by Leslie Whitaker
I ve often used this space to detail the advantages and dangers that stem from the good girl training that still influences so many women. Sometimes we spend too much time trying to please others, for instance, while at other times we put our empathy to strategic use at the bargaining table.
But what about women who receive training from an organization that is considered among the toughest in the world the U.S. Marine Corps? Marines call themselves the finest warriors in the world. Not surprisingly, Courtney Lynch, 31, and Angie Morgan, 30, who spent 18 years between them serving in active and reserve duty among the 1,000 female officers and alongside 17,000 male officers in the Corps, have some useful insights, detailed in their new book, Leading from the Front: No Excuse Leadership Tactics for Women (McGraw-Hill, 2006).
Go with the 80-percent Solution
Marine Corps officers are trained in decision-making skills critical to becoming a trusted leader. While officers realize it is important to put off a decision until you have enough information, Lynch says, the question often becomes What is enough information? Too often, Lynch and Morgan contend, women have so much trouble answering this question that they put off taking any action indefinitely. Some women simply don t trust their instincts, others are afraid to say, No. Still other women study the problem so closely they end up with a case of analysis paralysis.
The cure is realizing that if you can t get all of the information you need for a timely decision, go with the 80 percent you ve got plus your wisdom based on past experience and your gut instincts, says Lynch. Too often, women don t take action, which allows circumstances or others to make the decision for them.
Also women tend to put too much weight on any single action. Usually it s not about black or white, wrong or right, says Lynch. If you do make a poor choice, usually you get a chance to make a course correction.
Lead as You Are
While neither Lynch nor Morgan ever saw combat, at age 21, Morgan had to lead a platoon of male Marines as their first female officer. I had a baby face that made me look 17, and I had to gain their respect, says Morgan. Once people realized that I challenged myself to exceed standards and that I was confident in who I was, things went well.
For her part, Lynch worried about being too feminine and very fun loving. She asked herself, Do I need to be more man-like? What paid off, she says, was showing mental resolve and confidence, but not abandoning her true nature. There are two factors we all want: to be liked, and to be respected, she says. Women who try to be liked first, who try to assimilate and set themselves up to be some sort of chameleon, will find it much more difficult to get the second.
Morgan and Lynch, whose Fairfax, Va.-based consulting firm, Lead Star, specializes in women s leadership development, say that while the Marine Corps procedures and processes are normed and rigid, leadership has to do with recognizing that people are unique, says Morgan. They employ that lesson on the home front as well: Morgan is the mother of a one-year-old boy and Lynch is expecting twin girls.
Leslie Whitaker Got a problem at work? Leslie Whitaker, co-author of The Good Girl's Guide to Negotiating, would like to hear from you. Send Leslie an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 5063, River Forest, Ill. 60305.
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