I recall the first time I heard Dredd (the co-founder of F3 Nation) speak. He was invited to lecture at our couples Sunday school class. My husband and all of the other F3 brothers were giddy with anticipation. For a class that regularly draws about 40 people, it was standing room only. Dredd began to speak and the men are excited and darn near high-fiving (in church!)…and I likewise found him very engaging. He’s a great speaker and storyteller; however the longer he spoke, the madder I got. I kid you not by the time he wrapped up, my arms were crossed against my chest and I was sporting a McKayla Maroney scowl.
I introduced myself to Dredd at the end. I told him (finger wagging) that women need friendships like this too! Women thrive on activity! Women love being challenged! Women desire to act with purpose! And what do you think Dredd’s response was?
A respectful, “…Okay, but I wouldn’t know…”
For folks that know Dredd, this is a ridiculously brief utterance. However it was perfectly accurate. How could he know? And how in the world could he solve a problem he would never be privy to?
Honestly, I didn’t know at the time if “FiA” had even started yet. We might have still been “F4.” The start date is irrelevant because my understanding of what FiA meant for me would take another year to develop. Only recently have I begun to understand one of the central reasons WHY FiA was so important to many of us. Undoubtedly the incredible friendships and fitness are the hook, but honestly, a gal can get that at the YMCA or Cornwell Center.
In early April of 2014, we hosted a FiT (Females in Thought) book club on my patio. We read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Whether you love or hate the book, it’s a great discussion. The ladies of FiA were fired up! My husband was nervous and informed our son to keep clear. “Storm’s a brewing'” were likely his prophetic words.
However, my daughter, Cornflake (her FiA name), was celebrated at our FiA book club! And prior to the meeting, I interviewed her to try to grasp where females fall off the leadership track. It’s either nature or nurture, right? Let’s study the nurture – she watches her mother go to work each day – has since she was an infant. She sees a balanced marriage – where both mother and father tackle household duties. Likewise, she and her brother have comparable chores – among them, she takes out the trash while he handles recycling. She plays soccer, she does math drills…in short, we are not raising a pink-from-head-to-toe-princess.
Neither did my parents for that matter. I’m an only child – primarily raised by a stay-at-home dad. Yes, you read that correctly – my mom worked while my dad did most of the Guinevere-raising…in the 70’s, no less. And my father taught me all of the typical girl stuff…like learning algebra for fun, learning how to throw a football with the perfect English, and how to shoot a bb gun. Yet for all of the “I-wish-I-had-a-boy” dad nurturing, I was still reticent to speak up in meetings or to lead projects. Only recently has that changed – so what gave me the confidence to speak up and lean in?
1) I am raising a son.
I saw firsthand that boys are born with innate courage and a lack of self-doubt. When my son was around five, I informed him that we would “play golf” in the afternoon once he had a lesson with the pro. My son confidently responded that he didn’t need a lesson because he already knew how to play. Now since he had never even held a club before, this would be a clever trick.
But it was my “a-ha” moment.
Many males speak up – and confidently! – even if they’re only somewhat sure they are right. I would sit frozen in a meeting – and suffer through assertively relayed inaccuracies (nearly all made by men); all because I was only 90% sure I was right. Does this sound familiar? There are times when nothing but 100% confidence should be tolerated, but let’s be clear, I don’t save lives for a living. I’m in commercial real estate finance – famous for ready-shoot-and-only-sometimes-aim atmosphere. I’m also in a business full of men; therefore I was getting run over because of my analysis paralysis. I decided to start winging it too, fighting my nature a bit… Leaning In, if you will.
And the second thing that changed in my leadership journey? FiA.
It wasn’t until the morning after the Lean In book club that the lightbulb went off. As I said, we had a great and lively discussion. And true to form, FiA’s didn’t just point out that there was a lean out problem or bemoan that life’s not fair. We challenged each other to figure out how or why FiA could be a solution. We didn’t quite get there that night, but the seed was planted. And the next day, it came to me.
How does one get better at leading? Holding a book club doesn’t do much; attending a conference – meh; setting up mentoring programs, maybe a little better. But Malcolm Gladwell knows. To get better at tennis, guitar, math or leading…
You practice it.
How in the world do you practice leadership and how could FiA affect this? Heck, we’d been getting together for over a year and we love our newfound abs and friends, but were we secretly, silently accomplishing something more? Yes, and it was so double-secret that we didn’t even notice it happening.
Now I am sure some of you FiA vets are thinking, “Huh? What were we doing? I thought we were simply getting faster and stronger?” And yes, we were. But here’s what else we were doing. We met every morning, before sunrise and set up a mock leadership event. A woman, who may usually speak softly and may often be interrupted in day-to-day life, she learned to carefully prepare the workout and to speak loudly if she wanted people to hear and follow her fitness cues. What else did we do? We recruited 10+ women to “act” as an audience/meeting participants/followers. She says jump; they do it. She says run over there; they do it. She says do a push-up. Yep, they do it.
And, to top it off, she received real and immediate feedback on her efforts. Was she ill prepared? Well, she’ll notice the impatience. Was she not clear in her instructions? She’ll notice women went in all sorts of wrong directions. Was she too quiet in her delivery? The gals will talk right over her. And if she does a great job where every woman is included and challenged? Then they tell her “Awesome lead!” at our Closing Circle and beg her to lead again. Yes, not only did we gently correct her mistakes, we also reinforced great leadership behaviors. Through FiA we didn’t just talk about leadership as a nebulous, good-luck-finding-it nirvana…
…we made it a reality.
Pretty stealthy, huh?
Don’t worry, I missed it too. Was it the original purpose of FiA? I have no idea. We just wanted to be as goofy-happy as our husbands (thanks, F3!) and have our own “high-fives” during a Bible study. I can say without a doubt I feel blessed to have forged some amazing female friendships.
Wheels once said her closest friends have been made while her running shoes were on. Upon reflection, I know that is true for me as well. I have met women who thrive on physical activity; women I get to know not because our kids are in the same preschool class, or our husbands work together, or she lives down the street (no disrespect there…those can all be great friends too). But it is the women who wake before 5am, who make us belly laugh before 6am, and lift us up to become a better mothers, daughters, employees, wife, sisters, friends and LEADERS… those are friends we should use our buff arms to hold onto tightly.