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Persistent and Brave Leadership is How the First Woman Speaker of the House Made History

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She hammered the gavel and said "And the bill is passed". Contemporaneous with the nation commemorating Women's History Month, Nancy Pelosi will go down in history for taking the deciding vote that led to the nation's biggest health care reform in about 50 years. Against many odds, including the double standard that women face, how was the first woman Speaker of the House able to pull off such a feat? Two words: persistence and courage.

First, Speaker Pelosi demonstrated persistence and courage by deciding on a course of action and continuously moving toward it until success. It is not unusual for leaders, especially those working in the political realm, to meet resistance at some point. For women in the face of the double standard it is not a question of challenge, rather the degree of pressure. Those holding stereotypes about women being weak frequently turn up the heat attempting to intimidate a woman into changing her position. In the case of health care legislation, opposition was unrelenting. These efforts were to force Pelosi into giving up. However, even with resistance from some within her party, Pelosi stood her ground.

Second, Speaker Pelosi displayed persistence and courage by moving to do what she believed was right in the face of substantial criticism and even threat to her position. So fierce were objections about Ms. Pelosi's stance that it was regularly forecast by her critics that she would lose her job. Leading is not always popular, and there can always be reasons offered to back down. Effectiveness is surer with perseverance. In the face of the real possibility of losing a future election, Pelosi still demonstrated tenacity in fulfilling her responsibilities.

Finally, Speaker Pelosi was persistent and brave in her timing of when to call for a vote. She neither made a false start nor failed to see the finish line. Her critics and supporters alike declared that Pelosi would only take a vote if she knew she would obtain the desired number of votes. In navigating the double standard, this is where the rubber meets the road. At least one previous House Leader was known for calling for a vote when success was uncertain and then arm twisting to ramrod a bill through which for some in comparison would make Pelosi's approach seem timid. However, it should also be taken into consideration that some regarded the coerced approach as negative and ineffective. To me, Pelosi's method was not one of caution, but prudence. It is not smart risk taking to proceed upon a course of action that you know will fail.

In my new book, I caution women leaders to not merely follow in the footsteps of men. My advice is based not only on the fact that the outcome may be very different for them because other men are less likely to accept unruliness from women that they will from a man (process), but the outcome may be very different as well. A woman's failures can be more detrimental to her career. Consequently, once you take a stand on a foundation of what's right - have courage and follow through. Even if you retreat, your opponents are not going to let up anyway. It is more likely that wavering will be regarded as weakness with the net effect of being considered wishy-washy.

Anybody can sit on the sidelines and throw rocks. Anybody can get hit by a rock and move away. The question is whether you can be a rock. Know that often opposition that comes your way is designed to get you to change your position. I'm not advocating that you become stubborn or inflexible in the face of moving in the wrong direction--but if you are right and you are moved by others or what is popular in your decision-making or actions, then you aren't leading - you're following.

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Now that the bill has passed, there is sure to be resentment that Pelosi is the one getting the credit and political capital for her efforts. Hostility from those upset about this victory continues. When asked about her reaction to such negativity, Pelosi said she recognizes that she is a target and is prepared for the "hits." Her attitude can best be described by her declaration to "bring it." Hey, if you have to be disliked for something, it might as well be for having guts and determination - in other words "true grit."

Persistence and courage pays off with pride. Pelosi said that she understood that "all politics is personal" and with the passage of the Health Care Bill being a woman was no longer a pre-existing medical condition. Know that while double standards may or may not be hurled in a personal way, you do not have to take it personal. And just like in Pelosi's leadership situation your persistence and courage can pay off with pride.

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DEA Special Agent in Charge (retired) June Werdlow Rogers (formerly June W. Stansbury) holds a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice and Criminology earned at the University of Maryland. She has 28 years of law enforcement experience from 3 different agencies (more...)
 

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