When you interact with me, you will immediately notice that I am friendly, I enjoy getting to know my interlocutor, and I’m easy to talk to. This is why it’s been so fun to shock people when I speak about my former life and career as a CIA intelligence officer. I don’t fit the mold of a secret agent. I love exploding people’s perceptions of what’s possible—what they can be and what they can achieve.
Another vibe that you might not immediately get from me because I value relationship building is that I am an agent provocateur. I like to shake things up. I like to use my emotional intelligence, empathy and unique perspective to find new and better ways of doing things. I hate bureaucrats and bureaucracies. I admire efficiency and creative thinking. I dislike falling in line because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Can you be both—an empathetic connector and a provocateur???
Absolutely! In fact, that’s the best kind.
Here are three reasons why women are uniquely positioned to do this:
• The best way to incite people as a change agent is to connect with them on a human level. If you’re good with others, you are perfectly positioned to connect with key stakeholders. You have the gifts necessary to elicit their concerns and begin a dialogue that brings them into the fold. You can see what people need and you find ways to include them in the process of change, education, and adaptation. Big (and little) ideas require socialization to pave the way for progress, acceptance, and change.
• For women who work in male-dominated industries, you tend to have a really unique perspective. You see what’s always been done and deep down inside, you wonder, “Is this really the best way to do this?” But we second guess ourselves. We think we’re the weird person with dumb ideas. (Everyone else is falling in line. If there was a better way, wouldn’t someone else smarter than me have already said it?) You may hold the keys to change your industry that is so desperately needed!
• When you are not the intimidating, unapproachable manager that everyone despises, people let their hair down around you. They will want what you are selling. They feel comfortable and won’t put up walls when you propose a new policy, process, or product. Because you are smart and good to work with, people want to help, want to listen, and want to hear what you have to say. Let’s show the schmoes of the world that it’s better (and more powerful) to be a harmonious and congenial creator than the person that gets ahead by criticizing and breaking others down.
Ladies, it’s time to take the gloves of intimidation off and agitate for a better world. Let’s change the terms of the agreement, break the rules of engagement, and re-define how we work and what we do. Greatness means stepping out with your grand idea!
Michele Rigby Assad began her career in the government relations department of an international relief and development organization in Washington, DC, in 1995. She joined the CIA in January 2002 to work as an intelligence officer in the Directorate of Operations, the covert arm of the agency. Specializing in counterterrorism and counterintelligence issues, Michele worked in Iraq and other secret Middle Eastern locations. After a decade of government service, Michele left the undercover life to serve as a public speaker, author, trainer, and international security consultant focused on the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. Her book, Breaking Cover: My Secret Life in the CIA and What It Taught Me about What’s Worth Fighting For, is currently in production to be made into a major motion picture.