Women need to learn one important element of success that no one talks about: never play by rules that define you as the loser. Definitions of good leaders mirror definitions of strong men. However, the words used to define strong women are often derogatory, while the definition of a healthy woman is the antithesis of a strong leader. Women have three choices. First, we can play by those rules and lose. Second we can try and find a game with better rules. Or, third, we can change the rules. For many of us it is the only way we blasted through glass ceilings and turned dead ends into on-ramps to new opportunities.
Remember the pirate definition of rules, or the “code” being more like guidelines. When we are sailing in a channel the buoys tell us what to avoid, where NOT to go. But they do not tell us how to sail. The same is true of the political rules; they are guidelines to tell us where the danger lays, but not how to succeed. So, we need to know how to pirate the rules to our advantage, to change the definition of winning and losing.
First, acknowledge what you have accomplished in this life. Do not judge this by anyone else; judge it by where you started, where you are, and how you navigated your life. Proudly answer that yes you are smart, talented, creative, and more than capable. Women shy away from acknowledging their strengths, saying rather that they were lucky or had great mentors. This might be true but you also busted your tush, pushed your limits, took risks and rose to many challenges.
Next, make sure you are heard when you speak. Thank anyone who steals your idea for reiterating your words. Do not stop talking when someone interrupts you (unless it is the CEO).
Use body language wisely. Stand up and use your body to demonstrate your confidence and strength. Know when a nod encourages versus when it will communicate agreement. Stand in “tango” position, core tight, shoulders down and back center of gravity in your hips, which is where it resides for women. This communicates strength and fluidity.
Use words wisely. Do not say “I am sorry” when you mean “I am sad for you”. Do not apologize or minimize before stating an idea. This only discounts your thoughts. Communicate with quiet conviction.
Give yourself time to think through situations. The head of a large prison system told me that even when there was a crisis, she took two minutes to breathe deeply before she moved into action. If she can do this in a prison crisis, so can any of us.
Recognize that leadership and success books written by men might not work for you. I learned this lesson while working with trainers. I tried snowboarding and the tall thin man giving the lessons kept telling me to stand up straight. This meant that I kept catching an edge and whacking the ground. A young woman finally told me to use my center of gravity, bend my knees and stick out my tush. This is how I ski. Be a woman, don’t try to be more like a man.
And finally, and most importantly, make sure that you build the life you want to live. Do you want to be the Queen or the pirate, the captain or the first mate? Do you want to leave work at 6 every night and tuck your kids in? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Find the role that fits who you are and who you want to be, and live it proudly without apology. Do not climb a ladder that is leaning against the wrong wall. In the end we cannot avoid politics but we can be politically astute and write the rules that define us, and other women, as the winners.
Dr. Elisa Robyn, a modern-day Renaissance educator and leader, is the author of The Way of the Well, a spiritual romance, and Pirate Wisdom, lessons in leadership. Her eclectic career positions include geologist, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Futurist, and Innovative Mojo Coach. Currently, Elisa is an executive director at Regis University. She holds a Masters degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her most current writings can be found at: http://inspiringarenaissanceaofaspirit.blogspot.com/