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Gender Issues in Management
The Military

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Lessons From The Military

Most men, even if they have not served in the armed forces, are also socialized to some extent by a knowledge or understanding of the military, even if only through watching war movies. Learn from the lessons of the military what can work for you in management.

Lesson One  Respect for the chain of command
You obey your commanding officer simply because he is your commanding officer and outranks you, regardless of how you feel about him personally and even regardless of his competence. 

Women who recognize this kind of behaviour in men they work with can use it to their advantage. Speak a language he understands. You don't have to like it or agree with it, just to recognize that many men respond naturally to it. Management styles are changing in the 1990's, but for most of your working career, there will still be a large number of men out there who think in military terms. Don't cry about it! Use it.

If your tyrannical boss constantly takes your ideas as his own, the rules of the game say you can't go over his head to his commanding officer to complain and you can't sabotage the project just to get even, not if you're a company woman and plan to rise through the ranks. You have three choices: you can buckle under and obey, you can quit, or you can work to try to change things but with respect for the man's position. Don't risk your own career trying to do side-step lines of authority. Unless you work in a place with a strong labour union or a university with tenure, nothing will finish your chances for promotion faster. 

Tell it to the Marines You can use his archaic male-dominated military style thinking to your advantage. If you are a manager with a subordinate male worker who won't do what you say, don't get angry, don't feel hurt and frustrated, let him know that he is to follow your orders simply because you are in charge. 

You do this either in direct words or, more often, by your attitude, your carriage, your way of speaking to him that reminds him of the military lessons he knows almost intuitively, whether he's ever served in the forces or not, that he must respect your orders simply because you are his superior officer.

waving hand Exercise
Chain of Command
What have you learned about the Chain of Command from being a student that you can carry into management in the work world? 
Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group.

Lesson Two  One of the best lessons from the military is the wonderful phrase, that I learned from my colleague Leo Gallant, an Accounting professor in the St. Francis Xavier's School of Business: 

Choose Your Hill To Die On

Not all battles can be won; not all hills can be taken; not all battles are worth the cost of winning; not all hills can be taken without sustaining grievous losses; sometimes your troops or your artillery are not up to the fight. A strategic retreat beats an inglorious defeat any day. There ARE some battles you must fight, some hills on which you will be willing to stand and die before you will give it up. But choose these verrrrrry carefully! In military terms, you only have one life to give to your country. In management terms, you only have limited resources and energy. 

Lesson Three  Respect for the trappings of authority

star and stripes on uniformmedal

corner office

Stripes, badges, medals. Don't miss out on them. Don't underestimate their importance. They identify the important players, and distinguish their positions. Too often, women say 'thank you' to a salary and title without a second thought to what else they ought to get. If you are a manager and other managers all have an office with a window and a view, you need one too. If other Vice Presidents get memberships in the country club, you need one too. If other senior managers get a signing bonus when they come aboard, you need one too, or you will simply not be seen as a serious player.

Lesson Four  Learn to Take Risks

Another thing that boys are raised with, better than most girls, is learning how to take risks. If you want to succeed in life, you have to take some risks.

In order to succeed, either on the battlefield or in life, one sometimes must take some risk. Women aren't generally raised to take risks, and even when we do, we don't recognize it or admit it. I've spoken at many workshops where I've heard women say things like,  The game of Risk
"I'm not a risk taker, not at all," then two minutes later, she's telling you, "Two years ago, I left an abusive marriage in Calgary, picked the kids up one night and hitched a ride to Toronto with a neighbour; didn't know anyone here, but I managed to get a job, get the kids into school, and now we're all doing pretty well." (true story). A pretty brave woman, even if she's not willing to call herself a risk taker. I did this for years -- insisted I was not a risk taker. Then I began to take a look at my life! 

For most of us, it's better to practice risk taking first in relatively safe places. Don't just go into your boss' office tomorrow morning and threaten to leave if he doesn't shape up. That may be a little too much risk all at once. Practice in small ways first. A good way is to practice doing things that traditionally have been done mostly by men, or things that have terrified you, or which you believed you could never do. 

I learned to change an electric light fixture in my kitchen, not the bulb, but the actual fixture, when my husband was laid up with a broken leg. I am almost as proud of that light fixture as I am of my doctoral degree that hangs around the corner from it in the hall. 

When I was on my first sabbatical, I learned to drive a John Deere Tractor. I have a little model of that tractor that sat on my desk for years. I used to take it with me to difficult department meetings (all of them) to remind myself that no one would mess with someone who could control all that power. Click on the link to see me on my tractor. John Deere tractor
real rabbit's foot I also have a rabbit's foot, but it's got too long and difficult a tale (pun intended) attached to it to tell here on the Internet. Suffice it to say that you can see here that it doesn't have that little metal ring on the end like the ones you buy ready-made, and it represents one of the riskiest but best things I ever did in my life. 

It's good to push the limits of risk if you're traditionally a non- or low-risk taker, but don't over do it; don't fall for the general belief touted in so many business magazines that you have to climb the bottom half of Mt. Everest or go white water rafting in order to experience risk and thereby live life to its fullest. Take risks where you must and where you think you can succeed, but don't over do it. 

waving hand Exercise
Think about a time you did something really risky, but which turned out well and was important to you in terms of your progress at work or school. What symbol might you put on your desk to remind you of how much you can do if you really want to?
Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group.  

Sheryl Sandberg's Book Lean In

waving hand Exercise
Sandberg and the Military
How does Sheryl Sandbert's book Lean In help you further understand the topic of this unit?
Post your answer in the Moodle  Discussion Group.

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AP/ADMS/WMST3120 3.0 Gender Issues in Management
York University, Toronto
M Louise Ripley, M.B.A., Ph.D.