to diverse situations and personalities and can be extroverted or introverted. Effective leaders exhibit an advanced level of emotional and contextual intelligence, and encompass both management and leadership competencies.

To lead high-performing teams, you must first create a motivated team. Many managers do not realize that directive and authoritative leadership is not effective in the modern business world and is counter-productive. I believe that we are people, not workers, or simply a number, and in order for an organization to be profitable and competitive, it needs to be high performing. In the long-term, leading out of fear in an environment of low morale will not prevail. Employees need to be motivated to be high performing, and in order to accomplish this, the organization needs to employ effective leaders – leaders who “lead by example, who walk the talk.”

Effective leaders know how to adapt to each employee and understand if intrinsic or extrinsic rewards motivate them. One employee may be motivated by an increase in salary whereas other employees may be motivated by recognition for a job well done. Once the motivating factors are determined based on dialogue with your employees, you need to create a personal development plan, which should include incremental goals. The key is to create a “great place to work” where everyone looks forward to coming to work, feeling their work has a sense of purpose and meaning. Once there is a positive work culture, even menial tasks are not looked upon as loathsome.

I have been in situations where morale has been exceptionally low due to several factors such as previous poor leadership, mistrust, downsizing (“do more with less”), bureaucracy, unethical business practices, etc., and I have introduced several methods that were effective. Team building is one of the first steps to creating a motivated workforce. Depending on the team location and culture, determine an exercise that will take the employees offsite, out of their comfort zone, and engaged in interactive activities. In the case where there may be teammates who are known to have interpersonal issues between each other, I suggest pairing them together for a fun activity. It is amazing what an impact icebreakers can have on easing the tension. This allows individuals to view each other in a positive perspective that they perhaps never had up until this point. In my experience, if there are issues in the future, they will be more mindful and not as emotionally reactive; they will become better team players.

In instances where teams consist of varying cultures, it is important to provide cross-cultural training. This helps reduce misunderstandings and how to effectively work with other cultures. For example, as an American working with China, I know that in a meeting, I will have to directly engage with individuals who are below me in position or if their manager is in the meeting. Their culture is not to be forthright even if there is an issue, so I know that I cannot expect them to openly discuss an issue or debate with a superior.

I also established 1:1’s where I would meet regularly with people on my team to have an open discussion in addition to setting and tracking goals and development plans. As a follower, this was tremendously beneficial for me to have with my managers. Depending on the team and employee, I suggest meeting weekly or bi-weekly for 30 minutes to an hour at set times to ensure they do occur. I also encourage you to get creative. Think about taking a “walking meeting.” Not only is this a healthy option, it creates a more informal setting that may foster deeper and more creative discussions.

To keep the team engaged, either creating or revisiting the mission and as a team through participative decision-making is optimal, and having regular team building sessions (quarterly or bi-annually depending on the situation) will ensure this is executed. This is in addition to regularly scheduled team meetings, which should be held weekly or bi-weekly.

In summary, ask yourself, are you an effective leader who is capable of being adaptable, open-minded, and willing to change? Are you truly leading by example? You have more influence than you may realize.

Generational Stereotypes –It’s Hurting Us, Not Helping

Generational stereotypes can be experienced in abundance in our everyday world.  As a marketing strategy, these stereotypes use generalizations to target and sell products.  Later these same stereotypes have been adopted by HR organizations to develop strategies around everything from company culture (how do we create workplaces that attract the millennials) to hiring practices.  Yet with 5 generations working side by side, this exclusionary approach doesn’t solve issues, it creates them.

How many of us define ourselves by our generation?  Do we look across the table at someone of relative age and think because he/she is of the same generation we have the same beliefs and experiences, that we approach the world the same way?  How many of us can relate to someone of a seemingly different generation and think I actually have more in common with that person.

Because we are working more closely together, because we are sharing common experiences at different ages, we are blurring the lines.  Women are having babies in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, sharing new mom stories as if they were all one generation.  People are starting new careers multiple times in their lifetime, reinventing themselves at different ages, going to or back to school at different ages.  These create common experiences across generational lines.

I personally, am tired of checking the box for my age group.  How old I think I am on any day changes and rarely do I see myself as my chronological age.  Therefore, I now declare my age lives on a continuum.  And so I navigate the generations with ease, and I employ ways to connect with people as individuals with interests and experiences I value.  And when a generational stereotype sneaks up on me, and I find myself feeling excluded or boxed in, I use that as an opportunity to open myself to learn something new.  Learning is generationally agnostic.  So I invite others to think about generations as a continuum, one not defined by chronological age, but by how we feel on any given day.  See how it changes how you view the world.

Older gets Older as you get Older

I used to think Older gets older as you get older was just a saying and maybe a way to justify the aging process.  Now that I am in my 50’s I realize it is not just a justification.  I have begun to notice the women around me.  Not the under 40’s.  I see them everyday, the world is designed for under 40.  They are more than visible, but the ever increasing and invisible beauty of the other half of life. 

It started in my Pilates class where I could almost declare myself as youthful (at almost 54).  Daughters of the 1970’s fitness revolution, some now in their 80’s (Thank you Jane Fonda and Cher), surrounded me.

Class sounds like this, instructor:  “I am going to show you several ways to do this exercise, if you have osteoporosis …if you need more of a challenge…”

I haven’t enjoyed a class more.  We laugh, we smile at each other, and we connect across the room.  There is something magical in being with these women who keep it going and show me there continues to be so much more…

So older does get older.  There is always a woman I look forward to being like 10 years senior to me.  I noticed them at Pilates, and I now see them everywhere.  Look and they become visible.  They radiate beauty, wisdom and emotional strength that only come’s after living an experienced life.

Suddenly I find it difficult to define the middle in middle age, when so many women are choosing to defy it.  Many are reinventing themselves.  Choosing and changing careers, finding their calling and trading in their retirement for purposeful work.

Jane Pauley, recently cited in the Huffington Post has traded in her journalism career for a public speaking career specifically helping women over 50 reinvent themselves.

Pauley;  “Women… are leaning in after 50. They give me hope that as we get older, that my generation may finally redeem our youthful promise and inspire every generation to see themselves and their future in power and positive new ways.”

I realized many of the women I admire most, went through some kind of transformation or reinvention of their careers later in life.  Including my mother.  In her late 40’s she completed her MSW, became a well-respected and celebrated social worker and author, and continued her career well into her late 70’s.  Hilary Clinton, whose post law career has included 1st lady, senator, secretary of state and possibly President has not hit the pause button.

It seems women’s midlife crises has something to do with kick-starting change that often includes taking career risks, following their passion and making a difference.  Not to say they didn’t before the age of 50, but many make a trade in their careers, moving away from something and moving toward something else, recognizing that they desire and need something different out of their lives.  I believe recognizing we are on the downslope makes life precious, yet at the same time we are not ready to slow down.   We become comfortable trusting our experience and wisdom to guide us down the right path.  Our choices are about how we want to live and what we want to accomplish inclusive of career, quality of life, family and overall happiness.

Who says it has to be a man’s world?

“If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”

—John F. Kennedy

I spent this summer in France and had many conversations with friends around our business idea. While explaining what we were trying to achieve, I was very keen to mention that our mission was not to fight for women’s rights but to take an approach where we help recognize that men and women are different.

It is common knowledge that “men do not listen and women cannot read maps” . Our brains just do not function in the same way. And as long as scientists have not found a way for men to carry children, I would say our bodies work pretty differently too. There are of course always exceptions, but when a male friend is actually a good listener, I often hear you say he has a “strong female side”!

So why, when we all know that we think, function, live and love differently, are we expected to work the same way?

Women can multi-task, listen, support each other and according to a UK survey tend to have more warmth, sensitivity and apprehension then men. As per the same survey, men have more emotional stability, dominance, rule-consciousness and vigilance.

There are currently a lot of discussions around how to support women’s access to leadership positions. The common assumption is that women are the victim of gender discrimination which I have experienced myself throughout my career. But how much of that discrimination comes from lack of understanding and comprehension versus a conscious intend to put women down?

Sheryl Sandberg in her book “Lean in”, mentions how successful female leaders are usually disliked in the corporate world. They usually demonstrate male attributes which are not expected from a woman. The question I have is why do women need to have male attributes to succeed in their career? Is the business world so dominated by men that there is only way to climb the ladder, and that is to behave like a man?

I realize that everyone is different and that some women have more male qualities which help them succeed in today’s business environment. I also believe there is a way for women who are less dominant, vocal or outwardly confident to succeed because of other leadership qualities we have long forgotten to recognize in our current male dominated world. I believe we can change business cultures so male and female leaders can learn to recognize those attributes and reward them as they are equally important to the success of a team, a division or the entire organization.

A woman who might come across as being shy or more reserved than a man, but who has the ability to generate trust, connect people together and be a role model when it comes to work ethics will be able to lead a team very effectively. She will be able to inspire others and generate cohesion within her team. A woman with less of an ego will have the ability to recognize talents, develop them and help them rise without feeling threatened. There is also a high probability if that same woman is recognized and her qualities acknowledged, that she will become more confident and therefore more vocal.

A woman who can juggle work, family, friends, sport, and hobbies will be a huge asset to your company, as she will certainly be able to exercise the same skills within her role, if you let her.

I believe there is a way for each company to create a culture where gender differences are understood, respected and embraced. Businesses taking that step should be able to generate higher profitability. After all, it has been proven that happiness increases productivity!

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