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Friday, October 21, 2005

If I were Newsweek

Newsweek disappoints again. (By again I am first referring to the cover story on Judith Warner's book, "Perfect Madness.")

Regular Creative Ink readers know how passionately I feel about leadership and leadership development. While on the flight home from Las Vegas I read with great interest this week’s Newsweek cover package: “When Women Lead.” Oprah on the cover, Karen Hughes on the inside and all in all an under-whelming package that missed the boat in a HUGE way.

Here’s the subhead:

As a growing number of female executives rise to the top, how will they change the culture of the workplace?

It begins with a look at how women have important roles — AS TELEVISION CHARACTERS! As if that’s helpful to a real-word discussion. And then it cites as recent examples (never mind that they are dated) Harvard President Lawrence Summers gender/science snafu, articles about women at elite colleges ditching it all to stay home with kids and younger women deciding that the struggle their mothers navigated just isn’t worth it.

The one shining quote comes from Marie Wilson, of the White House Project, saying: “There is no real balance of work and family in America.” No kidding!!!!

But then writer Barbara Kantrowitz asks the following questions in the intro, which features a double truck photo spread of KAREN HUGHES of all people. She may be big cheese inside the Beltway, but to middle America she’s just a Bush croney with a job she’s under-qualified to handle:

“Do women lead differently than men?”

“Have they changed management culture when they make it to the top?”

“What lessons would they pass on to the women who aspire to follow their path?”

The answers are not found in the pages of this magazine. Instead it is filled with gratuitous first-person narratives dubbed, “How I Got There” and pithy quotes that could have been pithier had they stopped at the first lines:

• You must make sacrifices.
• Surround yourself by people whom you respect and who know more than you know.
• Maintain a sense of humor.
• Always leave a little something on the table (this from the head of Martha Stewart Omnimedia).
• See everything as an opportunity to grow.
• Take responsibility for your own career.
• Adversity breeds character.
• Successful people are passionate about that they do.
• Set goals.
• Delegate.
• Nurture support.
• Find your voice.

I’m not interested in curriculum vitae. There are many paths to the top. I want to know how they define leadership because I think everyone’s definition is different. I want to know how they survived in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

I want to know how they’d shorten the learning curve for other women. I want to know how they kept their cool when they really wanted to blow. I want to know who were their earliest influences. What did their fathers tell them? Or their mothers? How did they bounce back from a dressing down by a higher up?

What was the single greatest piece of advice they ever received? What role does mentoring play in the lives of female leaders? Are they actively mentoring young women today? If not, why?

Did they envision themselves in this role? If they could change anything about their career path would they? What personal sacrifices were made to get where they are today? Were those sacrifices worth it?

How do they achieve balance between work and family? Is it even possible at the upper levels of leadership? What would they say to younger women who look at the struggles and sacrifices and deem the attempt not worth it?

How have they nurtured female relationships (personal and professional) in light of their career success? Do they ever feel isolated by their success? What keeps them grounded? What needs to change in order to encourage women to aspire to leadership?

Does their spouse or partner support their choices? How do they handle the conflict inherent in one person’s success over another? What do they tell their sons and daughters about being a leader?

Is a leader born or made? What specific changes to the workplace culture have they brought? What do they do differently from their predecessor that has made marked change? Do they consider themselves an insider or outsider? Do they believe women are "entitled" to leadership or do they happen upon it accidentally?

There were some bright spots in this coverage. One piece, "A New Team in Town," profiled the three women in charge of San Francisco's public safety — police chief, fire chief and district attorney. Very cool and nicely done with good narrative illustrating how they do their job differently.

And of course there was the incredible good sense found in the mind and pen of Anna Quindlen, who reminds us of the value of being an outsider. "You're less wedded to the shape of the table if haven't been permitted to sit at it."

And so I give her the last word on why this issue is of such importance:

More than ever people yearn for someone worth following, someone interested in more than self-aggrandizement. Our world is filled with prominent women now, women who manage law firms and give out grants and run museums and oversee the Ivy League. yet virtually all of them came of age, and come to power, with the institutional pushback that grows out of prejudice.

There's a fire in the belly that creates a willingness to step off that treadmill of custom. They are a new breed: the Inside Outsiders. Powerful, accomplished, yet among their male peers still in some essential way apart. Often you will hear them say, "I never expected to wind up here." Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that's the secret to leadership, the path not of entitlement or enrichment but the liberation of the unexpected.


Jill said...

Great post. Sounds like an op-ed submission to me. forum AT plaind DOT com

A said...

this was beautifull - thank you.

i'm a new reader to your blog, after reading about it in writer's digest.

so thanks,

Wendy Hoke said...

Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words. I've not seen the piece in Writer's Digest. Is it on the newsstands or the Web?