Are you as tired of the label ‘SuperWoman’ as I am? When I started my coaching business, I decided that the woman I was trying to reach out to and support was embodied in the image of SuperWoman.’ I wanted to work with high power women, women who were going places and making fantastic contributions to their organizations, their communities and the world. Here is how I described my ideal client: She is the woman with a successful career in technology that she loves. She is a respected leader. She is caring, compassionate and highly involved with her family and friends. She volunteers in her community. She takes good care of herself and has a strong physical presence. And she makes it all look so easy.
Another coach and I even planned out a retreat for SuperWomen called P.O.W., which stood for Power of Women. We had posters drawn up of a woman in a business suit zooming down the street in her hot sports car with a cape blowing out the back window and cartoon balloons above her with words like “POW,” “BAM” and “WOW.” You get the picture. When I look back on it, I cringe at the narrow way in which we were thinking about women and work.
The good thing is that in the process of developing this marketing message, I decided to put out a request for feedback on social media. A wonderful woman, Jessica Rivelli, who has a women’s networking group with 800+ members called Working Women of Tampa Bay, picked up my request and shared it with her group. There was a ton of feedback (thank you), and the overwhelming response was: I hate the label ‘SuperWoman’!!!
What I heard was that even though women want to be successful in their own right, they are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Women are tired of working twice as hard as a man in order to be promoted into leadership. Women are tired of making less money than men for the same work. Women are tired of being expected to not only work long hours, but also take care of family matters, whether that is children, aging parents or just being responsible for dinner every night. Women are tired of having their ideas ignored, rejected or stolen by a man. Women are tired of being judged by how they look and not by their intelligence or what ideas and value they contribute. They are tired of saying something the same way a man would say it and being criticized for it. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that women are tired of trying to be SuperWoman, and they want something better.
Here’s what I believe and have experienced regarding this situation. We can solve most of our concerns right here and now, simply by learning to think differently. We can be rewarded for our contributions, have financial security, be respected for our intelligence and what we contribute, have a greater sense of freedom, feel fulfilled and truly enjoy our work, and have more of whatever else we want, simply by changing our perspective.
To be honest, I think that innately you know this is true. You know that how you look at a situation can make a big difference. On the other hand, you may ask, if it’s that simple, why am I so exhausted all the time? Why, after all my hard work, am I still feeling insecure about my financial future? Why do I have to do it all by myself in order to be successful?
It may simply be that no one has ever taken the time to sit down with you and share with you exactly how to think differently in order to make your life better. Someone may have said to you, “Just think positively” or “Put on a happy face and life will be better.” No doubt you may have thought, “Right, as if you really understand what I am going through or the situation that I’m in right now or the people I have to deal with every day.”
In my experience, slapping a happy face on everything or finding the good in a bad situation or making lemonade out of lemons are great band aids, but they don’t cure the hurt. Hurt, whether physical, mental or emotional, has to be cured from the inside out. We have to learn to think differently in order to experience different results.
The answer is also not a series of behavior modification techniques that work in one situation but not necessarily in another, and that we have to constantly pay attention to in order to work. Most women are already on overload. We don’t need to add behavior ‘to does’ to our plates.
And perhaps most important, we don’t need to change who we are or act like a man in order to be successful. Hiding who we are as a woman or acting in a particular way (i.e., like a man) in order to be successful can actually backfire on us. When we try to act a certain way in order to fit into a culture, not only is it uncomfortable for us, the effect is like putting on a mask. People don’t know who is behind the mask, and there can be a sense that we can’t be trusted.
Instead of trying to be something that we are not, what I propose is that we allow ourselves to be the phenomenal women that we are, to authentically step forward and be fully recognized for the value that we bring to the table as women, and to do that with ease, grace and integrity.
OK, Jane, so you seem to “know it all.” (Insert eye roll here.) How are we going to do that? Over the past 10 years, I have developed a coaching program I call WiseWoman Leadership. My definition of a WiseWoman is a woman who has the ability to be in the flow, like an athlete at the top of her game, while at the same time gaining the respect and recognition she deserves, having a feeling of accomplishment and impact on the world, and having a sense of freedom about her career and finances.
In my personal experience and in coaching women in leadership roles, I have found that it takes three distinct steps to become WiseWoman Leaders.
The first step is to become aware of what we can and cannot change. In my experience, it is a lot easier to change what is going on in our own head than it is to try and change someone else. Becoming aware of our thoughts, emotions, actions and how they are affecting our results is the magical first step in our success story. I refer to this step as: Taking Control of Your Success.
The second step is learning how to shift our thoughts, emotions and actions in a specific pattern that allows us to actually achieve what we intend while remaining true to who we are as women. It’s great to be aware of our thoughts, but if we don’t understand how our thoughts correlate to our results, we may find ourselves in control and succeeding on the outside but suffering from overwork, stress and frustration on the inside. It is interesting that this step has helped both women and men to be successful in their careers.
The final step I refer to as being in the flow or WiseWoman Leadership. It’s one thing to have the career you want, to be financially stable, and to be seen by the world as successful. It is quite another thing to be able to do that with ease, grace and integrity, and a complete sense of freedom. What would it be like if you could have work that satisfied you at the deepest level of your soul? What would it be like if you felt totally financially free? What would it be like to feel fulfilled and find lasting joy in your work? What would it be like to do all this as the most authentic and natural you?
I know that you have within you the power to be, do and have everything that you truly want in your life. I truly believe that, with a better understanding of the power that we hold as women, we can all learn to be WiseWoman Leaders. In truth, the simple fact that you are taking the time to read this book tells me that you already are a WiseWoman Leader, even if you don’t recognize it in yourself right now. You already hold the key to a different way of living and leading.
It is my vision to share what I have learned with as many women as possible, so that we can all be valued and recognized for our full potential, have careers and personal lives that not only look successful on the outside but also satisfy us on the inside, and experience all of this with a sense of ease, grace and integrity. My hope is that as you read through this book, experience some of the exercises and integrate the concepts of WiseWoman Leadership into your life, that you will start to see a shift in your career and that your whole life will become happier and more fulfilling and successful, whatever success may mean to you.
Step 1 - Take Control of Your Success
You might think that with 20+ years of experience as a consultant to national retailers such as GAP, CVS and REI, I would have perfected the art and science of business. But little did I know just how much I was missing until I ran into a nasty bump in the road.
It’s August 2006. I’m about 6 months into a consulting project with an international handbag manufacturer and retailer. With my background and experience, I could have been leading the project. Instead, I’m sitting in the team room creating flow charts. This is the type of work I was doing when I started my career. I know the flow charts are important to the project, but truthfully…I’m not very excited about doing the work.
This particular day the project manager walks over to my desk and tells me that we are getting a new technical resource on the team. I say, “Great. When is this person arriving?”
He says, “She’s arriving today and………I want her to take your desk and……..I want you to take your work and move to the office back in the warehouse.”
It’s a long walk back to the office in the warehouse. As I move through the front office, then the cafeteria, then the hallway into the warehouse, my head starts to pound. This is not good. I was already feeling somewhat disconnected from the team because of what I perceived to be an age gap. For the first time in my career, I am the oldest person on the team by at least 10 years, including the project leader. This move isn’t going to make the situation any better.
As I walk through the cafeteria, I hear people laughing and it triggers a thought. I remember that the only other person working in the warehouse office is the person that the team has been making fun of for months. I ask myself, “What does that say about me? Am I laughable?”
As I’m walking, fear starts to build up in my mind that I might lose my job. My husband and I spent the last 4 years building a business which used up a big chunk of our savings. In addition, our son is in college and, as anyone knows who has a child in college, it’s not cheap. Quite frankly, I need this job, possibly more than it needs me.
By the time I get to the hallway that leads to the warehouse office, my fear turns into anger. My pace has quickened and I’m practically stomping my way down that hallway. To be truthful, I’m not sure if I am more angry at the project manager (and yes, the thought did go through my head that he was just another male jerk) for asking me to move or at myself, for getting into this situation in the first place. The thing is, I have led projects like this in the past, actually much larger projects than this one, and I know in my gut that I have the experience, the knowledge and the character to be leading this project. Yet, where am I? I’m on my way to an office in the warehouse to create more flow charts.
As I reach the door to the office in the warehouse, I stop and I make a firm decision. I am NOT going to spend the rest of my career in an office in a warehouse creating flow charts.
This very firm decision is the beginning of my search for answers to why, as much as I love my career, it feels to me that I am like a bird locked in a golden cage, trapped by the pay I need to support my family, feeling frustrated with the direction my work has gone in the last year, tired from the load of work that is piling up and fearful that I may be in danger of getting the boot.
In my search for answers, what I discover is that I’m holding the key to my cage. The key is a concept called Radical Personal Responsibility. Without a doubt, this is the most powerful concept I have learned, and it very quickly starts to change my entire world.
Within three short months of grasping the concept of Radical Personal Responsibility, my career takes a dramatic turn. I am asked to participate as a speaker on a national tour for the very same client where three months earlier I had been asked to move to the office back in the warehouse. On my next project, I’m put in charge of a section for the complete re-engineering of all systems for another national retailer. Two years later, I’m hired to lead a project for a third national retailer at almost twice my former pay.
How did this all happen so quickly? The answer starts with understanding the concept of Radical Personal Responsibility.
Let me stop here for a minute and tell you straightforward that I am not sharing what happened to me in order to brag. I’m telling you about my results from using this concept in order to inspire you to want to use it as well. In truth, anyone who is reading this book has the ability to easily learn and then put this concept to use in their own lives. And when you fully integrate this concept into your life, you will have control of your success.
What is Radical Personal Responsibility?
When most people think about responsibility, they think in terms of showing up on time, following through with a promise, or meeting a deadline. True?
But what happens if we take responsibility and something goes wrong? We may not always take responsibility for that situation. Sometimes we blame the circumstances, sometimes we blame other people, and sometimes we blame God or the Universe for our situation. And yes, sometimes we blame ourselves. The problem with blaming circumstances, people, a deity or even ourselves for our problem, is that then the situation is out of our control. If the situation is out of our control, then there is nothing we can do about it. We are DOOMED.
Some of you may be thinking – but isn’t blaming ourselves the same as taking responsibility? Not really. Blaming causes us to feel guilty or not good enough. It takes away our power. When we blame ourselves, we may subconsciously give our self an excuse for not taking action. On the other hand, when we take responsibility for a situation, the sense is that there is something that we can and will do to change the situation.
Radical Personal Responsibility is taking personal responsibility for everything that is happening in our lives.
Yes, I said everything.
OK, I can almost hear you saying, “Wait just a minute. Are you saying that I am responsible for the world economy or the weather? That’s just crazy talk!”
Essentially, you are right. It’s crazy to think that as an individual we can control something like the weather. And blaming ourselves or being hard on ourselves doesn’t make a situation better either. However, what we can do is take responsibility for how we respond to any situation including the weather. When we take radical personal responsibility for how we respond to any given situation, it figuratively and literally changes our reality.
For example, I’m sure you have seen different people react to the same storm a myriad of ways. One person reacts to a storm as being a big nuisance, coming into work without a raincoat or umbrella, the whole time complaining about getting wet. I’m sure we have all had to put up with a complainer in our office. Another person finds the storm to be a source of scientific fascination. They take out their rain and wind gauges to track the changes in the storm. All day they look out the window and point out unusual cloud formations. And still others, like many children, look at a storm as one giant puddle inviting them to come outside and play. It is one storm and three very different responses to that same storm. Each reaction creates a different reality for the individual person and affects the people around them.
These are not the only reactions people have to the weather. There are literally thousands of ways of reacting. The concern here is not that we have different reactions. Having different reactions to any situation or person is normal and natural. The concern is that we think that how we are reacting is just the way things are, that we have no control over how we respond to a situation. When something isn’t working for us, our tendency may be to say, “Well, it’s raining and there is nothing I can do about it. I guess I’ll just hunker down and wait it out.” When things are working for us, we may say, “What a beautiful rain. It will be great to see all the plants revive from the water.” We totally miss the point that we are looking at the same rain from two points of view and…that we have control over how we view the rain and how we let it affect our day. The same can be said for any situation or relationship. It is not the situation or person which is the determining factor in how our day goes or for that matter in how successful we are in our careers. The determining factor is our perspective on the situation.
Radical Personal Responsibility means becoming acutely aware of our thoughts or perspective on a given situation, and then, if a situation isn’t working for us, shifting our thoughts which in turn shifts our reality.
Let’s look at an example in the workplace that will hopefully make this clearer for you. My client Debbie (not her real name) is a recruiter for engineering firms. A few years ago, during a recession, she was downsized. She decided to pick up some contracting work to make ends meet until she found another full-time job. She was doing fairly well with her contracting, starting out with some small jobs before she landed a contract that would keep her busy for at least six months.
One day she called me in a near panic. She had already finished more than half of the recruiting work on this large contract and she still had not received a check for any of her work. Not only was she not getting paid, but her contact at the company was not returning her calls. She was scared, and understandably so. This was her livelihood.
I asked her what she thought was going on. She said, “I’m afraid they are using me and that he is avoiding me so he doesn’t have to pay me. If this continues, I won’t have enough money to pay my bills. And what if he doesn’t give me a good referral? I could lose out on future contracts or not be able to land a full-time job.” Then she said some things which signaled to me that she was ready to take Radical Personal Responsibility for the situation. She asked, “Why does this always happen to me?” and “What am I going to do?” and finally, “I have to find a way to turn this around!” In other words, at that very moment she made a decision to take control of her success.
At that point, I asked her what other reasons her contact might have for not calling her. And she said, “I don’t know.” Again, her response was very normal. When we are in the heat of the moment or if we have experienced a similar situation in the past, we may unconsciously limit how we look at a situation.
I suggested that we brainstorm some other possible scenarios other than the one she was picturing in her mind. We came up with five possibilities.
* Maybe he put in the requisition for her check and then had to leave on an assignment and wasn’t there to make sure her check was cut, signed and mailed.
* Maybe he is avoiding her because he is really bad at organization and is feeling uncomfortable about not giving her paperwork to accounting as yet.’
* Maybe he is sick and doesn’t realize that his assistant didn’t take care of the paperwork.
* Maybe there is a person above him that has to sign off on the paperwork. Every time she calls her contact, it is a reminder to him that his boss doesn’t respect him enough to take care of these details.
* Maybe he was run over by a Mac truck. – Yuck.
After we finished brainstorming, I asked her which one was true, and she said, “I have no idea.” Then I asked her how she could find out. She decided that the easiest thing to do was to call a couple of people she knew in the company and ask if they had seen or talked with her contact recently.
The next day Debbie called me back. She said, “You are not going to believe this, but he was in an accident and is in the hospital. I feel so bad about the negative messages I left on his voice mail. I wish I could go in and erase them. I bought a funny card and took it to him at the hospital. He was all apologetic and told me who to talk with about getting paid. I am so relieved.”
Immediately upon discovering the truth, Deb’s thoughts about the situation changed. She shifted from thinking that she was not going to get paid and that she was going to fail, to thinking that everything was going to work out fine for her. At the same time, her feelings shifted. She went from feeling anxious and near panicked to feeling relieved and even a bit chagrined about her initial reactions to the situation. And not only did her thoughts and feelings change, but her results changed. She got her paycheck!
Note that nothing changed until Deb changed her thoughts. As soon as she took Radical Personal Responsibility for the situation, she was able to shift her thoughts and feelings and to create a different reality for herself.
Some of you may be saying to yourself, “Well, that’s all fine and good that her contact turned out to actually respect her work and was willing to pay her. But what if you were in a situation where your client really doesn’t want to pay you?” Another client, I’ll call her Lauren, came to me with that exact concern. She told me that her boss had a family friend that he wanted to help out. The friend had a small business, and Lauren’s boss offered to have his company create a website for it.
The plan had been to create a very simple, straightforward website that wouldn’t cost a lot of money. The problem was that as the project moved along, the client kept wanting more and more changes and more web pages. When they discussed the fact that the price they had quoted her was for a specific number of pages and that the additional pages would cost more money, she became angry. She took what she had and went to another website designer who added the pages. And she didn’t pay my clients’ company. Instead she used her money to pay the second designer.
For weeks, my client had been wrestling with the situation. A couple times she had gingerly attempted a conversation with the client but had received the cold shoulder. My client knew this was a family friend of her boss and she didn’t want to create more of a conflict than had already occurred, which made her hesitant to continue to ask for their payment. At the same time, they had subcontractors who had completed some of the work and they needed to be paid. This was putting them in the hole financially on this project.
When I asked her what would have to happen to make this a good situation, she said, “I wish the situation could just disappear.” At that point, I knew she had made a decision and was ready to think differently. I asked her how she thought her boss would react if she suggested that they do exactly what she wanted to do, i.e. simply stop going after the money and pay the contractors using money from another project. She hesitated for a minute and then said that she thought he would actually be relieved, especially if she could find a way for him to save face, since it was his idea to take on the project, and if she could recommend another way to pay the subcontractors.
As we talked through the situation, we discovered that they did not have a thorough enough process for detailing the project expectations and getting signoff from the client before going into the development stage. Lauren took the time to create a more detailed process. Then she went to her boss and told him that as a company they had made a mistake in not taking his friend through a thorough enough planning process, and she recommended that they drop the charges and use this experience as a lesson and inspiration for developing a better process. She also had a recommendation for how to pay the subcontractors. Then she presented him with her suggestions for a new process. Lauren told me that her boss quickly agreed to drop the charges and move on.
Another good thing came out of this situation. They were in the beginning stages of a similar project, and this new project was much bigger. Because of what they learned from the smaller project, they had a much better planning process that helped them not only to stay on track but also to have a more professional relationship with their client.
Isn’t it amazing what happens when we are willing to take Radical Personal Responsibility for a situation? Situations that seem like huge problems suddenly become an opportunity to make our life easier
Simply stated: The more we take Radical Personal Responsibility for what is happening in our lives, the more we are in control of our success.
End of Chapter 1
Do you have questions about the concepts? Would you like to challenge my thinking? Did you have an "ahha" or success from reading WiseWoman Leadership? If your answer is "Yes" to any of the above, please reach out to me by responding to this email. I would love to hear from you - Jane Barr
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