Home > Communication, Work > Leading like Tara & Louise

Leading like Tara & Louise

“You can’t trust women,” my mom told me often in my youth.

“Women are terrible managers,” she added as I neared working age. “They’re especially terrible to other women.”

I questioned her stance on many things: “So was that gem from Star or The Enquirer, Mom?” I don’t recall ever once questioning the veracity of her sweeping statements about women, nor thinking–consciously–what these words implied about me, my sisters and our futures.

I’ve thought a lot about leadership recently. I’ve thought about messages like my mom’s communicated in countless ways, verbal and nonverbal, in and outside workplaces today.

I reject them. Completely.

I taught English in Japan after graduating from law school.

One of my principals said I was the best teacher he’d ever seen. He regularly asked me if he could write me a recommendation. I waved him off. “No, no, I’ll come to you later if I need one,” I said.

Other teachers mirrored his sentiment. “You’re so good with the bad kids!” several told me.

“The bad kids?” I asked, genuinely confused by this praise the first few times. It took me a while to realize they meant the loud kids. The interruptors. The jesters.

I loved those kids. So what if I told them to do x, and they did yyz instead? Their funny questions and silly asides really did usually reflect attention to my lessons. They were learning in their own way.

Leaving my students behind broke my heart. I loved my kids, on target or off. Yet that heartbreak was much lesser than that I felt when my stoic brother called me sobbing about our mom’s deteriorating mental health. I’d barely witnessed him shed a tear throughout his life. I didn’t need his words to get out succinct and uninterrupted to hear enough to understand.

Leaving Japan was rough. Leaving my brother alone, impossible.

I took a temp admin job back in my hometown. That temp job led into another.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew only that I did not want to practice law–never, no way, no how.

An upbeat blonde woman showed up at my desk one day. “Hi! Are you Alicia?”

“I’m Deborah,” I replied, smiling. “Alicia sits–you know what, let me just walk you over there!” I didn’t trust my Cubeville direction skills.

Tara and I chatted the thirty seconds over to Alicia’s desk. I enjoyed each of those seconds. Apparently she did, too; when my then-manager casually mentioned to her that my contract was up, she decided to hire me.

Tara was responsible for technology contracts at the company.

Until she saw my resume, she meant to extend me as an admin. After she saw my resume, she worked her mad mojo to get me negotiating contracts.

Much as I didn’t want to think about anything law related ever again, I had to admit to myself I was not a great admin. I wondered what I’d really have to lose by trying.

For Tara, with Tara, I was willing to try.

I could write a tome about Tara, whose title was manager but role was leader.

This is not the place for a tome.* Instead of telling you every one of the countless ways she led instead of managing, I will tell you she led. She saw the difference between what was and what could be, using her insight to skillfully–with kindness and clarity–guide her direct reports to bridge the gaps between the two. Her lessons setting both expectations and boundaries improved my personal life as well as my professional one.

She did this all over the course of roughly a half a year before leaving the company. My sadness at losing her as a manager was softened by knowing I’d temporarily report to Louise, who was very little like Tara save in her skill leading.

Tara’s long-term replacement was more of a manager than a leader, dealing in tasks instead of opportunities. She was fine, but “fine” was tough to embrace after more than a year of exceptional guidance.

I was fortunate by then to have enough first-hand experience revealing how very wrong my mom was. Women could indeed make fine leaders. And if a woman failed to lead well?

It’s for a million factors, none of which need have anything to do with her gender.

To boil her down to a single factor is to perpetrate biases like my mom’s.

Those biases shape the future.

I’m not like Tara.

I’m not like Louise.

I’m Deborah. And I, I will lead in my own way.**

I will make mistakes, and I will learn from them. I will see potential and help translate it to actual and someday, if I have done as well as I know I can, be remembered by others the way I will forever remember Tara and Louise.

* Also, as of my typing this footnote, it’s T-13 minutes until my littlest one begins howling his good morning.

** Someday, Pete’s girls, knowing the sky as unlikely the limit, will also lead in their own ways. What a thought!

  1. June 17, 2015 at 5:15 am

    People will love working with you.

    • June 17, 2015 at 5:41 am

      I surely hope they love the overall, even if some of the “growth opportunity” moments are uncomfortable (to start)!

  2. June 17, 2015 at 6:55 am

    Leaders come in both genders, from all backgrounds, in all shapes and sizes. We can’t tell great leaders by looking at them, but within a short time their actions announce their presence. Glad you had a great one. (And something tells me you’re a pretty great one yourself!)

  3. June 17, 2015 at 7:09 am

    I follow (loosely used term here) a guy by the name of John Maxwell. Great leader trainer. If you have not had the chance, might I recommend buying one his books. He has some pretty phenomenal insight into leadership.

  4. June 17, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Years back a woman I worked with told me (and firmly believed) that men were ‘born’ with management skills that no woman could have. Which was the first time I had ever heard a penis described as management skills.
    Leaders are rare, of either gender, and should be cherished and nurtured. And applauded. We need them. We also need the rank and file. Who should also be cherished, nurtured and applauded. Vive le difference.

  5. June 17, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    I always feel like criticism of women and their capabilities is nonsensical. Women are raising the vast majority of our population. Seriously, if women were not capable of all the management and negotiation and sheer work involved having children, how did the critic’s generation make it to adulthood?

  6. June 17, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    I, too, enjoyed my “bad kids”….they were the ones that ultimately challenged me, appreciated me and made me “grow” as a teacher and a human being…..I don’t know how you will manage or not manage, but I know this – your managerial skills (or lack there of) have nothing to do with your gender. Good luck, Deborah. I look forward to reading about your experiences… 🙂

  7. June 20, 2015 at 9:44 am

    I have a similar story, back in my early career. Her name was Katie — and her lessons (ostensibly on staff management) still inform my daily thinking in a myriad of ways.

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