October 24, 2007

A Leadership Position in Politics--It's a Guy Thing

Note I didn't say "Leadership is a Guy Thing", I said "Leadership Position." Big difference. O'k, I'm ready for all sorts of criticism from my "women can do anything they want to" friends. But just give me a few paragraphs to make my point.

Politics--more than business--is predominantly run by men. I never had a problem with that, myself. Coming from the private sector in a profession overwhelmingly dominated by men, I had to learn early what makes men tick. (Now, I'm focusing on how they tick at work, mind you, not how I get my husband to do things around the house he doesn't want to do.) If women pick up on these things early in their careers rather than later, they stand to gain quite a bit more professional success.

See, like it or not, men and women are different. I've tried to help my female colleagues both in the legislature and in the workplace understand that simple yet often dismissed point. Women take great pride in being thoughtful, deliberate, and--as my dear friend former Senator Mary Panzer used to say, pragmatic. And here is where we make our mistakes.

To men, everything is a contest. I am reminded of that fact as I came home from dinner tonight with my husband, and we were both trying to read a billboard before the other. (Yes, this is how we entertain ourselves after nearly 20 years together...)

Men want to win. They don't pride themselves on being "bridge-builders", unless they're literally building a bridge. Men don't speak in soft generalities laden with gentleness--unless they're political men-- and that's only in public when their audience is comprised of voting women. Behind closed doors, men relate best to shortly worded battle plans and realistic measurable goals. They don't stay up at night worrying about what the opposition will "feel" about them.

That brings me to the latest development among Senate Democrats and their unceremonious ousting of Judy Robson as their fearless leader. Now I'm one of many who were puzzled when they chose Judy as their minority leader post-Chuck Chvala. While he crossed several legal and ethical lines during his battles, I am quite sure Chuck didn't stay up at night wondering if he hurt someone's "feelings." I know that one from personal experience. So, when Chuck went off to prison, for some reason the senate dems chose Judy Robson of Beloit to fill his shoes.

Judy, a former nurse--and never did she let us forget it during her floor speeches--is the classic example of what goes wrong when you try to lead men and don't speak to them in their own language. Judy was notorious for her long, rambling, hyperbolic speeches that often went far astray from the main point of whatever bill we were debating. She'd always jump to inflammatory, often outrageous statements peppered with so many "uhs" and "and ums" that they would stretch each speech out another 10 minutes or so.

You men out there know how maddening that is. Like when your wife goes on and on and on about something and never seems to get to the point of her story and you just want to pull your hair out of your head? Instead you nod your head absently, silently strategizing your next day at work or thinking about what time the ball game starts.....(BTW: I know my husband is always paying attention to me.)

Well, I can only imagine how the dem caucuses must have been. I can picture the guys with their faces buried behind their newspapers exchanging exasperated glances wondering when she would get to the point: what is our plan to out-maneuver and defeat the republicans?

Like my good friend Mary Panzer before her, she learned too late that she wasn't speaking a language understandable by her male colleagues. You have only to look at the group of real players in the budget this time around: Mike Huebsch, Jim Doyle, and Jim Kreuser. Heck, Kreuser was the MINORITY leader in the Assembly and even HE had a seat at the table!

Yes, ladies, there are ways and times we can use our femininity to our advantages--like asking for men's opinions so they take ownership in whatever conclusion we've already come to. Smiling and nodding in agreement knowing that we'll get our way later, we just need to be patient. These are the only secrets I'll reveal here, however, otherwise I'm just betraying my "sisters."

Unfortunately for Judy Robson, the guys left her in their dust this time. While she was wallowing they were executing. The Senate dems were right to grow impatient with her.

Hopefully the rest of us will learn from her mistakes. And if you're thinking of a nice Christmas gift for Judy, how about "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu? A must-read for any woman who wants to have a "leadership position" in a man's world.

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