If we are going to have an intelligent discussion about women in leadership positions, we need to open and honest about what really works.
So take off any blinders or colored glasses that you may be wearing and get ready for this…
Ground Rules for Discussion
Firstly we must accept that women and men do not, and should not, lead in the same fashion. Women think differently than men and their natural tendencies are driven by different motives than men. In short, women and men are different! They should be valued for who they are, how they think and feel, and what they bring to the table.
“Women who want to be great leaders should not devalue their femininity by emulating the leadership traits of men.”
They should instead, celebrate their femaleness by bringing all of the amazing female qualities that they have at their disposal to their leadership positions.
They should think like women, act like women, and look like women at all times.
Women who change their inherent style to become more like men when they move into leadership positions are fooling no one. We all know they are women and we become uncomfortable when they appear to be moving away from their natural female roles.
Women make up fifty percent of the population. Because of the plethora of ladies around us, many men understand what makes the fairer sex tick. Most men have undying love and respect for their mothers and would do almost anything to support and protect them.
They will step in front of a hurtling freight train to save their wives from harm and would fight a grizzly bear with a small stick to defend their daughters. Many men are hard-wired to treat women well and to do everything they can to make their lives better.
“Despite the natural tendency of men to protect women from harm, bullying and sexual harassment are not uncommon in the workplace.”
Fending Off a Threat
When the testosterone-driven positions of power that men hold dear are threatened by the scent of female hormones, they tend to drop their naturally protective instincts and go into fight-mode.
If a woman in a superior position takes on an aggressive, demanding stance, many men will see her as the enemy and will do any number of unspeakable things to engineer her demise.
Even women will see a dominant, masculine leadership style from another woman as foreign and unpalatable.
A Great Female Leader
The best way for me to illustrate a good female leadership style is to provide an example of a great female leader that I have actually worked with. I will call her Debbie for the purposes of this story.
Debbie was known to be intelligent, knowledgeable and conscientious. For decades she performed well in important project management and product development positions. She was a great resource for a large number of employees, managers, and executive leaders. She was well regarded, well liked and highly valued for her work.
However the day she was promoted to Vice President of Sales marked a change in the way almost everyone in the company viewed her and in the general expectations everyone had of her.
[It is very important to note that this was a position that had only been occupied by men in the past.]
Debbie was given responsibility not only for the overall sales of her division, but for the day-to-day sales activities of a large number of aggressive, mature, crusty salesmen who were set in their ways.
These men had never been lead by a woman and they had no idea what to expect.
Debbie had a big choice to make
She could continue to be the intelligent, kind, nurturing female she had always been.
She could morph into a hard, demanding, command-and-control-style leader.
She picked Option 1.
She brought to her new role the attributes that got her to her next level of success. She felt that if she had betrayed her natural tendencies to care for and nurture her direct reports, that she might have failed in her new role.
Nature and Nurture
Debbie had enough faith in herself to avoid becoming something she was not. Instead of changing, she led her division with kindness, caring and a nurturing spirit. She also was firm and held her direct reports accountable. But instead of making demands and finding fault, she offered support and encouragement.
When things went badly…
Rather than becoming something she was not and starting in with criticizing, lecturing, or disciplining, she did this:
- She proactively offered her help
- She coached
- She counselled
- She assisted her team to succeed
When things went well…
She provided acknowledgement, praise and celebration. At all times, she exuded pride in her team and she fought for them like a mother bear. Her devotion to her work-family was obvious to all and it was rewarded with true loyalty and almost universal respect.
Winning the Good Fight
In fairness, it is safe to say that Debbie had to work harder and put in more effort than any man in the position before her in order to win over the men who reported to her.
However, within a year she had gained their respect and admiration.
Once she had made her mark as a serious leader, it was not uncommon to hear her male reports singing her praises and making it clear that she was the best sales manager they had ever worked with.
They knew that she cared about them and that she was there for them no matter what happened. She also became an icon for female employees who admired her and considered her a role model for all other women in business.
“She thought like a woman; she acted like a woman; she looked like a woman…and she ‘succeeded like a man!'”
Can a woman be a great leader of men? Yes, she can but only if she remembers to always be a woman!
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