September 20, 2013
Unclogging the Drain by Lynette Meck
I have a bathroom sink. Not too long ago it clogged. I tried chemicals. This did not help. Unfortunate, because this represented the sum total of what I know to do with a clogged drain. I’m just not mechanically inclined.
I waited. Perhaps it would fix itself? Procrastination didn’t work either. I knew there had to be an intermediate step between Drano and calling the plumber. I got frustrated.
So I stuck my head underneath the sink. I saw a pipe that could be unscrewed in two places. Without tools! So I unscrewed it. What I saw in the pipe was not pretty. I cleaned out the pipe and screwed it back together, maneuvering the ends so everything matched up.
Turning on the water, I smiled as it gushed down the drain.
I had no idea I could do this. This process, which took barely 30 minutes of my time, gave me an immense sense of satisfaction. The satisfaction went far beyond the unclogged drain. I had learned something new. I had accomplished something that, until then, I was certain I could not do.
I proudly told my husband what I’d done and how I’d done it. “One more stereotype down the drain!”
Why the perception that I was incapable of something that turned out to be so simple?
Upon examination, there were lots of reasons.
I grew up thinking that this is work that plumbers do. Or, if not a plumber, at least a man. I had never known a female plumber.
High school career clubs for girls emphasized becoming nurses, teachers, homemakers and bookkeepers. These were the messages I received through much of my early life — messages I absorbed without realizing it. The models I was exposed to and the experiences of others framed what I came to consider possible.
How often do we allow unexamined images like these to define us or pigeon-hole others with whom we interact? How do they define the way we lead and supervise others? Oh that’s just how Joe is. Or, Jane has always worked in the shipping department. She is good with her hands. She doesn’t think very fast.
A man was asked if he could play the violin. “I don’t know,” he replied. “I never tried.” Until we try, and give others an opportunity to try, we don’t know what we, or Joe, or Jane, are capable of doing.
As a leader, be a model for others as you explore and develop your own skills and capabilities. Identify one thing you would like to do, but never believed you could.
Ask your colleagues and those you supervise what they think they do well and in what areas they’d like to grow. Invite them to talk about their dreams and perceived obstacles to realizing them. Encourage them to think differently about things they believe they cannot do, or haven’t tried.
Leaders, the people they lead, and ultimately their companies will grow together as they send old stereotypes and perceived limitations down the drain.