Head, heart, and stereotypes

The question posed to the five-member discussion panel was one of those-simple-but-loaded ones: "How did you learn to change yourself?"

The women who answered before me outlined impressive and proactive change strategies they'd used to propel themselves to positions of status and influence. One shared how she watched for unacceptable patterns in how she performed and then set up a timeline for making modifications.

Another talked about how she bench-marked her approach to that of successful colleagues, noted areas where she need to change, and then gave herself incentives as she made progress.

With each piece of logical advice that was shared, I became increasingly worried that maybe I had been an incorrect choice to be on the panel. When invited to participated, we were asked to disclose lessons we had learned as women in business—provide insights so others could benefit from our successes or failures. Compared to my four panel colleagues, I was going to be the outlier on this question—the one without a textbook perfect answer for personal change.

My brain was racing. Do I share a platitude? Affirm what someone else said as a best practice? Do I talk about change management strategies in general? Do I answer the question honestly and from the heart?

My briefcase-toting inner critic was proclaiming skip the personal stuff and go with facts. You're talking to high profile women working in a male-dominated industry. Tell them how to modify Kotter’s eight-step change modelto fit individuals. Or use Deming, his advice is timeless.

Finally the moderator turned to me…my turn to speak.

Wow, I’m impressed by the advice my colleagues shared. I wish I could say my approach is more like theirs. But it isn’t.

(A few chuckles from the audience)

I’m not that planful if there’s such a word! I confess to needing a cosmic two-by-four whack before I initiate changing myself.

(Lots of head nods, a little applause, smiles)

Usually it’s something big, ugly and really hurtful that pushes me to embrace personal change. Is that the best way? Probably not. But it’s me.
Many women approached me after the event to tell me how they appreciated my candor because they, too, needed a big push before starting personal change. Several said they felt intimidated, uncertain if they could marshal the level of personal discipline displayed by the other participants.

If we are to change stereotypes, we have to model behavior contrary to the stereotype. Had I stuck to the script, I would have fit in. But, I would have also contributed to a model of perfection and cold-hearted logic that doesn’t translate to personal behaviors. Well, for most of us anyway.
What’s your head and heart have to say?

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