I was recently approached by a grad student-friend who asked me some questions for her Women’s Studies Leadership class. I was flattered that she would consider me to be someone who might have something to contribute, but as I looked through her questions, I quickly realized that I would have to contemplate a bit before replying. This young woman was asking me, as I would have once asked another, and I couldn’t be glib or pithy… I needed to share the insights that I’d found through my life’s leadership journey. When reading my responses, I felt called to share this on my blog… and I hope you agree.
Here are the questions I was given:
2. Work Position Title(s):
3: Family Structure:
1. How did you get interested in your current position?
2. How has leadership played in your life?
3. What was you first experience as a leader?
4. What educational and professional experiences did you have that prepared you for work?
5. Has your journey as a leader ever changed directions?
6. Have you had any mentors? If so, what did you learn from them?
7. As a woman, what challenges have you faced?
Day to Day Life
1. What is a typical day/week like for you?
2. Do you mostly work alone and/or in groups?
3. What major roles and responsibilities do you have?
4. What is the most rewarding part of your work?
5. What is the most challenging part of your work?
1. Where have you found support?
2. How do you find/make balance in your life?
3. How do you balance work, marriage and children?
4. How does your work fit with your identity, values, etc.?
5. How would you rate the stress level in your work?
1. What would you recommend for someone interested in becoming a leader?
2. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to be leaders?
Here are my responses…
1. Alison Blair Althouse (nee: Drum)
2. Event Coordinator, James River Cellars Winery, Glen Allen VA
3. Married for 24+ years with 2 sons (ages 23 and 21)
1. I love working at the winery and sharing our wines with the public. As I spent more and more time at the winery, I found that I had a flair for organizing events at our winery and had a desire to become more involved in the event side of our winery’s business.
2. Leadership is a deliberate decision for me. I have held many varied leadership positions throughout my life and I have learned to “pick my battles” and be very determined when and where I become involved.
3. My first experience as a leader came during my sophomore year of college when I took charge of our Freshman Bash. I volunteered for the position and found that I had an ability to find the “interesting” within the mundane and sometimes tedious sides of leadership.
4. I have held a myriad of volunteer positions that have challenged me to test the waters of leadership before eventually seeking and obtaining paid positions within various organizations.
5. My journey as a leader is constantly changing direction, depending on the needs of my life and my family. Early in my life, leadership seemed more about following what had been done before and guiding others to look toward the pre-determined goals of a specific organization. As I’ve gotten older, I’m less likely to be satisfied by static growth and historic plans. I do my best to try and challenge myself using current technologies and question the viability of protocols in place… are these working? If things aren’t working, how can we make things better?
6. I have had a great number of mentors throughout my life… and each one has shown up at just the “right” time and for the “needed” length of time. The women in my life have continued to provide me with strong female role models throughout my life, but I don’t have a problem seeking mentors (both older and younger than me) as I find a need.
7. I faced challenges when working as the Athletic Director for a boys’ lacrosse team – setting up and organizing their schedules in what had traditionally been a male-dominated world was fun as I exceeded expectations and succeeded where others had failed (or just not flourished). The idea of “catching more bees with honey than with vinegar” was especially helpful – people would much prefer to do something for you if they feel appreciated than if they feel they *have to* do it.
Day to day life:
1. A typical week for me will find me working at the winery 3-4 mornings each week (unless I’m actually included on the schedule), from 8:30AM until 1PM or so. I then go home and start planning/making dinner before Michael comes home from work. I like to make dinner as often as possible – even if the entire family isn’t able to sit down at the table together, I love being able to have food for them to eat at home – it’s part of why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. Spending time together is key, no matter where or how.
2. I work in a small office setting that can vary from 2-5 in number. If conditions warrant, I can do some of my work from home (via my iPad) or using the company laptop, although I much prefer to be around people if possible.
3. I am responsible for coordinating the events that are booked at James River Cellars Winery in Glen Allen, VA. I am also responsible for the Social Media for the winery (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Yelp, etc) and some of the documents created within the winery (wine club newsletter, chalkboards, ID cards, etc), depending on the needs of our manager. I also write and manage a wine blog where I post recipes and wine-related information. (www.fromthebottomofawinebottle.wordpress.com)
4. The most rewarding part of my job is seeing people enjoy our wines – I love doing tastings and introducing people to the non-snobby side of wine.
5. The most challenging part of my job is sometimes figuring out the “how” of a project – learning the different idiosyncrasies and nuances of how my boss has done things in the past with my own abilities and availability.
1. My support comes from my relationship with my husband… he is my rock, my helper, my best confidante, and my favorite sounding board. He knows me well enough to help me keep a strong work/life balance and understands when I need to simply vent with no expectation of answers. He makes me want to be my best at all things and loves me unconditionally. Knowing his complete belief in me has enabled me to take risks I might not otherwise have taken… I am most richly blessed with his love.
2. Balance is hard… I like to go at things 150% but my MS (multiple sclerosis) requires that I rest and recharge more than most. My husband is wonderful at reminding me to take time for *me*…
3. As my kids were growing up, any outside work I did was third in line for my attention. My husband and my boys were the MOST important thing as they were growing up – including their HS and college years. They always know that they (hubby and boys) are my highest priority but I’m able to work my job around them and their needs. Family comes first… no questions asked. My boss is firm on this as well – I couldn’t work for a company that didn’t believe in the importance of family.
4. My sense of identity has been fairly fluid over the years. I have been M’s wife, D’s and E’s mom “forever”… and I will always be in those roles. I’m now learning that there’s no shame in being “the recipe lady” at the winery… and there’s something very satisfying about a job well-done, no matter what it may be. I strive to do the best I can in anything I do… no one can ask more of me.
5. My stress level at work is as high as I make it – if I’m getting too stressed out about something, then I’m not focusing on the joy of my job. I get to work with wine… I get to teach people about wine… if I can’t find the joy in that, then I’m in the wrong business. :)
1. If someone is interested in becoming a leader, whether it be in their community, their church, or at work, my suggestion is to study the characteristics of those leaders you admire. Leaders, in my opinion, are people who are able to gather the strengths of many and raise up those who can contribute most in specific situations. When I was Senior Warden (President of church council) at our parish, we faced a financial difficulty – since my Junior Warden was a CPA and CFO of a local company, I relied on his ability to translate the financial issues to our parishioners, rather than attempt to convey the information myself. There are opportunities for leadership in all aspects of our lives – you simply need to recognize them as such and be confident in your abilities. Learn from the mistakes of others, and those done by yourself, so they aren’t repeated. Recognize when you need to step back to allow for growth. Sometimes the best leader is the one who can recognize when someone else needs to take the helm for awhile.
2. The advise I would pass along to women who want to be leaders would be to use your femininity as an asset and NOT as a crutch. If you’re working with an entire group of men, realize that many will underestimate you, so use that to your advantage. If you’re working with a group of women, you should recognize that there will be a few who will see you as “the competition”, no matter your role in the group. Be firm… be kind… and follow the golden rule…. do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I hope this helps. There’s a terrific book called, “A Single Piece of Paper” that I have found to be an invaluable resource with regards to leadership and finding your leadership style. It was written by a friend/colleague of my husband (Mike Figliulo) and worth the read. I blogged about it on my other blog (beatitudesofmylife.wordpress.com) under the piece called “my maxims”. That might be helpful information to consider.
Wishing you all success as you travel this life’s journey, finding your own style of leadership and coming to grips with the type of leader you want to become.