Nancy and I bonded in the late ’90′s workaholic days of an internet startup when our kids were little. More than a decade has passed and she’s VP of a growing company and I’m consulting and coaching, both of us busy as can be. We don’t see each other enough now, and the reason I know that is that at the end of every lunch that survives our schedules, we hug and say things like, “which college did Jeff decide to go to? Is Alex already graduated? Really!?” We’ve been so busy talking business, leadership challenges and career strategy that we don’t manage to squeeze the kids in until the end.
And this is so refreshing to me, and Nancy too. How many women’s networking lunches do we go to where everyone is so busy catching up on the personal stuff that we don’t get around to business? Another friend of mine recently complained about her women’s professional group, because the business issues she cares most about haven’t gotten a chance to surface due to others chatting up their family dramas.
Are we too integrated?
I think women are – as a rule – really getting skilled at work-life balance. We, more than the men I know, manage to integrate ourselves into our lives very holistically. Maybe it’s because we’re good at multitasking, maybe it’s because we still carry the larger burden when it comes to kid care, or maybe – most likely – we’re just that good:)
I have heard some women say they value women’s networking groups precisely because they can focus on non-work issues. These women don’t feel like they can “let their hair down” with their staffs and colleagues because they’re afraid of being perceived as not focused on the business, so they rely on their professional gatherings to get that itch for personal sharing with others who understand the stresses of their work-life challenges.
But I’m beginning to wonder if this could be a problem for some women in terms of tapping into the Old Girls Network we talk about needing to create to help each other out. Are we getting good at networking but not using it to build our business and mentoring skills? Are we using our woman-to-woman networking to vent our personal stuff and complain about the system to the point that we don’t coach each other in working the system, using it and dominating it so we can change the rules more directly?
Not like the guys
Let me be clear. I’m not advocating that women put their personal challenges aside completely to be “more like the guys” who focus on the business to the exclusion of personal issues so often. I don’t think that we’re “not ambitious enough” or uninterested in success. I’m also not worried about what “others” think of our proclivity for mixing personal and business issues in our dialog. Overall, I think our ability to integrate our personal and professional selves is a good thing – for our businesses, our families and ourselves. And there is some special bonding that can happen over pictures of the kids.
What I’m wondering is whether many women are missing an opportunity to really mentor each other on the business of business. Are we giving each other a leg up or are we just empathizing and listening sympathetically?
I know some women have particularly negative experiences with other women leaders who actively compete with them and refuse to help them. I think this is a different phenomenon and will cover this research on the Queen Bee/Adult Mean Girl bosses in a separate blog.
What’s Your Experience?
I have no idea what the statistical average of women’s group’s practices are so I’m not trying to come to any grand sweeping conclusions here. But I am curious about your experience. Have you noticed women optimizing the personal bonding to the detriment of the business mentoring and support? Do you know programs that are good at managing this balance? Am I making a mountain out of mole hill or tapping into a deeper theme we’d be advised to examine in more depth. Please share your thoughts.
A key leadership skill is learning to manage your personal power in every situation. Just like balancing on one foot, once you understand the feeling of InPower, it’s easier to identify when you unconsciously give your power away and can take steps to retrieve it and catch yourself earlier next time.
How do you know you’ve just given your InPower away?
Our emotions are excellent indicators of our InPower balanced state. When we’re InPower, we are calm, balanced, unapologetic and free of the culture around us. By contrast, fear, anger, doubt and guilt are sure-fire signals that you’re giving your power away and need to take it back. Similarly, expressions of disrespect, distrust, irresponsibility and unkindness, given by others (and believed by you), mean you’re off balance and out of power. These emotions and reactions are not “good or bad”, they are merely indicators of your power stance, signals to you and others around you that you are vulnerable to being knocked even more off balance. They mean that your power is leaking and in need of repair.
“Taking back your power” is as simple – and as hard – as paying attention to these emotional signals and putting yourself in a genuinely positive state. Sometimes this can be challenging, causing us to let go of beliefs and unconscious reactions that no longer serve us, and other times it’s really quite easy. Always it is a choice.
Once we become adept at managing our own InPower balanced state, we can also practice it in the world, helping others around us attain more InPower so that the groups we lead as a whole are more powerful. An InPower leader can not only foster group power but direct it into achieving great things in the world.
Not your fault?
Often we like to pretend that no one else notices when we’re out of power, or convince ourselves that our lack of power is someone else’s fault. This approach is tantamount to admitting our powerlessness and waiting around for someone to allow us to be in our power. Guess what? The chances that someone will give a powerless person power is about zero. Plus, no one can give you your internal power; you need to show them how powerful you already are and how much you deserve more power of the type they can give (e.g., authority, money, title etc.) In short, powerlessness is a lousy strategy for gaining power.
Anyone who believes no one notices their InPower state, sometimes unconsciously, is fooling themselves. While an occasional wobble may go unnoticed, regular flailing is clear to everyone – except sometimes the out-of-power folks themselves who rely too heavily only on external signs like money – to diagnose their leadership power.
Most of us aren’t used to feeling InPower and balanced because it is a discipline that must be learned and practiced. It’s certainly not reinforced by our culture or media. Looking at the headlines and typical daily routine most of us find ourselves in, it seems as though our culture is working hard to keep us out of power. In addition, we’re not born with InPower. Learning to take back our power requires that we notice when we are in balance, when we give it away, and then making the choice to stop giving it away; this is an adult skill, not one babies come wired with.
Unlike external power, which tends to have natural resource limits that people often squabble and fight over, InPower benefits from an unlimited supply that requires no competition with others to access. Each individual has an unlimited supply of InPower, and when InPower individuals get together and focus on accomplishing things, the total supply merely expands.
So what do you do?
There are many practical ways you can gain balance. Learn to read the signals of when you’re wobbling out of it and take back your personal power – for yourself and for the people around you that you are leading to change the world. My weekly newsletter provides you prompts to help you become conscious of where you are in and out of power, as will these blog posts.
In upcoming weeks we’ll be exploring the way our language can tip us off to power drains and provide us tools to take back our power and even learn to speak truth to power. Follow the Take Back Your Power series of posts or subscribe to the blog to be notified of these posts when they go up. I hope you’ll not only join us for this power journey, but share your stories and experiences with InPower along the way.
In entrepreneurial circles, there is a well-known trap waiting for any successful startup visionary, the Founder’s Syndrome, which has gotten many an organization’s founder fired by the board and/or their funders. It’s what happens when the founder’s original vision and passion, which enabled the little startup to succeed originally, actually starts to hold it back from growing past a certain point.
The limits of passion and vision
Passion and vision are amazingly powerful. They can cause people to invest in even the most crazy idea. (Can you imagine what people said in 1999 when Sergey Brin and Larry Page told their venture funders their startup was called “Google?”) But, even crazy-smart ideas have their limits. Eventually, the wild-idea startup has to take on some business discipline, learn to scale and keep coming up with marketable products and services.
No matter how smart they are, even experienced entrepreneurs rarely know all that they need to know to lead a long-term successful effort. None of us do, really. All we know is that the challenges we face today will be different from those we encounter down the road. So when we fire up our engines, here’s what the smart founder needs to do to avoid the crash-and-burn fate of Founder’s Syndrome:
- Fail fast and become skilled at letting go of any residual attachment to the failure. Learn the lessons the failuregave you and move on quickly.
- Enjoy your successes and become skilled at letting go of any residual attachment to success. You may have to do it differently next time.
- Be ready to transform yourself and your company into something altogether new. Work to put yourself out of business.
Successful Founders experience personal transformation
These all basically boil down to “become skilled at letting go and actively seek to become what the world, business and customers need from you.” When you are the founder, if you don’t transform and become capable of being more than your humble beginnings, the company can’t transform either because at first you and it are really the same. If you don’t transform, not much happens, but if the company doesn’t transform it won’t grow, scale and turn into the wealth-engine you were looking for.
But frankly, why waste the chance for a personal transformation, fueled by that thing you’re pouring your heart and soul into? Let it engergize you and give you the courage to do what we all find so difficult – to become more than we are. Let it be the impetus for your personal transformation to face your fears, experience wonderful highs, live through heart-thumping near misses and change the world.
Business is an adventure. Let it grow you into someone new.
The U.S. is traditionally the hotbed of global innovation and I believe it’s likely to continue to be well into the future. This is good because innovation changes the world by definition.
However, many of my clients have struggled with leading innovation and from perusing the leadership and business literature, most other organizations do too. I have to ask myself – why is that? Why can’t a country that practically invented innovation as a lifestyle and workstyle in places like Silicon Valley institutionalize this important capability?
After much pondering I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because innovation so often happens in the unplanned places. This is something of a conundrum for many leaders whose manufacturing B-School heritage tells them that everything should be planned out, documented and accounted for.
Innovation – like its sister creativity – cannot be planned, budgeted, shoved into a “retreat” or predicted. It happens in the shower and in the in-between spaces of life and work.
Leading innovation is difficult because you have to risk looking like a fool. Fear of shame is one of the biggest inhibitors every leader faces and many succumb to. Leading innovation is a perfect example of the kind of risk great leaders take on and fearful leaders eschew. To “invest in innovation” is to put good, hard resources out against what is guaranteed to be largely a basket of failures… except for that one “big one” that comes along every so often. On its face this looks crazy. Put out good money with no guarantee of return? Take such a high-risk bet knowingly? But when the great leader looks under the basket, they often discover that in those failures are seeds of success. Sometimes it’s a specific idea that results, sometimes it’s just reenergized employees, which can pay back in employee creativity, retention and improved customer service.
Companies who invest in their employee’s creativity often see rewards. This is what Google does. They allocate some space for that creativity to happen and it always does because that’s how people are wired. Read Daniel Pink’s Drive for highly readable research into human motivation and how it relates to your staff.
Leading innovation takes courage and in our business culture, telling everyone to put “pencils down” and chill out in the playroom (whatever that looks like for your company) still feels like an unnatural act. But then again, leadership isn’t about doing the easy thing, is it?
Innovation is a personal skill too
Creating space for creativity and innovation is not just something organizations do; it’s something people do too. We have the power to create the space in our lives for innovation to occur by simply – creating space in our lives.
Yes, it seems counter-intuitive to “do nothing” so that “something” will result – until you do it and experience that font of creativity and energy that wells up when all the other stimulus keeping your brain busy subsides. Then it makes all the sense in the world. In the silence and boredom (that doesn’t last very long) ideas are born and passions are found.
These personal innovations can enrich your life, set you on a life-changing journey or simply frustrate you until you learn to give them more space. But one thing is true, once you’ve let the space for innovation into your life, your life and your work will never be the same.
3 things you can do to create space for innovation into your life
- Turn off the TV.
- Give yourself permission not to answer every email.
- Take an hour a week to yourself to do whatever you want. Then two. Three. Until you have to stop. What comes up for you? Pay attention.
What happens for you when you create the space for innovation? Can you apply this in your work? With your team? Have you asked your team what making space looks like for them? What would they do in that space? How can you give them more space for innovation? How can you reward them for the seeds of successes they plan there? What happens when you do?