How I decided to write a book
I taught my first course on leadership in organizations in the late 1990s, when the internet was still shiny and new, when people were still debating whether email should be considered “official company communication,” and were wondering whether all computers would somehow implode when dates rolled over to 1/1/00 in an event ominously named “Y2K.”
We were already exploring questions of power and control, and the mis-fit of industrial-age management styles to the rising “knowledge economy” back then. Some of us were starting to write about the importance of inclusion and the power of different voices to foster innovation and drive breakthroughs, but our work was not “mainstream.”
I often found myself turning to sociology, and women’s studies, and political science, and ethnic studies, and looking at interdisciplinary work to make sense of things that went largely unaddressed in the leadership literature:
- what conditions foster voice and what inhibits it?
- what empowers people to operate autonomously?
- what makes change easier or harder?
- what favors collaboration over siloed thinking?
What I found was sparse and disconnected. When I walked into my classroom to teach on 9/12/01, my students were hungry for something, anything, that might help them make sense of how the world had changed. In the weeks (and years) that followed, we turned to theories of dialogue to explore how we might forge deeper understandings across differences.
Eventually, I left the university to work with leaders in organizations all over the world grappling with the same question. During those years I was often the first, only, or youngest woman in the room and spent the earliest years of the 21st century searching for “my people.” I looked for leadership books by or about women and wondered if there were others out there having a similar experience to mine. I could see that the “Opt-out Revolution” was raced and classed and also that those of us who were still opting in were largely invisible in both academic and popular writing.
The more successful I became on the surface, the less connected I felt to friends, family, and, sometimes, even to my own…