In my previous life I worked for the World Bank. It was the organization I most loved to hate as a graduate student, and I knew that it had a terrible track record on supporting sustainable social change in Africa. I wanted to see how the beast worked from the inside out, so I could learn how to game the system.
Yeah, I was young and idealistic. Point taken.
Meetings at the Bank were frequent, and were painfully long and formal. There were women and men from many different countries, and despite their cultural differences, I was amazed by one commonality: their ability to bullshit, to create long lists of positives and new considerations even when their projects were obviously failing. And though they made speeches, there was no sense that others were hearing what was said. It was like they were talking into a vacuum.
As a consultant hired to increase the level of local participation in Bank projects in Africa, I was basically given a back seat on the team. While I dutifully submitted reports and compiled data and made recommendations, my supervisors didn’t much care if the locals bought in or not. They made decisions independent of my findings and despite what I contributed at our team meetings. My voice didn’t matter.
I quit that job after a year, feeling the cumulative effect of not being heard in project after project. It was so disheartening I left the International Development scene altogether. The takeaway from my year at the Bank was this: Be sure that you speak, and be sure you are heard. Otherwise you are contributing to the problem rather than the solution.
And I’m better than that.
I think about all the ways we add our voices to complicated issues both professionally and personally. There are the local debates in our communities. Our responses to natural disasters and other tragedies. The ways we mentor young people, either formally or by example. The space we occupy at the dinner table with our families.
We want to express what’s true for us, and we want to be heard.
I know from experience how easy it is to use the “I’m not an expert” excuse. To stay silent rather than risk making enemies, or making fools of ourselves, or being vulnerable. I was the A student who never raised her hand, even in college. And I know now that keeping silent is an invitation to ourselves to stay small, especially for us women. It reinforces the old belief that we aren’t ready yet, we aren’t strong enough or smart enough or witty enough to be heard.
I’ve been thinking alot about speaking up. And I’m asking myself to take my leadership to the next level, to step up, to play a bigger game. I’m not the post-grad at the World Bank any more, but how willing am I to contribute as a leader? Do I have what it takes, and what will bring it forth?
I’m ready to do something about it.
Yup, I asked — and the Universe provided. In order to develop my voice so I can develop as a leader, I’m going to join my colleague and friend Tara Mohr’s new six month leadership program that starts in April. Tara is an incredibly gifted writer, spiritual seeker, businesswoman and coach who helps brilliant women like you and me step more fully into our strengths. What I like about the program is that it combines personal growth work with nuts and bolts training on professional development. In additional to guidance on overcoming fears and pursing our visions, we’ll work on tactical skills like communication, public speaking, negotiation.
I’m already signed up.
If you are asking yourself some of the same questions I am, check out her Playing Big program. I want the program to be full of amazing women I can learn from and with, so consider yourself invited.
And to get a sense of Tara, download this 10 Rules of Brilliant Women workbook. Her Huffington Post article by the same name made a huge splash last year, and women are still talking about it.
What does all this talk about speaking up stir up in you?
What do you know about staying silent rather than sharing your voice? What happens when you DO speak up, when you shush the critical voices and share your truth? What are you doing to develop your voice, to play bigger, to lead your life as the powerful woman you are?