Twelve UOPX faculty, students, and staff participated in the International Leadership Association's 3rd Biennial Women and Leadership Conference.
Deciding on Your Focus Area
Deciding on Your Focus Area
If you’re reading this BLOG, perhaps you’ve already jumped the biggest hurdle I had to leap to get started in my effort to become a scholarly leader – I had to decide what area of scholarship I wanted to be a leader in! I found this challenging! I had a difficult time recognizing that I wanted to focus on women and leadership. Now, it seems so obvious, but the choice eluded me for years!
I’d been an early woman leader at IBM, but that was just who I was, I didn’t recognize it was an area for study! In my master degree classes at Columbia and then later at Boston University, I focused on strategy. I’d become very intrigued by technology strategy while with IBM and had a wonderful time studying it. But, then what? People laugh when I say I didn’t think a little old lady would have much credibility in the young men’s world of high tech – but I didn’t find it all that funny! I floundered for years before I realized, after teaching leadership in the doctoral program at the University of Phoenix for several years, where my practice and scholarly worlds came together.
Women and leadership is a pretty big umbrella though – how would I decide where to focus under that umbrella? Again, the decisions that seem obvious now took quite a while to emerge and followed a twisting path. Fortunately, one of my UOPX colleagues, Dr. Anastasia Metros, who has now returned to focus for a while at least in the world of leadership practice, was there to share this path with me. I thought I wanted to focus on older women and leadership – she humored me and we began looking at the life stages literature to help us build a base. Students were anxious to help. Another student was interested in women on boards, so we started thinking about older women on boards. We went to Asilomar 2013 and hosted some lunchtime discussions – to our dismay, we didn’t generate much enthusiasm when we spoke of older women leaders. We found no great review of the relevant literature on life stages and that seemed like an opportunity. Even though we had two students working with us we didn’t feel the review we were doing was even scratching the surface and knew it was far too superficial and missing important sources (I’ve continued to learn of other key sources as I move ahead on other topics). With another student we started working on older women on boards. We submitted a poster on our emerging older women on boards proposal and had it accepted by the International Conference on Management, Leadership, and Governance (ICMLG). Having the poster accepted was exciting, but we started to realize that US boards have lots of older people on them already, even if most were men. At least initially, adding younger people including women seemed more important than adding older women.
None of these first projects panned out, but they played a formative role in each of the streams I am involved with now, women board members’ roles in board decision-making and women’s development of their leader identities. I’m convinced the latter will, someday, provide grounding for a study of what women over 70 who have strong leader identities do in their mature years. But that is well in the future. Each stream is with a research team and we’re in the midst of some great projects; I’ll write more about each team and our activities (both our successes and our failures) in future weeks.
It wasn’t easy choosing a focus area and it involved many false starts! It took a while to figure out what my passions were and to align them with those of other potential research partners and the world of scholarly leadership. I’m still learning how to work with students when I’m not their instructor. I’m still learning how to be an effective member of research teams. But, I’ve learned that the false starts are also valuable; whatever we do, I learn a great deal that will be valuable in upcoming projects – I learn about the literature, I learn about methodologies, I learn about working with others, and I learn about joining the world of scholarly leadership.
So if you’re thinking of getting started and aren’t too sure whether your idea is a good one – just do it! You can learn from your mistakes. Your ideas will evolve. Your time won’t have been wasted. And if you are looking for help identifying Women and Leadership areas where research is needed, be sure to check out the Women and Leadership Researchers Group support available to help you select a research topic!
If you have comments or questions I’d love to hear from you! Lynne.Devnew@gmail.com