I want to talk about the “I can do it all” mindset that many women have. I think the event management process provides the perfect microcosm in which to dissect this illusion.
As a lifestyle philosophy, the belief that “doing it all” is possible places women in a mental state of delusion that keeps us from reaching our full potential.
Why am I addressing women? Because men don’t seem to have this philosophy. In fact they organize their lives around the idea of “not doing it all.” They embrace the concept of delegation. They seem to view power as a simple scenario: the more people you command, the more power you have.
This ideology has helped men succeed and also created the organizational structure that has run our world for thousands of years. Monarchs, prime ministers, and presidents have always governed by delegating to ministries or departments. Generals have always had officers, sergeants, and corporals manage their troops. And corporations also operate through a delegating hierarchy. Take a look at the mostly men (unfortunately) who run companies with vast human resources at their disposal. A CEO has a lot of meetings to get the 35,000-foot view, gives his department heads their marching orders, and doesn’t bother with the day-to-day stuff. A company head that is involved in the minutia is seen as weak.
But some women, for a variety of reasons, seem to view delegation and outsourcing as a sign of “not being able to do it all.” As though delegating is an inherent negative judgment on ability: that it is weakness. This proclivity seems especially true when it comes to events.
If I had a dime for every time I heard a female prospective client say, “Yes we are looking at outsourcing events, but I could do it if I just had the time” -- I’d be rich indeed. The thing that stands out to me is that I’ve never, ever heard a man say that same thing. No man has ever tried to prove to me that the only reason he is interviewing event management companies is because he doesn’t have time but, lest I forget, he does have the ability!
It is my theory that the reason men don’t say this is because they don't see any loss of power in delegating or outsourcing. In fact, I bet if we asked them they would say that if they didn’t have people to outsource or delegate to, it would actually mean they had less power and authority.
The reason this has occurred to me lately is that in every single planning meeting we have with clients, ALL of attendees are women. The only time a man is involved is when we need direction on strategy. But the items on the list of logistics are being done by women. Although each of the clients finds this fact oddly interesting, I see it from the outside as simply business as usual.
The men are the ‘idea people’, the women execute. But isn’t it time we started wondering about this model? Isn’t it time that we, as women, start questioning where our philosophy of power came from?
To me, the philosophy that women only gain power and respect from ‘doing it all’ is a flawed one indeed. It means that we will work the most, and try to accomplish things outside our skill set, all the while trying to prove (without success) that we are extremely adept at each and everything we attempt. For what? Is there a prize at the end of this?
Whereas, I observe men and think they have it rightly figured out. True power is about leadership of human resources and delegation to the best of those resources. Now I do know that people (men & women) misuse power all the time, but for now let’s assume that those who come to power know how to manage it.
Leadership is the ability to find and inspire those who are the best at what they do. This allows you to get people mobilized to do more work than you could ever imagine doing on your own.
This principle applies not only to our work but to our home life too. Once we change our philosophy of power to one which embraces outsourcing and delegating, we actually become more secure in our position, not less. There is no need to prove our ability, because we should assume it is already a given. How we execute the project efficiently, that is the true judgment of our skills, not whether we do it alone.
The one thing I tell every woman who works for me (and at this point it is only women) is that the weakest thing she can say is “I can do it all.” I want them to see that as a sad and disillusioned statement, spoken only by those who intend on an early grave chasing something that can never exist. They should instead focus on discovering their strengths, and determining their weaknesses so they know who to hire on a project, and who to surround themselves with.
We were not intended to do it all. Who told us we should? We were intended to be the best of who we are –and then to delegate, and outsource to those who are excellent at what they do. That is true power, and with that we can create anything – events, conferences or even social change…
An event requires plenty of players, diverse abilities, and skilled expertise, so delegation is truly our greatest asset. We should see it as such. May we never say again, “I can do it all” and smile, because it is an unnecessary phrase from a fruitless struggle long past.