Leading With Paradox – Notes from a Feminist’s Son

Felice Schwartz

 

She was obsessed with fairness

A woman of great certainty who saw the world in black and white.

Later in her life she asked me to teach her about gray.

He was gentle, sweet and unreservedly supportive.

Tony Schwartz

 

His mother, Felice Schwartz, founded Catalyst, an organization that expands opportunities for women and business using each to promote and evolve the other. You may know Tony as a writer for Harvard Business Review as well as President and CEO of The Energy Project and author of the best selling book Be Excellent at Anythin. For NOW, in this post, he is his mother’s son. What follows is excerpted from an April 2011 interview with Tony to discover how Felice Schwartz influenced his leadership. I discovered way more than that, and trust you will too.

Why and how did your mother start Catalyst?

She had been intentionally out of the workplace for a decade while raising her children. When she wanted to go back she found no ramps, no stairways and no doors, so she started an organization to enable women with children to combine work and family. She gathered five board members, all deans of colleges including Smith, her own alma mater. She then set out to convince companies they were losing money by failing to hire these talented women. My mother also co-authored a book entitled How to Go to Work When Your Husband Is Against It, Your Children Aren’t Old Enough, and There’s Nothing You Can Do Anyhow.

This section is from The Jewish Women’s Archive* and not part of Tony’s interview

Catalyst’s original mission was:

“to bring to our country’s needs the unused abilities of intelligent women who want to combine work and family.” Felice Schwartz was determined to put Catalyst’s definition,

“in terms that were acceptable and non-threatening.”

What was you Dad’s reaction?

He idolized my mother. He was awed by who she was and what she did. He was extremely proud of her. All the while, he too was a very accomplished man, a scientist and educator who worked at the graduate level in a medical school. He was gentle and sweet, accepting and non-judgmental – not at all macho. He was the gentle soul in our family, probably more like a traditional mother – sweet and accepting. He was very beloved, naturally kind, and as unreservedly supportive a person as you can imagine. At times my mother was bloodied by the battle she was fighting. He was the one she came to for support and unconditional love.

How did your parents inform who you are as a leader?

My life’s mission is profoundly influenced by my mother. It was not always easy between us, so it is a great irony to me that the work about which I am most passionate is so similar to what she was passionate about. I too am committed to her fierce belief that we are here to make a difference, to make the world better. She fought for women to have jobs they otherwise wouldn’t have. I am fighting for people to have lives they otherwise wouldn’t have. It is a natural evolution of her work.

Most of the qualities great leaders need today are those described as female – tolerance for paradox, self awareness, empathy, sensitivity. I also believe it is critical for the leader to be aware of how people in the company are feeling. I learned about sensitivity to others more from my father than from my mother.

Integrating the Paradox – Celebrating the Opposites

The way I think about leadership integrates what I learned from my father as a role model about the people and my mother as a role model about the mission. I also think I was influenced by their lack of concern about traditional roles. I always assumed my wife would work and that we would share parenting.

At a conceptual level I engage and embrace opposites. The Greek notion of Anacoluthia (ideas that are out of sequence and do not naturally follow each other) holds that no virtue is a virtue by itself. For example, tenacity without flexibility is stubbornness. Seeing the world in certain black and white terms does not serve us well in these times. To me, it is almost axiomatic that to be a great leader today means to have an embracing view of the world and to be capable of holding the tension between seemingly opposite qualities.

Tony Schwartz

  • Confidence and Humility
  • Toughness and Tenderness
  • Courage and Prudence
  • Brutal Honesty and Empathy
In the workplace, we have overvalued the traditionally masculine qualities I’ve listed (above on the left) and undervalued the traditionally feminine ones (on the right). Great leaders are capable of valuing opposite qualities and moving between them with flexibility. The impulse is to choose up sides because it creates for us the illusion of a safer world. But the world is too complex for that. It is unequivocally a both-and, not so much an either-or.
I learned a lot of these lessons growing up in a non-traditional family where everything was questioned.

*Accessed from Jewish Women’s Archive http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/schwartz-felice-nierenberg on 5/24/11

 

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