This year on International Women’s Day I am sharing a story about a woman and how she leads differently from the men around her, and is highly effectively in the process. I’m hopeful that in dialogs like these we’re finally moving beyond the question of “are woman better leaders than men?” and getting to the point where we can learn from each other. Please share with other impactful woman in leadership who may feel that the way they lead may not be “good enough.” If you’re effective, you’re good! – Dana
I spoke recently to a group of women and men about how modern leadership styles are shifting and increasingly embracing strengths that women in leadership naturally bring to the table. After the talk many women thanked me and one, I’ll call her Suzanne, said in essence, thanks for making me feel less crazy. I asked her what she meant and she told me an interesting story.
A Clash of Styles
In short, Suzanne is the COO of a small company and has an all male staff reporting to her. She reports to “the boss,” an older gentlemen who founded and built the business. Since she came into this position, he’s ceded much of the day-to-day management to her and she’s changed things a bit. Here’s what Suzanne has done.
- She’s replaced his micro-managing style with giving direction and getting out of people’s way.
- She’s shifted some of the daily prep work from the evening to the morning, to let employees go home when they’re tired and prep when they’re fresh.
- She comes in on weekends when necessary, showing her support.
- She let’s them off for family events.
Her results are strong and her crew loyal. Her boss’s reaction? “You’re letting them walk all over you!”
After my talk, Suzanne said she realized that even though her boss didn’t seem to appreciate her tactics, he did appreciate her results and let her lead the way she wanted to now that he saw what she could produce. But he was still verbally unsupportive. Her big ah-ha in our discussion was that she didn’t have to buy his perspective on what made a good leadership style. And this gave both of us a big ah-ha as we walked to the next session.
What if women didn’t listen to all the leadership woo-haa and stereotype that says leaders have to be tough and boss over their employees? What if we were all just secure in our results? Would we change the opinion of our bosses and employees by simply leading effectively in our own special way?
There is plenty of data that says women are good leaders, and yet many women in leadership positions, like Suzanne, don’t really internalize our success because others – or the culture in general – tell us we’re soft.
I say it’s time to own our success and accept that we can embody a different-but-effective leadership style.
What kind of differences lead to success? I asked Suzanne what she did that made her boss think she was a softy. Here were a few things she said that I think we can all learn from.
- Expand your definition of success. While her boss holds her to financial and performance standards, which she exceeds, she has expanded her own definition of success to include employee moral (which helps reduce turnover), operational order (indicating everything’s getting done) and empowerment (rewarding those who handle issues in the field instead of bringing her into every snafu).
- Nip problems in the bud. Don’t let a problem fester. Jump on it before it escalates and empower those who are near the solution to implement it.
- Be calm and respectful. While her boss is confrontational and micro-managing, Suzanne fosters employee moral and productivity by building consensus instead of yelling at them or ordering them around.
Thinking about it this way it all makes sense, but when your boss is sneering or yelling at you, it’s harder to feel confident. This is why we all have to take a deep breath, detrigger our emotions, and call on our inner power. We need to take time out to appreciate what we do well, to gain insights from others who appreciate our style and to be self-critical enough to explore our own boundaries and styles. If you don’t have a boss that does this, then find peers, colleagues and mentors who will help you gain this important perspective. As Suzanne is learning to appreciate, just because your style is different doesn’t mean it’s not the better way if you still get the job done.
There’s more to this picture…
I happen to believe that all the advice I gave to Suzanne, and her own lessons for us all, are very valuable. However, in the age of #metoo it has to be clear to everyone that misogyny and unconscious bias are major factors in why Suzanne isn’t getting the support she needs from her boss. This is not necessarily Suzanne’s fault, or yours if your a woman reading this. Like Suzanne did, I recommend doing your job well anyway. A boss’ pat on the back isn’t always the most important definition of success and if needing it anyway is holding you back, detrigger the anxiety of needing so much approval and succeed anyway.
Also, Suzanne could be falling prey to something I call the #2 syndrome, which is what happens when a woman is qualified and interested in being the #1, but doesn’t go for it because being #2 is so much more comfortable. It’s fine to be #2 if you’re really okay with that decision, but if it rankles you and you want more, learn to live comfortably in your stretch zone and find your authentic path to the very top.
Are you a woman in leadership in need help developing your authentic and personal feminine leadership style? I developed these online leadership development resources for exactly this reason!