Taking the Stage: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: March 20th, 2015 by bobmorris

Taking the StageTaking the Stage: How Women Can Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed
Judith Humphrey
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Brand (2015)
 
How almost anyone “can find their own strong voice, seize new opportunities to lead, and advance their career”
 
The title refers to any situation (at work or elsewhere) in which there is an opportunity speak up, stand out, and achieve whatever the given objective(s) may be. As Judith Humphrey explains, “Every time you walk up to that podium, or stand in front of an audience, or meet with a client or a boss, there are expectations that you will influence and inspire your listeners.” Although written primarily to help women who are reluctant to “take the stage,” whatever the circumstances may be, the information, insights and counsel she provides can be of incalculable value to almost anyone who yearn to be much more effective when interacting with others.  
 
Countless men as well as women are wholly unprepared for situations in which they are unexpectedly called upon to address an especially serious issue or to suggest how to respond to a crisis or to evaluate a major change in the competitive marketplace. It’s not enough to know what to say or even how to say it. You also need to develop a self-image based on that knowledge that becomes what Humphrey characterizes as a “center stage mindset”: (a) You are worthy of the limelight, you’ve earned it on merit; (b) Seize every appropriate opportunity to shine, not show off; and (c) refuse surrender to opposition or resistance.
 
There is one other component that I wish to add to this mindset: principled dissent. In her brilliant book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain has much of value to say about the immensely difficult task of examining the advantages and disadvantages of being primarily an introvert as well as those of being primarily an extrovert. I use the term “primarily” in the context of culture as well as one’s temperament, personality, preferences, tendencies, and (yes) volition. “If given a choice…” is a helpful phrase. Some people dread being the center of attention whereas the behavior of others indicates a pathological need for it. Not all introverts are shy and reluctant, however, and not all extroverts are bombastic and impulsive. Moreover, expediency can also come into play. As Walt Whitman affirms in “Song of Myself,” each person is “large”…and contains “multitudes.”
 
Humphrey can help both introverts and extroverts to develop the mindset as well as the skills and self-confidence they need to “take the stage” effectively.
 
 These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me (in Parts One and Two), also listed to suggest the scope of Humphrey’s coverage:
 
o How Women Will Advance (Pages 7-9)
o [Why] Women Are Reluctant to Stand Out (16-18)
o Three steps to develop a “center stage” career (29-33)
o [How to] Develop a Political “Sixth Sense” (38-40)
o Avoid Aggressiveness: It Doesn’t Work for Women or Men (44-46)
Note: I presume to add that all of the hundreds of CEOs with whom I have worked closely with over the years have been ladies and gentlemen.
o  [The Mindset Needed for] Promoting Yourself in Every Situation (53-57)
o Five domains in which courage may be needed (60-64)
o [How to] Hold Your ground when challenged (67-74)
Note: My own opinion is that Humphrey’s advice will also help those who feel ambushed in the workplace.
o Self-defeating behaviors (80-86)
o Self-defeating verbal and body language 89-92)
o Self-assertion script (96-101)
o Master interaction script (103-107)
o How to craft career-advancing conversation (109-115)
o How to elevate an “elevator script” (117-122)
 
When concluding here book, Humphrey observes, “Life can be a great performance if you think of yourself as being on stage and seeing every situation as an opportunity to inspire your audience.” I agree while again suggesting that the material in this book can be of incalculable value to men as well as to women, especially to men who supervise women. But with all due respect to the extended metaphor  (i.e. stage, performers, “lines” of a play or script, audience, etc.), all of us every day have dozens (if not hundreds) of interactions with other people during which we can shine by sharing knowledge, by helping to answer questions, by helping to solve problems, and by in every other possible way to serve their needs, to nourish their personal growth and/or professional development.
 
All organizations need people to do that. So do communities. It is also in our own best interests to speak up when something needs to be said, take action when something needs to be done, and to stand out when a proper example needs to be set. In this context, I am again reminded of what Margaret Mead once suggested:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” That is the “success” which Judith Humphrey envisions and it requires a best effort by everyone involved.

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