Working with women: How one man lost his one-track mind
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Posted by: Barbara Francella
By Keith Merron
ago, I was invited to co-lead a workshop on leadership for 30 women. My
co-facilitator was a woman.
six-day experience was extraordinary. It marked the first time I worked
exclusively with women in such a large group and I found myself time and again
needing to alter my natural style to meet the needs of the group.
men, I have a train-track mind. I fixate on an agenda and feel quite
comfortable and even satisfied when we get through the agenda on time. Like
most men, my goal-oriented, stepwise-thinking mind loves to establish
agreements, set targets and stay on agenda. I feel a sense of accomplishment
when I do. But this did not seem to be what the women wanted.
was hardly a train-track approach. Conversations would take a different path
than expected and the amount of social engagement as a part of the process was,
for them, a natural part of the learning process, but for me, a train-track
derailment of monumental proportions.
I wanted to say, "This is not part of the agenda,” or "This is taking us off
track.” But some little voice inside told me to hold off and just let it
unfold. Had I intervened as often as I felt the urge to get the discussion back
on track, I would have become a bloody annoyance, to say the least. More
importantly, I would have been trying to impose my train-track mind onto their
field of experience and would have likely been rejected.
I practiced patience and deep inquisitiveness. I treated this group as a whole
different culture and sought to understand its fascinating norms. Here is what
I saw as I stayed with the flow:
first appeared as derailers to me were simply part of the larger exploration
for the women. They were not side tracks at all. Seemingly disconnected side
comments (you know, the kind where a thought triggers another thought which
triggers another thought) were part of the larger quilt work.
conversations kept the group together. There emerged a jazz-like exploration
that created a harmonic resonance.
needs got expressed and addressed as part of the natural flow. Personal needs
were not interrupters at all. They were an integrated part of the whole.
one another directly was not part of the system in the same way I was used to
confronting or being confronted. It happened, but rarely. Instead, participants
made suggestions, offered input and invited inquiry.
was a natural support system that was unabashed. Women took care of each other
and of the whole, with little fanfare, and yet with great heart.
were expressed very naturally and there was a sense of ease and caring. The
women seemed to just naturally know what to do.
a tribe, very different than the tribe than the male tribe I grew up in where agendas
were set, where we controlled outcomes, and where the alpha male got his way. Hierarchies
were natural in my tribe, and focus and direct communications the norm.
I found the behavior of this different tribe quite enervating. It did not
produce direct and immediate outcomes. It did not match the way I understood
learning to happen. And it certainly didn’t follow the design.
voice wanted to shout, "Stop it, stay focused!” But thankfully, I kept my
frustration quiet and observed the cultural norms that emerged. Over time, I
could see the participants learn. It certainly wasn’t at my pace or the way in
which I was used to, but it happened nonetheless.
surprise, the participants reported that it was a rich and welcome learning
experience. Magical moments occurred along the way, so much so, that it was as
if the learning happened between the white spaces of conversation.
realize that women in business, especially toward the top, know the rules of
male behavior quite well and have had to learn to adapt to those rules to fit
in They will likely remain forever uncomfortable, as I was for six days.
envision a time where we will learn how to mutually adapt and take advantage of
the natural differences that exist between the genders and learn the wisdom of
knowing which direction to take. We will be all the better for it.
Dr. Keith Merron is a senior associate at Barbara Annis & Associates, part of a team challenging the prevailing paradigms of
business. An author of a number of books, along with Barbara Annis, on leadership
and organization life, he is co-authoring a seminal book on gender relations in
the workplace called The Gender Intelligent Organization. He also writes a
column about conscious leadership for Real Leaders.
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