Monday, April 8, 2013

Leader of the Pack

I have decided to start writing a bit about leadership in this blog - which is tangential at best to the blog's main focus.  However, as I am now leader of my own very tiny pack - Bizz and I plus our frequent visitors, I am finding leadership is often on my mind. 

I have positioned myself in the world as a leader in marketing but if you had known me in high school you would never have thought I was the leader type. I was tall, with thick geeky glasses and pretty quiet.  On yearbook I was faculty editor, and in clubs I ran committees but was never a president type.  A lot of that changed in college, where I was president of things like the biology board and thus was working closely with students and faculty.  But working after college I was back to being one of a group of employees where my boss was definitely the leader, since he directed everything.  Of course this is true in a lab environment where it's all about the experiments and publication which were largely on him.

Grad School became a time when I first encountered true leadership opportunities and took them. I came to run just about every team I was on in business school. I think it was largely due to my packed schedule - full time school, two part time jobs and endless studying.  Being on scholarship meant my ability to stay in school was dependent on my getting above a 3.5 grade point average - which meant you better not get in the way of me getting an A.  My teams always did well because I made sure of it.  In those days I would call my leadership style definitely pack leader - I was driven and you better get on the train with me.

As I read about women in leadership I can see why some of the weaker men (my school was 20% female so most if not all of my team mates were men) may have felt I was a - no other way to say it - a bitch.  In fact one guy decided to take me on directly during a team meeting.  The four of us were working on a project on the elasticity of pricing for custom calling features for Rochester Telephone. The three guys and I were all marketing majors.  One of them was a real slacker - showing up for meetings but doing nothing but criticize what the rest of us were doing.   Gordon (no last names here) came to one meeting when we were finishing up the project and decided to cause a bit of trouble. He looked me right in the eye and said, Jerri, did anyone ever tell you that you are a pushy broad. I looked him right in the face and said, Gordon, did anyone ever tell you that you are a short weasel.  Our two team mates both threw back their heads and howled.  While Gordon sputtered and looked for a come back my one team mate told him, Gordon you better just shut up. Jerri is why we are all going to be getting A's. 

Hilariously, Gordon and I both got job offers from the phone company after graduation.  I should have learned the lesson then that you have to self promote - Gordon had sold his hiring manager that he had done the work on the project through his resume and his talk, while my hiring manager knew what I had done since she was my point of contact at the phone company during the project.  It was there I also learned to question everything on a resume since you can say you did anything in writing, but you need to dig down to learn the truth.  The irony was he was in my starting group at the company and never showed up for work the first day. He'd gotten another offer from a firm in NY and took off for those greener pastures. 

So what is the point of all this, besides documenting one of my truly favorite stories from grad school?  My point is that leadership is something that does not necessarily come naturally to everyone, it is something inspired by passion and an internal drive.  My drive in school came from my need to maintain my GPA in order to continue in school. My leadership style has evolved over time.  However, with Bizz that old command control has come back a bit in our training. I was teased that he was training me but I'm learning to be the pack leader and I think it's a good thing for both of us. 

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