Why This Woman Paused The Executive Race

January 15, 2012


children racing

Photo credit: flickr member easylocum

After spending the last six years as a director of large central teams, I recently started a job managing a large project where I will only have a handful of direct reports. A few people asked me why I chose to “take a step back”, even though I am part of the senior leadership team in a growing company.  I don’t see it as a step back.

As a woman in a leadership role, I am a bit sensitive to the whole issue of the imbalance between men and women at Executive levels.  I often see articles exploring the reasons and what companies can do to encourage more women to stay in The Executive Race.   Most of the time, I feel the articles have trouble really getting to the heart of the matter, mainly because it is such a complex issue that varies from woman to woman.  So, I thought I would share my perspective as to why I made my recent career choice.

The Race was no longer fun.  This is probably the biggest and most complex reason.   Focusing on my part of it, I asked myself the 5 Whys to get to the heart of the matter:

Why is The Race no longer fun?  Because the stress was affecting my health and happiness.

Why was I stressed? Because it was very difficult to make progress on my goals or vision for my department or for myself.

Why was it difficult to make progress? Because there was a lot of organizational resistance.

Why was there organizational resistance? Because even though my vision aligned with business need, it did not align with the mainstream.

Why didn’t I align with the mainstream? Because it conflicted with my values.

The answer to the last “Why?” is the one thing that I could not change about myself or The Race. Sure, I could have better managed my stress. There were also organizational factors and those factors vary from company to company. Still, I had to question whether The Race itself aligned with my values. I have seen others “drink the kool-aid” and I did not want that to be me.

I wanted to do more of what I love most.   Once I realized that I had a values conflict, I reflected on what I was doing when I was happiest at work.  I love to coach and mentor people, help teams work better to make great products.  These are the greatest rewards of being a manager and they are core to who I am.  I was doing these things in my old role, but I could not devote all of my time to it.  If I did, then I was neglecting other things, creating yet another values conflict.  I could have found ways to make more space in my schedule, but it still would not have been the majority of my time.  Plus, winning The Race would take me further away from what I love to do most.

I have other priorities in my life.  I have always had a wide variety of interests and goals.  The Race requires a lot of dedication and perseverance.  Pursuing and succeeding at my other goals and interests is a lot more fun.   So, it made sense to slow down The Race so I could put my energy into more rewarding personal projects.

I was no longer able to reflect.   I realized this after I started my new job, which surprised me.   Since getting out of The Race, I am able to gain more perspective on myself.  Not being in the middle of The Race means I can objectively observe others in similar situations I have been in.  I have already had a few moments where I realized that I could have taken a different approach.  Sometimes it’s better.  Sometimes it goes against who I am, but even that is good to learn.  Athletes often watch video of their performance and use that feedback to improve.  No one is filming me (or at least I hope not!), so observing others and reflecting on myself is another way to get that feedback.

My new company and my new project are more in line with my values.  My job is almost entirely focused on what I love to do most, and I am making space for personal projects.  I haven’t dropped out of The Race.  I’m just slowing down, pacing myself and taking some time to reflect so when the next opportunity arrives, I am ready for that sprint to the finish line and will do it on my terms.

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About Liza Wood

After a dozen years leading video game development projects in a variety of roles, I decided to pursue a Master of Data Science at the University of British Columbia. Studying data science doesn’t mean I’m moving away from leading people. Growing data science teams need collaborative, pragmatic, Agile leadership to connect data to all areas of the business. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog.

View all posts by Liza Wood

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4 Comments on “Why This Woman Paused The Executive Race”

  1. Leanne Says:

    It makes me wish I were as effectively able to articulate my choices of 3 or 4 years ago… in deciding to change things up dramatically and take risks. It was a scary time, but would have been less scary for those around me, I think if I had been able to express my position this well. Thank you for taking the time, for taking a stand in a different way, against the corporate rat race. Very encouraging, and positive, This post shows how it can be to swim across the flow instead of against it, or going with the wrong flow, and finding yourself on shore at a much more pleasant place


    • Liza Says:

      Thanks! It was a tough post to write — to be honest and stay focused on my part. Maybe some day you’ll be able to explain your choices.



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