Leadership is About How You See Yourself

Ocean SF Summer 2021

Women are not dropping out of the workforce due to the mommy track as everyone suspects. It is a complex issue, but part of it is due to a lack of inclusion and promotion. Can you imagine languishing in a cubical at a major tech company coding for 10 years? Last spring one of my students told me that if they do a great job at work they don’t get promoted they just get more work. Then there is the “missing rung” phenomenon. People who do not move into management roles within the first five years of their career never do, and a large percentage of these are women. There are more men named Dave leading Fortune 500 companies than there are women.

The Men

I see a dazzlingly array of confused men in my classes, my neighborhood and my life. I do not think the key to the success of women in leadership roles is to address men. Our society needs great leaders of both genders. Men however currently are in leadership roles because they have been trained to act like leaders and given many opportunities to lead.

Men historically been given more opportunities to be leaders. Therefore, they often present with the qualities necessary for leadership roles. In teaching leadership I have dissected the leadership qualities of Elon Musk, Phil Knight and Steve Jobs to name a few. These are some of the greatest leaders of our time. Alexander the Great is also worth study.

The basics that men look for in future leaders is this:

  • They don’t complain
  • They get the job done
  • They don’t shirk their duties
  • They don’t gossip
  • They don’t cause drama
  • They are cooperative and work well with others
  • They are direct

Women typically approach work and life with a more complex set of qualifications. Because opportunities for women to lead have been scarce they often have not had the opportunities to strengthen their leadership abilities.

The first step is to see yourself as a leader.

The Interns

This summer I have had five interns of mixed gender. I teach them to think of themselves as leaders, and to understand their leadership styles. They are given projects where they are asked to lead. One of them is managing the other four. I tell them weekly to lead from where they are.

Many people think of leaders as charismatic. They take charge and are in essence larger than life. This is not always true. There are many types of leadership. Some of the best leaders are quiet and unassuming. When Tim Cook took over Apple in 2011 many people doubted him, but he proved to be the perfect leader for Apple at that point in time because he complimented the aggressive visionary style left behind by Steve Jobs. He focused on sustaining the quality and stability of the Apple brand. Apple’s stock is up over 480% since Cook took over. Unser his leadership Apple became the first publicly traded company to reach a $1 trillion market cap in 2018.

I challenge my interns to be leaders daily as we work together to make Ocean SF a great brand that has impact on the world. Daily there are a hundred ways to demonstrate leadership. This pertains to any group project in college. Take charge and be the one to put in more time and energy than your peers. This is just one example, but it’s important to begin seeing yourself as a leader and acting like it. This means that if you are a barista be the best barista on your shift. Great leaders work harder than anyone else. That is simply a fact.

“There is a difference between studying leaders and learning how to be a leader. Learning to be a leader involves a change in mindset, understanding your gifts and talents, and putting the work in to lead. That is where you start.”

The Girls

After teaching leadership at UC Berkeley for a solid year I was given the summer off. I kept thinking I have to teach this curriculum to girls and I put up a post on my neighborhood Face Book page. I had hoped to get 4 or 5 girls to talk about leadership weekly. Instead I got over 30. I broke them into groups and we’ve been sitting in my backyard talking about leadership all summer.

How Did I Get Here

I remember how surprised I was when I gave my daughters dump trucks and all sorts of boyish toys to play with in the their sandbox and still they gravitated toward their play kitchen and dolls. Maybe had they gone to work with their father and watched him get 50 cement trucks out of the yard before 7:00 a.m. they would have had a different perspective. I believe my daughters fell in love with me and that’s what I was doing. I was washing dishes, cooking dinner, and taking care of them. So, they modeled that. They didn’t know how much I hated doing those things and how I grieved my old job at the music software company where I was Director of Marketing traveling to New York City and hanging out with my P.R. girls drinking champagne at lunch in San Fransisco. I was reduced to a shell of my former self. I remember a friend saying “Sydney, you really shouldn’t wear clogs with cropped jeans.” All of my beautiful corporate suits with their coordinating silk blouses hung neatly in my closet. Later, when I worked South of Market I wore expensive casual wide-legged pants, small white blouses with french cuffs, and Prada loafers and Mary Jane’s. I would smoke cigarettes in the ally with the French founders of the company I consulted for. I did that between kids because one kid is a toy, but two is work, after the second I stayed home.

The real reason I stayed home with my kids is the same reason they played with their toy kitchen. Having children for me was a love affair. I fell in love with them. So, I made a trade off and chose them. Do I regret it? Sort of. It certainly had an adverse affect on my career and when my husband died unexpectedly it had an even more adverse impact on my finances. The upside was that at the time of my husbands death I was very close with my daughters and the three of us weathered a very bumpy ride together. It’s been five years and we are thankfully still very close.

Because of the love affair with my children I hadn’t held a full time job in 16 years when my husband died. I had consulted and even that put a strain on my family as my husband’s mother had worked throughout his childhood and he hadn’t liked it. Adding to his argument was the fact that he made more than enough money to support us all. He could not understand why I liked to work. When I did reenter the work force full time after his death it shocked me to learn that there had been so little progress for women in leadership roles in the work place. I felt like this was something that should have continued to improve in my absence. It certainly had not. When you consult you really don’t notice how things are structured because you’re not impacted by it. My last boss was a Senior Vice President at Bank of the West and I remember her disdain when I told her I had to leave early to be at my daughter’s swim meet that night and couldn’t meet with her. She told me her kids didn’t do sports because they were in day care. This created a massive divide in our relationship because I had many swim meets, parent meetings, bee stings and other emergencies continually throughout my time there. Every time she stopped by to see me my phone would buzz. This was the summer when I got 90 text messages in one day from my nanny, my husband and my kids. Needless to say my contract was not renewed. I remember telling my daughters I have to go to bed because my work is like having a test everyday. It was challenging to say the least, and I did not have the support of my husband. He would tell me that I chose to work. After that contract I stayed home and organized the car pools and did massive charity work to fill my time.

In 2014 I started teaching marketing at UC Berkeley. I could sneak away from the car pooling for a few hours per week and then I started my company Ocean SF. I was also a ski instructor at Northstar Resort in Tahoe. I took my kids to work and they buzzed around the ski slopes with my credit card. I was asked to teach leadership a few years ago and it has been an amazing experience to share my knowledge and history with my adult students. However, as I taught adults I would think I really need to be teaching this to girls. We need to be way ahead of this to create women who can use their talents and be fierce leaders because the world needs leaders of all types. For women to not be represented is a tragedy.

Please provide comments, or direct message me with your thoughts.

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