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Filtering by Category: Leadership

Women in Politics: What Does Success Mean to You?

Librada Estrada

Si Tu Quieres is excited to highlight an incredible Latina that has been very active in the world of politics for 20 years and is doing great work to develop others who desire to impact and transform their communities and organizations—Patricia Campos-Medina.

Patricia Campos-Medina is a leadership development professional with the Union Leadership Institute at Cornell University. She is currently the President of Latinas United for Political Empowerment (LUPE PAC) in NJ, and a founding Board Member for PODER PAC, a national political action committee by Latinas for Latinas.  She served as political and legislative director for several unions including UNITE, UNITEHERE and SEIU.  She also worked as a campaign consultant in many local, state and federal political campaigns including US Rep. Bill Pascrell, Mayor Cory Booker and Senator Cory Booker. In 2008, she served as part of the Transition Team for President Barack Obama.  She was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the USA at the age of 14 years old and now resides in NJ. You can follow her on Twitter at @pcamposmedina or e-mail her at patriciaLUPEPACpres@gmail.com


It has been quite a year of presidential politics already.  And as the attacks on Hillary’s record continues, I cannot help but think about the challenges that women who work in politics face daily as they attempt to be engaged and win on their own terms.  Not all women might like Hillary, or might connect with her like some of us do, but what her experiences reveal is that in politics, acting like a man can be an “asset and a curse.”  How we learn to navigate this duality is what helps us stay in the game and succeed on our own terms.

I have been immersed in Democratic and labor politics for the majority of 20 years of my professional life.  I have run labor political programs and have been part of teams that run national presidential campaigns, local mayoral and city council campaigns.  I worked at the highest levels of policy making in Congress, and developed sharp elbows getting resolutions passed at the local city councils in cities across the United States.  I have also been in the backroom cutting deals, and I have been in the streets protesting those who are behind closed doors making those deals.  Through all of these experiences, I accomplished a lot but I have also gotten burned and deflated, been excluded and vilified, and I have been told at times that if only I knew how the game is played, I could have more power and influence.

Learning the Game

So, what is the game?  And what does success in politics looks like for women?  I don’t think there is one easy answer for either question, but let’s start by stating the fact that being successful in politics is not necessarily a measure of your level of financial success or your access to power.  There are some women in politics that have both and yet they still feel as outsiders, constantly fighting for recognition for their contributions.  

Learning to negotiate for your interest and for your agenda is a crucial component of learning the game, but the most important one is your ability to build alliances and make those alliances help you build a record of accomplishments.  You also need thick skin to survive the ride and to accept that the qualities that help men be recognized as leaders, do not automatically work for women.  

Why? Because there is a double standard in politics. Qualities that are seen as positive in men, such as confidence and aggressiveness, are seen as negative in women.  Hence, in order to use those qualities to our advantage, we must master the complex art of duality; you must be self-assured and at the same time intentionally learn to transform your confidence into determination and purpose.

So what is the first step in achieving success in politics?  It starts with having a clear purpose.

Your Purpose for Politics

If your goal is to have a future in politics then you must have a plan and a strategy, and be clear about why you are here, in the game.  Why do you want to get into politics?  Is it to build power for yourself?  For your community?  Or is it to accomplish a policy change you care deeply about? 

There is nothing wrong with wanting influence and power.  Men want that all the time and no one vilifies them for it.  But you must know that the stakes are higher for you. If you are a woman, more often than not, you don’t have a “Godfather” to show you the ropes.  You must negotiate the rules on your own and along the way you must learn to develop men and women as allies who will take an interest in your success. (Look for my next piece on cultivating male allies.)

Politics is a Male-Dominated Field

Once you have defined your purpose, you must understand that politics is a male dominated field with access to the inner circle granted more easily to those who are close to money and power.  For Latina women, those two access points are limited given that most of the time we have neither.  We come to politics from the outside, as activists trying to break down the walls and demanding power by mobilizing our community. 

I came to politics as a union/community organizer, someone with a demand.  I believed, and still do, that politics is a tool in our arsenal to fight economic inequality and to have a voice in the future of our country.  Because I was a good organizer, I was recruited to lead union members political activities and to convince them to contribute their hard earned money to politics.  I had people power and that could not be ignored.

But even with people power, I still had to battle the sexism of politics.  I am after all, an immigrant woman with a thick accent. Even with two Ivy League degrees, I had to prove constantly that I didn’t get the job because someone did me a favor.  In my 20s and 30s, I sometimes chose to brush off sexual advances, ignore sexist jokes, and hold my feelings close to my chest so I wouldn’t be labeled too sensitive and or irrational. 

My constant battle was always to be able to cultivate professional relationships with powerful men that were based on my union’s agenda, my campaign skills and my intellect.  I played the game and while I survived and thrived, I always felt a sense that maybe if I had been a man, I would have gotten more done.  Despite this feeling, though, deep in my soul I always knew I had made the best of every situation.

When I entered my late 30’s and 40s, I decided to take a leap of faith and try something new.  I stepped aside from my union political career to have a family, build my own consulting practice and to focus on helping union members become effective leaders.  Politics is a passion for me so I am still engaged in it as an advisor to campaigns and to other Latina women trying to make a mark in politics.

So, if you are a Latina who loves politics, a Latina who wants to run for office or just a political activist who wants to shake up the status quo, I offer the following tips based on what I have learned in the last 20 years of political and campaign work:

  1. Be clear about why you are in the game and be proud of it: You want to run for office? Awesome. Own it.  Learn from the best political candidates and develop a strategy for yourself so that you can run your own campaign. 
  2. Raise your own money: But if you want to run for office, then learn how to raise your own money so that you can be independent and drive your own agenda.  My grandfather, Papita Chema always said, “el que te da el dinero, te controla,” or “whoever gives you the money, controls you.” So, raise your own money. 
  3. Identify your tribe: You want to change the world?  Fix the educational system in your district?  Great causes.  Organize your tios and tias and all your cousins, high school, college friends and your fellow church parishioners. They have to be your first round of volunteers and supporters who help you both with money and by getting others to join your cause.  Than, map out your next round of supporters based on your agenda and your interest.  You grow as a leader when your base of supporters keeps expanding.
  4. Be prepared and always be willing to learn something new: Learn everything you need to know about your issue(s) and be twice as prepared than the men in the room.  And if you don’t know something, listen to what people are saying. Show empathy but don’t fake it.  Be honest that you are not an expert and that you will research the issue and come back with answers.  Faking it or lying about knowing something doesn’t work for women.  We must find the balance between being knowledgeable and not acting like “know it all’s.” 
  5. Be aggressive on defining your expectations to others: You want to learn a new skill in a campaign?  Ask for the job.  Be confident that you will learn it and be clear that you will not get stuck doing the same thing over and over again.  Even if you start at the bottom, by the end of a campaign, you should be in charge of something.  Don’t just hang around waiting to be recognized for your hard work.  If you are a political consultant, find out what other consultants are getting paid for the same type of work.  You have a skill they need so don’t allow them to undervalue your work.   
  6. Open doors for others: If you are a Latina candidate or a campaign consultant, identify young Latina/o operatives and put them to work on your campaign.  Build a cadre of young activist so you can tap their skills later and build your own network.  Have you ever noticed most campaigns always look like 20s something young male college kids? Well, eventually those young male kids become the top earning campaign consultants.  We must build our own pipeline of campaign operatives who are women. 
  7. Empower other women:  Be intentional about having other women voices and experiences around you.  Make them part of your inner circle and assign them key roles on your campaign that will build their skills set.  And if you are a staffer or consultant, use the “shine theory” to build other women allies; if a woman has a great idea in a meeting, support it and make a point to give her credit for it.  This practice denies men the opportunity to ignore it and later claim it as their own.  Don’t be afraid to let other women shine. By building others up, we also build ourselves up as authentic leaders.
  8. Trust your instincts: Oprah talks about how women most valuable asset is our “gut feeling,” our instinct.  There is something innate that makes us feel when something is not good for us. We feel it in our gut or that place right above the top of your stomach that tingles when you are not sure about something. When that happens, don’t ignore it.  If you are being pushed to make a decision that doesn’t feel right, to hire someone you know won’t work out, or you are being triggered by aggressive behavior, walk away.

I have failed some times to listen to my gut instinct and it has gotten me into some bad situations.  But if you make a mistake, don’t be so hard on yourself.  My biggest learning moments have come from situations that went south—either because I lost my composure or because I made the wrong decision.  My test for surviving such moments has always been staying true to myself, living up to my values, and knowing that my integrity was never compromised.

At the end of the day, politics is like any other career. If you love it, you will figure out a way to be good at it.  And like any other job, in order to be successful, you must have a purpose and a strategy to get to the finish line.  Give yourself benchmarks to meet and goals to reach. 

Today I am still in the game cultivating leaders as a trainer and adviser, helping other women and labor leaders discover their own power so they can become authentic leaders with the courage to transform our society.  I have accomplished more than I ever imagined I would as a girl growing up in El Salvador.  And as I continue in my path to build a better world for my children, I keep Winston Churchill’s words as a mantra; 

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal.  It is the courage to continue that counts.”

So as you find your path, I urge you to have the courage to be authentic, to challenge the status quo, to build other women up and to keep pushing until you get to your final destination.

Your turn: How do you try to affect change in your community?  How do you define success in your life?

P.S. Enjoyed this post? Help us spread the love by sharing it, liking it, tweeting it, or forwarding it to your network. 

 

Creating Problem Solvers By Learning To Follow

Librada Estrada

Over the last six months I have been coaching, along with another adult, my daughter’s Odyssey of the Mind Team. It’s an extracurricular activity that is completely student driven. It’s for students in kindergarten through college.

What this means is that the kids have to select the problem they will be addressing, identify the solution and learn to work with each other as a team. Through the process they learn critical thinking, creative problem solving, and thinking outside of the box. They present their solution in eight minutes at a regional competition. From there the winners move onto state. It's an international competition.

My job as co-coach was to make sure that they followed the guidelines of the competition, had a place to meet, and to provide them with some structure so that they could keep moving forward. It also involved us being sounding boards to the kids without giving them solutions. It sounds pretty simple, right?

Well, it was and it wasn’t. Since this is my second year doing this, it was a “little” bit easier. I had an idea of what to expect.

I found myself frequently using skills I developed as a supervisor, facilitator, coach, mentor and team member to work with a team consisting of elementary students.

Are you creating problem solvers or problem bringers?

When was the last time that you created an environment for your staff where you only acted as a sounding board, followed where the team led you and only reminded them of the guidelines?

How more effective would individual staff learn to be? How much more would they learn to rely on each other instead of looking to you, their leader/manager, to solve the problem for them?

It reminded me of a question I was once asked—are you creating problem solvers or problem bringers?

Followership is a skill to develop

The competition is trying to create problem solvers. The rules emphasize that the solutions and ideas must all be student led.

The biggest challenge personally was learning to be a good follower in service of the team. I had to remove my individual leadership hat more often than not so that I could support each team member to develop as a leader within the team. There were several things that helped me be a better follower.

Step into a new role. It requires you to let go of leadership and to embrace followership. Doing so will help you gain comfort in supporting someone else’s idea. As leaders we are used to standing out, having the answers and being competent. We sometimes forget we need to take a step back to support the growth of our staff and that this is part of the role of a good leader.

Encourage each member to lead the team at different points. Doing so gives them a feel for what leading involves. It provides staff with an opportunity to step into your shoes.  You are able to experience areas that your staff excel in and also identify some spots for potential growth. It helps them gain confidence that yes, they can be a leader as well.

Let them make mistakes. Several times my fellow coach and I had to step away and let the team learn by implementing their ideas. Often it’s not enough to say something won’t work. You have to let them experience success and failure. It provides your team an opportunity to try it their way and to learn what works and what won’t.

Ask open-ended questions. These are the best types of questions to encourage a different way of thinking. You don’t limit the responses you get. Any time the team asked me a closed-ended question I had them reframe it into an open-ended question. You help set an expectation that you don’t have all of the answers and you encourage them to have a different type of conversation.  

Let go of having all of the answers. Somehow you come to believe that you have to have a response all the time. Be okay with saying I don't know. Ask frequently what do other team members have to say. 

Encourage improvisation. When ideas are discussed it is very easy to begin with identifying what won’t work or by shutting them down. Encourage the team to build on each other’s ideas by practicing improvisation. Working with what has been provided encourages following a suggestion or train a thought for a moment to see what is possible. And, it helps team members be more open to proposing things that are not necessarily 100% figured out. You shift the environment and help staff perceive you in a different way. 

When the competition came to an end the team could confidently claim that the play was their work because they had brainstormed the solutions, written the entire narrative, and designed and made the costumes and props.

Your turn: What do you do to grow problem solvers?

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Are you using work as an excuse to avoid your life?

Ana Polanco

If Adele were here while I was writing this blog her next comment after the title would be Hello…

Okay, seriously. So how do you know if you are using work to avoid your life?

There is not one specific list for everyone, but there are some questions you should be asking yourself:

  • Are you living the fullest version of your life right now?
  • Does your life feel well rounded, whole and fulfilling?
  • If you divided your life into a pie, what percentage would be work?

If any of these questions, are making you even slightly uncomfortable or causing you to pause or rationalize the answer, then you might be using work as an excuse to avoid your life. The reality is that a majority of us spend more time at work than in any other activity. Changes in American work and community life have radically impacted and heightened the ability for people to focus in on work and avoid all the other areas that make them happy and give them life.

Over time we develop a series of reasons to avoid engaging others. Some of the most popular reasons I have given and have heard from others about working too much are:

  • We’re on a project and have to put in long hours
  • My company is reorganizing
  • I want to make a good impression
  • I’m new

And then one year and ten pounds later, you’re still pulling 60 hours a week and haven’t seen or done something you love in months. Oops – that was me remembering. The truth is that work can be the ultimate husband. Think about it. Work is always available for you and needs you. Work constantly asks you to solve problems and you get paid for it. What!!

The problem is work is less like a husband and more like that happy hour deal you can’t quit. Talk about other ways of avoiding your life.

Early in my career I had a boss tell me “everyone is replaceable.” For a while I was concerned he was referring to me, but really he was referring to the work. The work is endless and so everyone is replaceable because the work demands it. No matter how much you LOVE your job, don’t neglect your life, your health and those things that inspire you. It is no one else’s job to take care of your personal life other than you. So make today count in every way possible and do things you love because you truly love them and not because someone expects you to do them.   

So how exactly do we kick the work habit and start prioritizing ourselves?

Set Work Boundaries

As you know work will always be ready and waiting. So the most important thing you can do is set boundaries. This is especially important in the first 90 days of a new job.  This is where you decide what aspects of the workplace culture you plan to take on. Any norms and behaviors you set during this time will define how your coworkers engage with you. Example: If you set a fixed schedule and boundaries around that schedule, your coworkers will learn that these are your boundaries and normally follow suit.

 Don’t Stay Late Unless You Absolutely Have to

While all bosses have their own quirks, your boss doesn’t necessarily equate length of time you stay at work with loyalty, commitment or drive. If you need to work after closing time, make it the exception and not the rule even during times of reorganizations and mergers. As someone who has supervised many people in different situations and roles, I was only ever concerned with the product outcome. The only instance in which time matters is if you are unable to manage your time and it affects other team members. I was always most impressed by staff who completed things in less time and who had a healthy work life balance. Those team members opted for good over perfect. They tended to be the most well rounded staff.

Strengthen your Creativity & Learning Skills

Creativity comes from – not work! Life is what brings creativity to the workplace. Some of the best campaigning ideas that I have had, have come from billboards that I saw on road trips and curious conversations with friends in other sectors. Live your life so you can bring immense creativity and flexibility to the workplace. Creativity and flexible thinking are some of the greatest assets employees can bring to the workforce. Find a hobby or a creative outlet that inspires you to new ways of thinking and solving problems.

Ask yourself the key question

Ask yourself, if you weren’t at work, where would you like to be right now? The truth is that if we weren’t at work we would be doing something that inspires us and even peaks our curiosity. Maybe you would be spending time with family, taking a road trip, getting healthy, taking a class, fulfilling a passion or hobby, volunteering, realizing your personal life goals… The list is endless.

Whatever you do, don’t be a drone. Live your life, before it’s too late. Don’t be the person that looks back and regrets all the time you spent alone in your cubicle. That miracle or great idea you’re waiting for isn’t going to show up with your dinner delivery at work.

Your turn: What are your best excuses for avoiding your life? How did you break the cycle?

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Why Reframing Is A Key To Success

Librada Estrada

Are you the type of person that sees things as half full or half empty? I know-it depends on the situation. And, being able to see both sides is necessary. However, sometimes we get bogged down because we look at things only from one perspective or focus on the little things and we forget the big picture of what we are trying to achieve.

Typically I like to see situations and people as half-full or from a positive place. There have certainly been exceptions, especially if I interact with individuals that tend to see things as half-empty. I start buying into their mentality and next thing you know I become a Debbie Downer. Yikes! Does this sound familiar to you?

For instance, I had a colleague who used to complain, a lot, about a peer in our office. At first, I did not pay attention but once I started to listen to my colleague, I began to find evidence to support her opinion of our peer. It would not have been so bad if it were just the occasional rant but it became a daily occurrence. I realized that it was affecting how I interacted with our peer and that it was impacting our outcomes because I was not engaging her in our work.

When I finally became aware of my behavior and that I was becoming negative as well, I spoke up. I shared that it was not fruitful, that we were concentrating on little things, and that our mutual colleague did have strengths. I challenged both of us to start finding positive things to say about this person; we focused and shared things our peer was doing well that contributed to our outcomes rather than just what wasn’t working.

After a while we both noticed a positive difference in our attitude and behavior towards this other person. We also were able to recognize that she had different strengths from us.

By reframing how we saw our colleague, we were able to change our opinion of her. It did not change her level of performance but it did help how we were willing to interact with her, how we asked her to contribute to the team and the support we provided to her. Our relationship changed over time to be more productive and positive because we shifted our perspective and we kept our outcome in mind.

Based on the results, we agreed that if either of us said something negative about a person, meeting, etc., the other was to ask for at least one positive statement or to make a neutral comment related to the topic. Supporting each other helped us to stay positive and to build better working relationships with our peers, supervisors, and staff we managed.

The reality is that we get stuck believing we are right, want to do things our way, or make a judgment based on our experiences. As someone who has been the only Latina/female/parent/manager/public health professional/etc. (take your pick) in the room it is very easy to focus on sharing my opinion from just one lens. However, when I have I am not very effective, come across as myopic and do not build relationships with others. I know because of past experiences and failures. 

It’s important to recognize that your way of thinking may be holding you back from success. Learn to be more flexible. Reframe your perspective to move forward and achieve the outcome you desire personally and professionally. When you are focusing on just one side of things or cannot see an alternative to a situation, consider the following:

  • Reframe your thought—Pay attention to your current way of thinking. Shift your thought so that the message or story you tell yourself helps you be more productive. In my example we went from saying “I cannot work with her!" to “I can work with her when I focus on her strengths.” Go from seeing something as a problem to a challenge or from being negative to positive/neutral.
  • Clarify your focus—Are you focusing on the process or the outcome? Consider if things are not moving forward because they are not being done the way you want them accomplished (process) or because they are not being completed at all (outcome).
  • Recognize that you will find evidence to support the story you tell—Increase the likelihood of success by focusing on the positive or neutral side of things. It will help you notice what is going well or help you be more patient with what is not working.
  • Find someone who may provide a different perspective—Look for individuals that can provide you with another way of looking at things. If those around you focus mostly on the negative or are rigid in their beliefs, consider who else might broaden your viewpoint and ask for their opinion.
  • Shift your body—The great thing about reframing, or shifting your perspective, is that you can do it in seconds if you are open to it.  Sometimes you might find yourself in a situation where you cannot take a break to clear you head or to ask for an opinion. Then stand up, move your chair to a different position, or shift your body. If you cannot change the situation, shift yourself literally.
  • Do a reality check—By considering other possibilities you start opening yourself to neutralizing or changing your current frame of mind.  Ask what is another way to look at the situation or person? Or, what other information do I should I consider?

Your turn: What helps you reframe your thinking?

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Does your leadership style allow for different perspectives?

Ana Polanco

In the last week, I received the most amazing gifts from other women – witnessing each of them change perspective in an instant and beginning to overcome their fears about change. These women are from all walks of life, ranging in age from early 20s to late 50s. When faced with the opportunity to change perspective, they all went for it, still afraid but trusting that change was necessary to feel a sense of fulfillment and personal satisfaction in their professional and personal lives.

The women I’m talking about are talented, articulate, go-getters at the top of their game who were stuck. We rarely hear from women or men about these vulnerable moments when you want to change but you feel afraid. And yet these challenges and the failures we experience are the ones that help us learn how to deal with the crisis and the "stuckness" in our own lives.

Recently at a conference, I divulged to an audience how I blew up an important relationship at a former place of work. In the midst of that blow up, out of sheer exhaustion, I took a chance, showed vulnerability and put my cards on the table. And it paid off.

By being vulnerable with a colleague I had long been fighting with, I changed my perspective and the trajectory for how I work with him. As a result, we were able to exceed the change I dreamed of working on together.  

This difficult experience has made me better able to build stronger relationships. I learned to deepen the connections with others to achieve purposeful outcomes in my social change work and to be open to all the possibilities available to me. Because of my ability to make those authentic connections, I feel greater energy, purpose and joy in every project I take on.

Sounds easy, right? As talented people of color sometimes our engagement plan is to defend our strategy at any cost. Even if it means destroying the relationship in front of us. Now I don’t think we set out to destroy the relationships we are in, but the slope between defending and destroying is very slippery.  As a Latina I bring a whole series of life experiences that influence how I think others might behave towards me. If those experience or pre-judgements are speaking loudly, they can make it difficult to get my point across and win the change I want.

So how do we begin to minimize this slippery slope and instead take a more expansive leadership stance that allows us to shift perspective? Here are a few ways you can get started:

Discover and Manage your Triggers. The Fight or Flight response controlled by the amygdala can be triggered in a matter of seconds, leaving us often regretting things we said or did to others out of fear. Becoming aware of your triggers can help you identify the source of your fears so that you can manage your emotions. Finding your triggers is only the first step. Triggers are often tied to long held beliefs systems or experiences that we have had in our own lives. We won’t conquer them in one sitting. Instead take a long term perspective to discover the root of your fears and learn to manage them. The more you practice managing your emotions, the more you will discover opportunities at every door. Learning to flex this self-management muscle is key to expanding your leadership stance.

Learn to talk to people, not at them. In many sectors we’re expected to contextualize, rationalize and explain our decisions. But every encounter with a co-worker doesn’t require this framing. In order to talk to people, we must try using empower questions to discover their purpose behind a strategy. It is from purpose that we can build authentic, lasting partnerships.

Empowering questions begin with What or How and give the responder the space to give you the underlying cause to their decisions or feelings about a strategy. Questions with a Yes or no answer prevent you from getting to know the person and what they value.      

Begin Eliminating lies and half-truths from daily chit chat. Many studies show that the average person lies every ten minutes in their engagement with others. When people hear this they panic and often think – That doesn’t apply to me. However, lying is a strong commonly used defense mechanism that we pick up as children when we are afraid of the response.

Telling white lies and half-truths prevents others from getting to know who we really are. When you are having a bad day, maybe it’s time to admit what kind of day you are really having.  The more precise we are with our language with others, the more likely we are to gain their understanding, build connections achieve transformative outcomes.

What kind of leader do you want to be? When people asked me what kind of leader I wanted to be in college, I always wanted to be a powerful leader. And yet over time this answer felt meaningless and awkward. What does it mean to be powerful? What kind of power are we talking about?

Nowadays I ask the question differently: How do I want others to see and receive me as a leader? While the questions are similar your responses to each of them might surprise you.  Once you have a clear idea of the answer, develop the skills necessary to become the leader you want others to see.

Your Turn: Find one way you can shift perspective this week and be more open to the unknown. Let us know how it turns out!

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