People are talking about Sarah Palin, now that she has burst onto the national political scene. What do you think? Is she ordinary or extraordinary?
Do you think she is “beyond what is usual, ordinary, and regular” — which is the dictionary definition of extraordinary? Is she extraordinary because she is a woman governor? She’s among several. She certainly wasn’t the first female mayor. So does that make her ordinary? Consider that she could be the vice president. Does that make her extraordinary?
I don’t think so.
Palin has five children ranging in age from 4 months to 19 years old. She used to run 7 to 10 miles almost every day. Now she’s worked her way back up to running three miles every other day. When her kids were small she worked full time. Look around your workplace. Do you see women who work full time and have family responsibilities? Do they exercise? Do they juggle carpools, work deadlines and employee issues? Of course they do. There are plenty of women in business who have very full lives.
Sarah Palin is not extraordinary because she does the things that many, many women do every day of their working lives.
She is extraordinary because she has done what some women have the opportunity to do and then don’t. Here’s what I mean.
I was reading the marvelous book How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership by Marilyn Carlson Nelson. Carlson Nelson is Chairman and former Chief Executive Officer of Carlson, one of the largest privately held companies in the world. In the book, she talks about offering a significant promotion to one of the most talented women at her company. The promotion came with a prestigious title, significantly more responsibility and a hefty raise. The woman’s response dumbfounded Carlson Nelson. When I read the woman’s response to my twentysomething daughter, who is a business professional, she gasped. The woman turned down the fabulous promotion. Why? She said that she couldn’t make more money than her husband. It would kill him.
Extraordinary women don’t shy away from big challenges. Think back to your last big challenge at work. How did you respond? Did you take the tough challenge or did you walk? I can remember early in my career when I was tapped to be Mobil Oil’s first female lubrication engineer in the United States. I was scared to death, but I knew I couldn’t show it. I knew management was watching me to see if I would succeed.
The soon-to-be-retiring engineer that I replaced was not happy that a woman was replacing him. The first day, he introduced me to my new customers, who were plant engineers and plant managers at major corporations. He said, “Here’s the new girl.” I was appalled. That night, I studied the plant equipment that I would be seeing at the next day’s appointments. He gave the same lousy introduction the next day. I immediately launched into a technical discussion with my customer about plant maintenance and my plans for lowering costs. At the next sales call, I was introduced as the new engineer. By the last call of the day, he introduced me as the best candidate to replace him.