When I was a recent graduate from my master’s program and new as an engineer, I was the only woman on the team. I was insecure and my pride was in my engineering degree. But my manager repeatedly gave me writing assignments on top of the process work. The assignments consisted of bids, inter-office memos and proposals. It irked me and I started to hate that I was becoming the group secretary. I convinced myself that he was sexist. I said nothing for months and let it fester. The day came when he sent yet another writing assignment via email and I stormed into his office! I vehemently declared, “I AM NOT THE GROUP SECRETARY; I’M AN ENGINEER!”
Let me add the visual: I did this in stereotypical angry black woman fashion complete with neck roll and hand on my hip, just short of the snap. The look on his face went from shock to anger in a matter of seconds. He clutched his jaw and said, “you are also the best writer I have on my team.” In the silence I desperately tried to figure out how I could undo my ‘sista girl’ pose and save face. There was no way out with dignity.
I never considered he was giving me those writing assignments because I was a good writer. I took several writing courses in school because I liked to write, but I didn’t have enough sense to know it was one of the talents he hired me for. My insecurity convinced me that he had the problem. Any decent leader is going to use the gifts and talent of their team to achieve goals and objectives and my manager was no exception.
When I went home that night I had a long self-conversation to which I concluded:
- Insecurity blinds you! The conclusions and decisions you make will always be that of a victim.
- Knowing who you are is the foundation to humility.
- Confidence is rooted in humility.
- Candor without humility leads to the confrontation I did that day. Humility and candor are powerful allies.
- Sista girl pose –ineffective!
Insecurity is a leadership killer. Fortunately, I had a manager who saw enough talent in me to work with me. I had a valid point. He agreed that being that giving me all the writing assignments especially when assigned in front of the ‘guys’ did slight me. But my approach to the situation could have been the end of the relationship I had with my manager. Nearly 20 years from the incident, I would have approached it with gratefulness that he recognized the talent, dealt with the issue of me being the group secretary and left the diva-tude at home!