Remember the government shutdown? The one that lasted 16 days earlier this month, closed the national parks, caused civilian government consultants to lay off workers, and made absolutely no sense at all—unless, of course, you are a person who never learned to share and has a “winner takes all” mentality. And, there certainly appeared to be enough of them roaming the halls of Congress during the debacle.
So, it is pretty much agreed that the whole thing was a disaster, which had a negative effect on the Gross Domestic Product and probably cost the nation more than if the government had been up and running the entire time. It also created a negative perception of the effectiveness of American government around the world, and the question still being debated is “Did anyone win?”
That debate typically pits one political party against the other, with some bickering within the parties, and it all depends on whose rhetoric you believe. So, make it easy for yourself, don’t get sucked in. Rather, take a close look at the leadership that brokered the deal that got government back on track, and it will be obvious who won. The WOMEN won!
Yes, the women demonstrated the real leadership in this fight. Women like Senator Susan Collins (Republican from Maine), Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Republican Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and 11 other members of the Senate, some of whom showed the guts to go against their own party leadership, and all of whom showed the consensus building that proved critical to a solution. Of the 14 Senators (7 Republicans, 6 Democrats and 1 independent), six of them were women. They rolled up their sleeves and worked together to help forge a plan that would fund the government, pay the nation’s debts around the world, and urge the two houses of Congress to come up with a longer-term plan. That takes creativity, selflessness and an abiding concern for a solution that is the best for the most people.
It all started with Senator Collins’ strident speech on the floor of the Senate, urging her colleagues to “stop fighting and start legislating,” and the rest is history. Although the plan crafted by the 14 did not initially pass the Senate, some of the plan’s key elements were folded into the final agreement that was reached by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat of Nevada) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican of Kentucky).
Ironically, this kind of consensus building is a rare trait among politicians today, elected officials who should understand that huge democratic government cannot run without it. We all should be grateful that women have been practicing these compromise and negotiation skills from the beginning of time and that enough of them were present in the current Senate to make a difference.
This critical leadership from women is no surprise to those of us who have been observing professional women for years. It is this special brand of leadership that makes women lawyers so valuable to their individual practices and to best practices in the legal profession. Communication skills, negotiation skills, consensus building and affinity for common ground are skills that are naturals for most women lawyers, and they cannot be underestimated or undervalued.
For that reason, the talent drain that is seriously affecting retention of women lawyers, for reasons of work-life challenges among others, is also a drain of skills of diplomacy, which are becoming more and more valuable in a global economy. Cultures and values differ significantly throughout the world, and doing business on a global scale takes all of the skills that the women Senators demonstrated last week.
Senator Collins is quoted as saying, “You cannot solve problems if you are not talking.”
And, I might add, “listening.” Something that women do especially well.