Saturday, August 7, 2010

Woo is a Strength

The 28 years prior to this last one of me 'being 4' were spent in the belly of corporate America.  To get to the belly, of course, one must be chosen, tested, tasted, consumed then swallowed - sometimes whole.  And once in the belly, the corporation works on digesting the consumed into something useful to the corporation and, many times, unrecognizable to what that 'one' once was. 

This isn't being bitter.  This is just being honest about the experience.

I often wondered, after the many interviews for the various positions starting with the original and then slogging through the 'lateral' moves and the actual promotions that followed, why would they interview me, choose me, place me, then want me to be different?  My manner of 'being' in an interview was to always - always! - be authentic to the best of my ability.  I always figured - and later coached people - that if the interviewer liked who they saw in an interview and ultimately chose that person, no one would ever be disappointed in the hire or the resulting job - not the interview-er or -ee. 

But.

Invariably along the way the message came across 'we love you, now change'.....(there is a play with a similar title and I am not trying to usurp their creative product... it's just what I want to say.)

For a lot of years of my life this message just seemed to go along with the new job.  Once the new position was landed, the newly hired me went through some amazing metamorphosis that included getting 'less good' at what stood out so brightly in the interview.  (Many will recognize this strange tendency for employees to be less admired or heard , I am sure.  It is why consultants are so popular and so well paid and why so many people once they leave their company will be accepted right back as a consultant...probably making more money!)

And that just never made sense to me.  I didn't change.  I didn't embellish to get the job.  I knew I would have to grow to fit a new position, but a learning curve was an expectation of mine that I never thought unreasonable.  It sounds like I am saying no one was ever pleased with my performance, and that is far from being the case.  But there seemed to be a lot of trying to make me into something different -  something un-Ruth.

My loving husband just reminded me that for most of the years I was working my way up the ladder, corporations were trying to diversify; hiring something other than white males.  His comment is very astute.... they were hiring others but hoping for them to fit the same mold.  'It' looked different, but they wanted 'it' to act the same.

My last position -which I loved with a passion - was a training position which went hand in hand with a lot of different kinds of self assessments to be used in the classes that were given ranging on any number of different criteria from leadership style, emotional intelligence, communication style to personality style or conflict resolution style, etc.  You get the picture.

One of the last, hottest assessments we were using looked at what a person's 'strengths' were.  The idea was that working with strengths was a heck of a lot more productive than trying to 'correct' weaknesses and everyone seemed to agree with that!  Books were purchased, tests were taken, personal strengths were identified and workshops were scheduled to look at the individual's strengths to identify how teams were diversified and how best to work with those individual strengths.

The trouble began after the assessments started being taken and results disseminated.  It became quickly apparent that, in the opinion of many 'leaders', there were good strengths - the kind you wanted more of on your team and even considered interviewing for - and bad strengths - the ones that raised eyebrows and were considered risky or questionable.  Sidebar conversations could be overheard (easily) discussing who 'had' which strength and now having the easy answer to why people acted the way they did. 

Now to say that this was completely NOT in keeping with the intentions of the program is to truly understate intentions.

The workshops did let people know strengths could be over-used, which then made them liabilities, but the bottom line was the message that strengths were just that - strengths.  And when one worked to their strengths, really great things could be expected.  And joy. 

My number one 'strength' is identified with the simple, strange word of 'WOO'. 

So, what does it mean, to be strong at 'Woo'?  Allow me to explain further, and I quote; "Woo stands for winning others over."  Strangers aren't scary, in fact they can be enthralling (this was always a problem for my mom!)  A Woo-er loves getting into conversations, making people comfortable, making connections, then moving on.  There aren't strangers, only unmet friends.

Oh, that is me!

I loved getting this assessment!  For the first time I felt like some corporate one out there finally 'got' me!

Unfortunately, Woo was not a popular strength in my particular fold of corporate America, which was made clear in those 'overheard' sidebar conversations.   Managers said they would ask strength questions in an interview and if 'Woo' came up, would avoid it at all costs.  If a team member were struggling, 'Woo' might be the 'well, it figures' diagnosis, but with no real prescription other than weeding it out.  Jokes were made at the expense of 'Woo'-types, not realizing that a 'Woo' was in the room.

My strength started to become something I wouldn't divulge unless it was absolutely necessary.  Kind of like having herpes - if you were just flirting, nobody needs to know, but if you are going any further, better say something. 

Then I started doing my own self-assessing. I began to embrace this identified strength and listen to my heart and not the murmurings of others.  If others have a problem with someone like me, maybe it isn't my problem.   

Everything that made me who I am - the authentic Ruth that I had been praying for all these years - isn't a problem.  I am the person who loves to walk into a room and meet everyone.  I am the person who believes friends are around each and every corner. I am the person who understands that people want most to be seen - really seen - in this world and go about seeing them and loving what I see.  I am the person who listens - and hears - what others have to say and generally remember it after.  My family calls me 'The Governor' because we are always the last ones leaving church.

I never learned why my company tended to sideline 'Woo's, because I determined that being authentic was more important than being corporately acceptable.  On one of my last evaluations the comment was made that my  'enthusiasm can be overwhelming'.. and it wasn't meant as a strength. 

I am a Woo.

And that is good enough for me.

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