While most women at major banks chopped off their hair and loaded up on boxy suits, [Lynn Tilton founder of Patriarch Partners] cultivated a flamboyant, hypersexual persona, a dominatrix with a calculator. While her look invites some unwanted attention — “I can live with the judgement,” she says — it’s clearly by design. “I think part of the reason women do not get where they should be in male worlds, “ Tilton says in a gravelly voice, “is because they stop acting like women and try to be more like men.” Made In America, Bloomberg Businessweek, July 20, 2015.
Success was not a problem, I was told, as long as I fit in and did the same as everyone else. The only problem I saw was that being like everyone else, the other managers, meant I would have to perform like everyone else … do what they do. And that meant delivering software intensive projects, late and buggy.
For how this comes to be see Successful Managers Without Successful Projects
I found instead that being myself, doing those things that made a difference, was what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, since I was blessed or cursed with working in organizations that were never very good at doing software intensive projects, that meant I was going against the grain of these large bureaucratic organizations. One would think that if someone were to finally be able to deliver good quality software on time then the organization’s management would reward that accomplishment. Instead, all too often, I got what was best summarized by one fellow who confidentially said to me “Bruce, they liked what you did but not how you did it.”
What had I done? In order to fix the various problems with the organization I had to work hard against some of the really bad habits of management. Those habits and practices that prevented people from doing the best job they could. So instead of the traditional “push people to work long and hard” my approach was more like “quit doing that and get out of the way.” And these “suggestions” from me were aimed at my management peers … and even more senior management. I made too many people look bad, because they were doing things that undermined the productivity of the organization, and that recognition was worse than delivering a project late and buggy.
“Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.” — John Maynard Keynes in The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money
I could have been more successful in a traditional sense, if I just went with the flow of these organizations. I know because I was often told this and also often told that I didn’t get a position or promotion or a top rating because I wouldn’t do what everyone else was doing. Instead I was successful at getting software organizations to deliver software projects on time with good quality and that was more satisfying to me than a rapid rise up the management bureaucracy. Of course, I would have loved to have had both.
The point to all this is that we too often try to be something other than we are in an attempt to fit into the culture and the system around us. That might be good when the organization performs well and encourages good practices. But when we are in an organization that is not performing well and possibly has a long history of under performing, then this assimilation into the culture often requires one to dumb down what we are doing. The paradox is that by doing this one can move faster up the bureaucratic ladder, as long as one doesn’t mind doing it in this under-performing way.
For more examples see How Not To Lose Your Soul And Still Be Successful
I’ll not weigh in on why women make less than men or why they don’t run as many corporations as men, but I will comment that trying to be like these people who run these companies never struck me as a smart strategy. We can contribute to society and be successful without attaining some of these positions and it is not obvious to me that this is any less an accomplishment. If we want to go for it — then do it. But if we compromise ourselves in trying to attain a particular goal then that was our decision, especially if we don’t succeed.
Are you being true to what you believe or are you trying to be like others in the hope that it will help you to succeed like them?