Last night I was reading in New York Magazine about how Zoe Cruz was fired from Morgan Stanley. The story begins with a description of how she went to a meeting with her boss, CEO John Mack, expecting to be named his successor, but instead ends up getting fired. The rest of the story describes how Zoe Cruz was basically, punished by her male colleagues who openly hated her, ignored by her subordinates, and betrayed by her mentor. It also describes how this was partly a result of Zoe Cruz playing too well the game by adopting the aggressive power style of the men around her and the men being bristled by that.
I read the article with distress for what it means to be a women in positions of significant leadership. The lingering animosity towards powerful women 20-30 years older than me affects women of my generation and below. Generational changes will address some of this, so I can partly wait it out. But for the next 10-15 years, when I hopefully have made a transition from emerging leader to just leader, what model of power do I adopt?
Having attended Bryn Mawr College, I've been exposed to women who have adopted a stereotypical male style of elite power. Zoe Cruz would fit into that category as well as many women in their 50s and 60s in elite positions of power like Hillary Clinton. I do not forget that Condeleezza Rice is called the "Ice Princess." In many ways, it makes sense that this would be their survival strategy, when they were so greatly outnumbered and the hostility toward their presence so open.
It is of course a double-edged sword to adopt "male power," because I hear male colleagues all the time criticizing female colleagues, students, and me for being stubborn (i.e. holding strong opinions), self-centered (i.e. being independent), bossy (i.e. holding people accountable for what they say but fail to do), arrogant (i.e. believing in self more than the low estimation that they hold of your abilities, especially when you deliver on your promises), and cold (i.e. not crying when they do really mean things to you).
Yet, especially as an African-American woman, who comes from a deep matriarchal structure (and not because there were no men, its just the women are awesome human beings), I am willing to hold to my opinions, structure my relationships to optimize independence, hold people accountable for what they fail to do, believe in my own abilities without them needed to be reinforced by someone else's approval, and will not cry if you do really mean things to me (not in public). And in the past, I have been betrayed by colleagues (male and female) for being so. The great thing about being independent is that while your ego can be shattered by these events, they in no way affect your material well being, so you are easily able to regain equilibrium. And once you put your ego back together, you learn.
I've learned to hold my opinions yet seek to find shared opinions with others, remain independent but structure projects so that all can contribute what they do best, continue to hold people accountable and get rid of them if they are not (this is a must), believe in my own abilities but praise the abilities of others, and still not cry if people do really mean things to me. The truth is that I don't know any great models for what I've been doing with power, lately.
I mean I get bits a pieces from people. Praising people I've learned best from Ric Grefe. I think it comes from working with a mostly volunteer effort, so payment is only in affection and praise. Remaining independent but structuring for contribution I've learned from Robert Feldman. Holding my opinions but finding shared opinions I've learned from Ken Friedman. Not crying in public, except when you really need to, I've learned from Hillary Clinton. And perhaps that is all that you can get is learning bits and pieces from people.
But also having attend Bryn Mawr, there is the Goddess model of power. Tomorrow, I shall explore that more.