Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Can You Immobilize Yourself with Too Many Questions? - Documentary Review: Searching for Debra Winger

Documentary Review: Searching for Debra Winger (2002) by Rosanna Arquette
Rating: B+

This documentary is referenced in several books on women and career. I finally requested a copy from my library. When people talk about this documentary, they often sum it up as a film about how aging female actors survive in Hollywood. I think this grossly underestimates the applicability for those of us outside of Hollywood. This film is sensitive, personal, and brave. I am delighted that Arquette took the time to interview a few dozen successful women who demonstrate that there are still struggles in managing their career even if they are super-stars.

Arquette interviews many successful actors including: Meg Ryan, Vanessa Redgrave, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jane Fonda, Sharon Stone and finally Debra Winger. Her interviews focus on what matters most for many women "How can you achieve balance in your life?" "Can we have it all?" She nearly asks. "How do we balance career and family?" "How can you live with the sacrifices you’ve made?" "How can you find quality, fulfilling work when people only objectify you as a sex symbol?" These are essence of her questions.

Arquette's premise is why did Debra Winger leave the movie business when her career was so hot? Was this a decision she regretted? Did Debra Winger know something Arquette didn't?

A Hollywood career is very demanding, so everyone in the business will tell us but for the other women in the world, I believe that they find themselves in equally demanding positions. They have their own questions like "Why am I getting passed up for promotions?" "How can I justify networking with co-workers outside of work hours while my six year old is at home waiting for me to help her with a school project?" "Should I accept a job that requires travel? If I do, what will my kids think?" "Can I return to the workforce at the same pay-grade after I took time off to raise my kids?"

Questions swirl in women's minds in endless turbulence. We often second guess ourselves and wonder if there is a better way to do things. After listening to Arquette ask the actors question after question, I realized something critical. Many people use questions as a way to delay action. If you have so many questions about something then it stands to reason that you should wait to act until you can investigate further. So we wait. We get answers. These answers prompt more questions. We wait some more. The next thing you know, either the opportunity has passed or we find time flying by.

Debra Winger decided that for herself, it was best to leave the industry. She looked happy, healthy, and gorgeous. It seemed that her choice agreed well with her. Some women fair well to take their ball and go home. They can leave the usual career rat race and make their way through non-traditional means. I don't know what projects, if any Debra Winger is working on but she seems satisfied. For Arquette, however, it seems like she still wants to stay in the movie/tv business even though it requires sacrifice and hard work.

I can relate well and appreciate all of Arquette's questions. I have been doing the same thing for several years and yet I am no closer to a truth that satisfies me. Motivational speaker Tony Robbins warns about using "Endless Loop" questions. These are questions that you ask yourself that keep your head spinning. They are not questions like a journalist would use to ferret out tangible answers such as "Who, What, Why, Where, and When." Endless loop questions, while important, don’t encourage ourselves to move forward.

I was amazed that so many very successful women like Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Fonda, and Sharon Stone asked themselves similar questions like Arquette asked or I even ask myself but there was a difference between them and myself.

They asked the questions but that didn’t prevent them from acting (pun intended).

They had questions about how to balance career and family but they kept on moving forward towards their career goals and raising their families. They were the first to admit that they didn’t do everything perfectly. Meg Ryan said "as a mom and as an artist, you compartmentalize…"

Whoopi Goldberg and Jane Fonda both spoke about the sacrifices their children faced because of their choices to pursue Hollywood careers. But as Goldberg said, if she decided to forgo her Hollywood career and stayed home to be with her kid, she would’ve been around more but she wouldn't have been as good a mother.

Questions are a powerful tool. They can help us avoid disasters and engage with the world with more depth but they can also immobilize ourselves. Keep questioning, but like the actors featured in this interesting documentary, don’t let the questions keep you for pursuing your dreams.

Allison Frederick believes that Role Modeling is one of the most effective ways to launch a program, improve a product, and personally achieve a higher level of success and goals. www.AllisonFrederick.com.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Quantum of Solace:Women in Leadership - a Woman’s Review

On principle against the overt sexism, machismo, and "escapism" relationships with women, I avoided historical James Bond movies entirely, until in a moment of kindness, I agreed to see Daniel Craig's first Bond movie with my husband. Casino Royale was better than I expected and the women didn't seem to be such classic "play things" I thought I briefly witnessed in the earlier Bond films.

On opening day, I once again found myself in front of Bond on screen in Quantum of Solace and found that I loved the movie. I enjoyed the complicated storyline and while the action scenes were abundant, they didn't last so long that I found my mind wandering too far from the story.

I like Daniel Craig's portrayal of James Bond best in Quantum of Solace because he seemed powerful, intelligent, in control, and sophisticated without appearing smug and conceited. His performance is so convincing because he didn't even seem to be trying to be Bond – he just is Bond.

But the actor that arrested me most in Quantum of Solace was Judi Dench. Dench plays "M," Bond's boss and director of a Secret Intelligence Service branch (MI6). If I understand her role correctly, she answers directly to the Prime Minister, although in this movie, she received orders indirectly from other officials.

Judi Dench's portrayal was cool, quick thinking, and exuded power. Even though her power and orders were usurped at times by a "reengage" Bond, she still managed to keep close reign on an escalating situation where there was little reliable intel.

I want to contrast her role in Quantum of Solace with another film. I recently watched "Ladies in Lavender" (2004) a very "English" film that was charming but not earth-shattering. Dench co-starred with Maggie Smith who was recently in the Harry Potter films and Becoming Jane.

The Ladies in Lavender roles were what one would expect for two older women, delegated to play two aging sisters who were kind-hearted but troubled by the past and the lack of opportunities in their lives. Dench played an adorable character but it was in line with the kinds of roles society expects older women to play - she was weak and childlike.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is M, who I decidedly like. Her commanding strength solicited respect from Bond even when he disagreed with her.

The ability to lead highly talented individuals and to maintain control is a leadership skill many women are still learning to yield. We saw poor executive leadership skills in the movie "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006)where the overbearing female boss alienated her work staff in a comedic way.

The level of support and control Dench exhibited goes beyond the level of supervisory skills that come naturally to most women. Author Dr. Lois P. Frankel writes wonderful books about women and leadership. Her titles include: See Jane Lead and Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office 101: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make that Sabotage Their Careers.

I highly recommend these books. I took copies out from the library but am finding that I must buy them so I can highlight the text and read over and over again. Women have often struggled with the balance of maintaining power without being labeled a power-hungry b-----. I think M's performance is a perfect example of how to succeed as a leader.

On a couple occasions in the film, Dench reveals her feminine side, while getting ready for a hot bath, and putting on face cream, all the while leading business phone calls. This imagery reminds us that Dench has a feminine side as well. What I loved about the women in leadership books by Frankel is that she teaches women how to use their feminine stregths to become great leaders rather than deny or suppress them. In effect, instead of "See Jane Lead," her book title could be "See Judi Lead."

Those who watch Quantum of Solace may point out that Bond ignores her orders repeatedly and that his actions led to the truth. Well, just because you are a leader doesn't mean you are always right. The key to great leadership as Henry Ford told us is to have people who are more intelligent than you are working for you. Successful leadership is not dependent on having all the right answers, it is dependent upon knowing how to utilize your resources, analyzing your options, balancing the demands of those in higher or more influential positions than you, and still get the job done. In this regard, M was an impeccable leader.

While acting as M, Dench was confronted with several red herrings. Misdirection led her to temporarily loose her trust in Bond but she quickly rectified that decision and like a good leader, she was quick to recognize her own misjudgments and correct them.

Dench's portrayal is a wonderful example of leadership and it is refreshing and exciting to see a woman play such a clear thinking, powerful role. In See Jane Lead, Dr. Frankel reminds us that assertiveness is a function of leadership and when thinking of assertiveness to "[K]eep in mind that assertiveness means you combine direct and clear communication with unfailing, unconditional positive regard and concern for others." P 108, See Jane Lead.

Quantum of Solace is not only entertaining, it is also a fun, exciting example of female leadership. Thank you Judi Dench for creating a role model.

Allison Frederick believes that Role Modeling is one of the most effective ways to launch a program, improve a product, and personally achieve a higher level of success and goals. www.AllisonFrederick.com