Andrea, the CEO of a large advocacy program for disadvantaged children has been at the helm of a nationally known organization for six years. She manages a multi-million dollar budget and wields tremendous power. But she is not a power monger. A deeply ethical woman, she is committed to walking her talk and living by her principles in every aspect of life.
Andrea is a team player, a consummate collaborative leader.
But she meets the same enemy, time and time again, although in different guises. By her description, he (usually, but not always) is ego-driven, arrogant and autonomous—someone who acts decisively, and alone.
Andrea’s conundrum: How to collaborate with a rogue colleague who refuses to play nicely? Refuses to share. Who takes his marbles and heads home when things don’t go his way? How to collaborate with a unilateralist, who, like the flatworm seems to regenerate and reappear at every new meeting and on each new Board?
The Answer: Collaboration starts at home. Within oneself.
Internal collaboration requires internal diversity awareness. Most of us lack this. I am this but not that. Sometimes the things we are not, are (in our estimation) better than us—I am wishy-washy and not decisive, I am unfit and not athletic; and sometimes they are different, foreign, or just plain bad—I am kind, not cutting; academic, not street smart; disciplined, not lazy. These things we label other disturb our lives in the form of unwanted people, unpleasant dreams and painful body symptoms.
Despite her strong feminist ethos and bias towards team play, Andrea has what she labels a “masculine” side. (And she calls it that despite my objection to the gender stereotype!) This part of her is focused, has vision, knows what she wants. She is certain she wouldn’t be in her post without those traits. But as with every diversity problem, marginalization is key. It’s hard for her to value certain marginal or extreme aspects of that so-called “masculine” side. It’s ok to have vision and focus. It’s not ok to have a big ego, a closed mind or to close the door on feedback. It’s anathema to act alone.
Andrea gets big, insistent migraines. They force her to pull the shades and take herself to bed. They always get their way.
Collaborating internally means valuing your whole self, bringing all of you to the table. It means finding the courage to honor and include the parts of yourself that don’t go along with the image of who you think you should be.
When Andrea advocates for her organization and her cause, directly to the funders, without letting her colleagues, the leaders of potentially competing organizations, know what she is up to, she is operating way outside her comfort zone.
And that’s an intelligent risk. It’s where the learning happens.
What part of yourself do you marginalize when you’re in a leadership role? Can you find a way to include it?