Category Archives: Vulnerability

Iron-Fisted Power Is Not Leadership

Many years ago my friend, Susa Holt, told me I had to meet CrisMarie Campbell, an Olympic rower.  I could hardly wait to hear first hand what it was like to be an Olympian!

Yet, when I asked CrisMarie about the Olympics, she almost bit my head off, saying “I don’t like to talk about that – I was a loser!”

I was a bit stunned.   I know all to well how our heroes are often the masters of self-hate!  Fortunately, I met her as she was just heading into a Come Alive, and I figured this was a ripe area for her to do some great work.

She did.  Over the years, I have been a witness to CrisMarie’s reclaiming her Olympian.

_I8P7019-EditShe now uses her rowing stories as great examples of the difference between simply a boat of champions, the 1988 Olympic boat,  and a Championship team, the 1987 World Champion silver medal boat.

Today is a new chapter.  Her collegiate and national team coach made the headlines this month.  His long tenure at the University of Washington ended when the current team of rowers challenged his leadership style.

Here is the link to the Seattle Times article:  Firing of UW Rowing Coach

CrisMarie caught the news and wanted to reach out to the rowers.  The headlines presented a story line that seemed to imply the biggest issue was “an age gap” between the coach and his rowers.  The paper even went so far as to imply may be the rowers were pampered.  Really?

Well, CrisMarie had a long history with Bob and wasn’t about to stay silent. She wrote an opinion letter to the sports editor of the Seattle Times. He opted not to publish it.

I like that CrisMarie spoke up.

I like that she reflected both the brilliance AND the iron-fisted misuse of power that is all to often called leadership.

Mostly I love that she challenged the real issue, Bob did not want feedback and that is simply not leadership.

Below is her opinion. It is one woman’s story and perspective.  Regular readers know, that I am a big believer that there is never one side to any story.

However, I also believe silence in the face of popularity and power are deadly in so many ways.

 CrisMarie’s Opinion Letter, December 11, 2015

I am compelled to speak because of the apparent prevailing opinion that Bob Ernst was an excellent coach who deserved a better send off. No doubt Bob made Washington rowing more successful; however, as a leader of people, he failed.

First let me speak to my own direct experience with Bob. I rowed at Washington from 1982-1986, won the ’84 and ‘85 National Championships, and was the ’85 stroke and Team Captain. I went on to a silver medal win at the 1987 World Championships and then to the 1988 Olympics – all with Bob as my coach. I was, by many people’s standards, a winning rower. I was strong, smart, disciplined and hard-working. I credit Bob with making me a successful rower.

Bob is brilliant and was a revolutionary rowing coach– but not because of his leadership style. While he advanced Washington and Women’s Rowing, both at the collegiate and national level, Bob was not an effective leader of people.

In my six years of rowing, I only lost two official competitive races, and yet I walked away feeling like a loser. Why is that? My experience with Bob was that I was only as good as my latest win on the water. His strategy included blaming rowers for losses, and when we did lose, treating us, I felt, as unworthy human beings. He also used ultimatums to drive compliance.

When I injured my back training for the Olympics I considered missing one practice of our regular “two-a-day” sessions.  Bob yelled: “either she’s in the boat every day or she’s not in the boat at all!” I got in the boat. While the choice to get in that boat was mine, it is important to underscore the power a coach has over team members to make them perform. And when we lost at the Olympics he blamed me for losing the race by getting in the boat with injuries. Really?

His pronouncement of blame was demoralizing in 1988, and I was shocked to hear him repeat it ten years later. When a coach or leader devalues the team his power becomes abusive and the coach ceases to lead.

As a result of my experience with Bob, I have dedicated my career to helping business leaders produce high performing teams that are both smart (“winning”) and healthy (people matter). Team success is often a result of the leader’s willingness to step out of the “command and control” style and get feedback from the team. This drives team engagement and better team results long-term.

In reading the details of what transpired with Bob and the team, he seemed unwilling to be either vulnerable or curious with the team. Bob could not find a way to use the conflict to create a better outcome both for the team and himself. It wasn’t the job of the UW Administrators to do that, it was his job as a leader.

Marlow Mizera, the coxswain who spoke up to Bob, is a hero of mine. She is a leader. She had the courage to stand up to the most powerful coach in Washington Rowing. These women wanted to give their coach feedback on the impact of his style; they wanted to work with him. Unfortunately, he was unwilling to lean in and hear the feedback, which is sad. They did something I wish I could have done 30 years ago.

This is not about an age gap between Bob and the new generation of rowers. This issue has gone on a long time – it’s about confusing iron-fisted power with leadership.

I do wonder if Bob had been willing to hang in, hear, and honor some honest feedback, whether he and the team could have turned this conflict into a win for both him and the Washington Women Rowers.

CrisMarie (aka Chris) Campbell  Co-founder of thrive! inc., works with leaders and their teams to transform conflict into innovative results. Her TEDx Talk is: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It!

 

This May Cost Me $15,000, but I’m Still Saying It

24227270_mIn this piece, I plan to be forceful, maybe even abrasive. According to one Fast Company Article, the act of me being forceful could cost me in the range of $15,000, simply because I am a woman.

Really? You have got to be kidding!

Yesterday morning I read two different Fast Company articles that created a burst of rage in me! One was about my reduced pay for being forceful. The other was even more bothersome. Studies show that the word abrasive only shows up in women’s performance reviews – not men’s. Men may get a mention of impatience but followed by –but aren’t we all?

Fast Company, are you just trying to piss me off? It’s working.

Yes, I admit women and men’s inequality has been a longstanding issue. I remember running smack dab into it when I was eleven. Myself and Laura, the other best player on our little league team, both got tossed off the team because we were girls.

Really? We were the best players. You have got to be kidding.

At that young age, I don’t think I had a clue how to be forceful. Instead, I gave in, tossed my glove in the closet and moved on to tennis. Once I switched sports, I was playing one of the boys, and was told, “You need to tone it down, and should really think of letting him win.”

Really?!

This time I paid no attention. I went ahead and won. Yes, it did ruin my chances of getting high school dates, but that wasn’t what I was really after anyway.

So those types of comments have been around a long time. Frankly, it just makes me angry!

Was that how I was suppose to start learning to be nice and polite?
Or learn that I should not be forceful?

Really?!!

Why is there such a double standard? I have no doubt that there are men out there angry that they have been told, not to cry, or be so sensitive. I feel for you. Though, I also know that women in business get that same feedback frequently. Still, it may even have cost you guys $15, 000 in pay as well. So I will show some empathy.

What would it take to get over all of the crazy assumptions, stories, and stereotypes we use over and over? Pretending, or trying to pretend, that we don’t have these stereotypes is not working.

Well, I do believe one thing: It will take a little forcefulness to change.

Am I being abrasive? You probably think I am.
Am I being angry? Yes, because I am angry.
I think you should be as well.

I would love to rage loud enough for people to hear. We cannot keep stereotyping and classifying genders, races, and cultures and pretend we are a country of equality.

Truthfully, though, we will. Pretending we won’t, isn’t a viable solution.  We are ALL prejudice in some way.  Our only path through it is to own up to it and talk about it.

It takes courage to own up to my storytelling and share it. It takes vulnerability and curiosity to deal with our differences together.

Right now, I am angry at men.  Of course, it isn’t all men, and it isn’t great that I bundle them all together.  But I do in moments like this.

So I am owning up to my story, and don’t want to stay here, I want to get curious.

  • Why doesn’t the word abrasive show up on a man’s performance review?
  • Why shouldn’t women leaders be forceful?

Tell me. Really.

Susan Clarke is a Speaker, Consultant, and Coach at thrive! inc. Clients refer to Susan, and her partner CrisMarie, as “The Team Doctors” because they focus on the health of the team in order to get the team to smart business results. They just released their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It! Don’t Defuse It! Contact Susan at thrive@thriveinc.com.

Vulnerabilty: Key to Business Success

Biz_Cover_Oct_Nov_2013

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for:  406 Woman Business P.18

Vulnerability: A Woman’s Natural Strength & Key to Business Success

“Look I’ll say it. I made a mistake. I should have picked up the phone and told you we had a serious problem, but I didn’t. Even as the problem got worse, I just kept my team focused on solving it and never reached out. Now I see how that decision set up the conflict you guys are in now.” Josey was one of the newer members of the senior leadership team and had recently moved into quality assurance. In her first six months there had been three major product quality issues.

“Can you say why you didn’t give us a head’s up?” Tom was VP of Sales and the quality issues and low inventory had resulted in his team missing their bonuses.

“Honestly, I wanted to save face. I was fearful of telling you about the problem, getting an ear full and not yet having a solution.” Again, Josey was frank and transparent.

“Well I guess it is true, we do often fire back when we hear there’s a problem. Look Josey, I appreciate your candid answer. I think we played into the problem as well because we knew there were some inventory issues and we didn’t stop selling or check in.” Tom was not one who usually acknowledged any mistakes.

This all came after a half day of team building and training on the importance of vulnerability-based leadership as a path for getting to healthy conflict, clarity and commitment. Everyone said at the end of the day how powerful the interaction had been, primarily due to Josey setting an example. Oddly though, when it came time to talk about what would be communicated out to the larger organization about the off-site, this is what happened.

“No way am I letting my team know we had any trust issues and, personally, I don’t like using the word “vulnerable” – that is just going to get people concerned.” Tom was clear that vulnerability wasn’t going to be a circulated value.

“I think our people need to know what we talked about. How else are they going to get the okay that acknowledging a mistake an important step.” Josey was the first to counter Tom’s position.

Sue, the conservative voice of the legal department agreed with Tom. “Our people don’t need to think we are having any issues,” Sue added, “Sure we want honest communication but I think our issues stay in this room only.”

It was a bit shocking to hear these same folks that had, moments ago, said how important the frank, open honest communication had been. Now they wanted to put on the armor and padding of confidentiality to make sure no one saw any weakness. Shocking … but not uncommon.

A Definition of Vulnerability
There’s a lot of talk these days about the importance vulnerability. Author Brené Brown in her book, Daring Greatly, is giving vulnerability lots of frontline press, and it is becoming a bit of a buzzword. So what does it mean to be vulnerable? Well first let’s go to the dictionary and pull the standard definition.

Vulnerability: “To expose oneself to danger, to be revealed.” Not really a great drawing card when you put it like that. Why would anyone be willing expose themselves to danger?

For a long time business has been about strategy and out-playing the competitors. That version of business encourages, holding your cards tight and looking good. There is not much room for revealing or exposing yourself to danger.

Having made a living sitting in boardrooms and executive conference rooms listening to leaders and teams define and clarify their business strategy, I have wrestled with the effectiveness of all the secrecy, importance and politics that often takes place among a group of smart, passionate people supposedly on the same team. The word – vulnerable, if talked about, will often be taken off the communication plan that cascades out to the rest of the organization, as demonstrated in the meeting above. Instead, the messaging usually implies that there was some sort of team huddle where everyone fought the good fight, and produced outcomes that are supercharged new or a refreshed vision and mission. Not much revealed or exposed to danger there.

I once heard a wonderful woman speaker at a women-owned business conference. Her opening line has always stayed with me, she said, “If eleven women were sitting in a room designing something to do, they would have never come up with football.” Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good competitive game, even football, but football is sort of the ultimate example in lacking vulnerability. Pretty much every inch of those guys is covered in protective padding, and oddly, many of the worse type of injuries still occur. There is some truth to the story that all that protection and gear can, and often does, get used to hit harder. I often wonder if there were as many head injuries in football before helmets came along. Often, too much armoring or protection simply invites more problems and attacks.

So What is Vulnerability?
What does it mean to revel oneself or expose oneself to danger? Simply put – it means acknowledging what is really going on. When Josey spoke up and acknowledged her decision to keep the problem quiet, she exposed herself and her team to potential danger. She also opened a door for more open, transparent communication. Acknowledging can be as simple as saying, we/I made a mistake, we’re sorry, we believe we are the best and want you to choose us.

A Women’s Natural Strength
I believe vulnerability-based leadership is quite natural for women. As women we are often told to toughen up if we want to be in business; don’t wear your heart on your sleeve; and please don’t bring emotions or empathy into the business equation. But really, that is what business needs – open and honest conversation between people. Not padding, not protective gear, not the ability to dodge hard hits. Empathy, or walking in someone else’s shoes can go a very, very long way towards creating new ideas and possibilities. And really, football players are some of the most emotional beings out there, it’s just all covered up in pads and helmets.

Emotions are the true potential energy of people. It’s emotions that drive us to action, not dreaming. A great dream will only become a major movement and possibility if it is embodied with emotion. That combination is vital and if you want people to come along with you, a dose of vulnerability will go a very long way in getting to the real issues.

Josey made it possible for some honest conversation and led to an acknowledgement on Tom’s part about how his team can fire back and may contribute to the problem. This was a huge step forward for the leadership team. Sadly it may not roll out yet to the broader organization without a bit more vulnerability in modeling to the rest of the organization that acknowledging mistakes can lead to healthier teams.

We learned later that Josey continued to influence her peers when another quality issue came up. This time she spoke up early and Tom was able to let the sales team in on the problem. Together they arrived at a solution that had no negative impact on the customers or the bonuses. Tom still isn’t fond of using the word vulnerability but he does communicate out the importance of exposing and acknowledging the potential issues faster as the best path for creative solutions.

What You Can Do: Use Your Feminine Strength
So step into your next team meeting or planning session and, instead of holding your cards, try revealing what you really think, feel and want. Be interested in discovering how others respond. Use what may be a more natural feminine strength. You might be in for a big surprise. Play without pads and helmets, but if you do, be sure to let the rest of your company know what really happened in the boardroom. Try a little dose of vulnerability – maybe you are exposing yourself to danger, but you may also be giving yourself the best chance to see what is really out there and respond accordingly.