When Blind-Spots Surprise Us

Katherine Spitzer first woman to run the Boston Marathon 1967

The universe is conspiring against me. Well, not really against. It’s conspiring on my behalf to take me to the next adjacent possibility. It’s tapped me on the forehead and made clear that I need to step up my game, especially about how I speak about women. Please let me explain.

Last week I was listening to a ManagerTools podcast on ethics, where two former West Pointers and now successful consultants were talking about the code of ethics they adopted at the academy:

“I will not lie, steal, cheat, nor tolerate those who do”.

With events in popular culture, the news, and politics, I decided to adopt a new personal honour code:

“I will not lie, steal, cheat, hate, nor tolerate those who do.”

Then I realized this week, while working with a woman CEO of a construction company, twice I used the term “girl” to describe an adult woman. Doh! Seems I have some work to do. I don’t think I do this maliciously, or trying to control others. At least that isn’t my intent, but I realize now it will sure come across that way.

I don’t want to be just another guy talking about women in the workplace. So how do I link my purported values to my behaviour? How does what I believe translate to how I am in the world. How are my words and action perceived by and impact others?

This is the work I do with business owners every day – how do we translate how we want to impact the world into everyday actions that take the company in the right direction? What is really going on? It often comes down to doing the basics well and consistently. In my case, dropping the use of “girl” to refer to adult women. Small changes often make the biggest difference. Especially when they allow us to make bigger changes.

Then I ran across an articles about  Katherine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. That’s her in the picture above running the first time 45 year ago this April. One of her cadre is body-checking a race official attempting to throw her out of “his” race. Katherine ran the race herself. Nobody carried her. That’s what she wanted, I imagine: the opportunity to run, to test herself, to do her best. Just like most of us.

It’s not enough to just give somebody an opportunity, job, or place, then stand by and watch them fail. In order to be leaders, in order for management to be a force for positive change in the world, sometimes we have to get up off our asses and run interference. Call bullies on their bullying. Deliberately solicit every opinion. Not tolerate poor behaviour. Let others lead. Which is what leaders are supposed to be doing when we’re “building teams”.

So I’m going to watch my language better, do some more volunteer one-on-one mentoring, and try to figure out how deep this blind-spot of mine goes. My little circle to start with. It will be interesting to see where this goes. Researching and writing this article has only made me realize how far I might have to go.

Who’s with me? What are you going to do to “lead”? What’s your blind spot?


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