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Reflection – Annie Wolf Mendoza

by on November 21, 2007

On Friday November 3rd Becca posted a reflection. In her reflection she made reference to an article I found at the beginning of the quarter. I saw the title and thought it looked interesting, so I passed it on to her. However, I didn’t actually read it myself until just a few days ago. While I found the article interesting, I didn’t find it very powerful or exceedingly useful. The author just barely scratched the surface of a topic to which I feel she could make some important contributions.
The article is called The Three Keys to a Successful Change by (retired) Colonel Kimberly Olson. Colonel Olson discusses her experience in the United States Air Force, which began at a time when legislation had been recently passed forcing numerous branches of the military to open positions to women. Throughout her career she has come up against innumerous barriers. One of her commanders even told her flat out that he believed she had no business in the military, much less serving in the Air Force. She explains the cultural change that occurred in the Air Force due to the new legislation and how she made the best of a frustrating situation. Through her discussion of the change, she identifies what she believes are the three key elements to successful change.
The first element Colonel Olson identifies is ‘encirclement’. Encirclement means surrounding oneself with people who will be supportive no matter what. She emphasizes the need for diversity in this “circle”, explaining that people from different backgrounds have different ideas, ideas that may not be apparent in a group of people with similar backgrounds. The second element is ‘empowerment’. Colonel Olson explains that it is important to empower oneself as well as those in lower levels in the organization. She says that until those in lower levels have the power to make decisions, change will not occur successfully. The last element is ‘engagement’. Engagement refers to how much energy, time, and effort is put into the change process. She warns that too much or too little engagement can be the demise of a successful change process.
For the most part I think Colonel Olson’s three key elements are important and well thought out, and she does fairly well describing them and their importance in her article. However, I found her arguments somewhat vague and in many places she used examples that didn’t fit very well into her arguments. For example, in her discussion of empowerment she says, “we didn’t want to just open doors for women in the military, we wanted to take them off the hinges. Military women empowered themselves”. She follows that quote by identifying the need to empower those in lower levels; to give them the power to make decisions and to delegate responsibilities. She doesn’t talk about how a leader empowers herself which is something she highlights as being an important part of any successful change.
Another aspect of the article that I felt greatly weakened its value is the lack of cited references. In the beginning she throws out a statistic, saying that seven out of every ten entrepreneurs are women. Towards the end of the article she asks, “Is this why women handle change better, because they understand and appreciate the balance of a hands-on approach with a light touch?”. I am not trying to argue that her statements aren’t true, they very well may be true, however without a credible reference they are greatly weakened.
When I first found this article and saw the title I thought it would be useful. When I saw that it was written by a woman Colonel with 25 years of experience, a lot of which includes leadership experience in a field known for major change, I thought it would be a really valuable and interesting article, especially for me; a woman interested in pursuing a career in leadership. Unfortunately I did not find it to be what I had hoped and actually ended up feeling rather irritated with the author. In today’s world there are just as many opportunities for women as there are for men, but I think most women would agree that prejudice still exists and that women sometimes have to work much harder than men to achieve the same goals. If the author is going to make statements about the accomplishments and inherent talents of women, she should provide a reference, that way when someone wants to defend her position about the superiority of women as change agents[*] she will have a source to back up her statement.

References
Olson, K. (2007, July/August). The three keys to a successful change. Women in Business, 8-12

[*] This is what the author believes. For the record, I do not hold the same opinion. I don’t believe gender is a determining factor in good change agents.

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