assertive

Women and Leadership. Too nice? Too bossy?

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women_calculator_desk_1600_wht_7996Leaving aside the whole issue of women on FTSE100 boards and the Norwegian “Golden Skirts” have women finally cracked the glass ceiling?

Well according to Herminia Ibarra and her colleagues, writing in the September 2013 HBR, persistent gender bias disrupts the learning process of becoming a leader.

They are talking about what they call “second generation gender bias“. Not direct discrimination but things like the paucity of role models for women, career paths and jobs that have become entrenched with a gender bias, and women’s lack of access to sponsors and networks.

They also talk about the double binds facing women. In most cultures leadership is associated with masculinity. The ideal leader, like the ideal man, is decisive, assertive, and independent. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be nice, caretaking, and unselfish.

Research shows that female leaders who excel in traditional male domains are viewed as competent but less likeable than their male counterparts. Yet research shows that female CEOs are trusted more than male ones and can add real value to teams.

Behaviours that suggest self-confidence or assertiveness in men often appear arrogant or abrasive in women. Female leaders who adopt a feminine approach to their work may be liked but not respected. They are seen as too emotional to make tough decisions and too soft to be strong leaders.

Yet research carried out by Zenger and Folkman in 2011 on over 7,000 executives using 360 degree feedback, showed that women were rated higher than men at every managerial level. However the higher in the hierarchy you went the more men there were. So were companies promoting the right people?

They used 16 competencies in their research, which they had identified as being the most important in terms of overall leadership effectiveness.

These were:

  1. Takes initiative
  2. Practices self-development
  3. Drives for results
  4. Develops others
  5. Inspires and motivates others
  6. Builds relationships
  7. Collaboration
  8. Teamwork
  9. Establishes stretch goals
  10. Champions change
  11. Solves problems and analyses issues
  12. Communicates powerfully and prolifically
  13. Connects the group to the outside world
  14. Innovates
  15. Technical or professional expertise
  16. Develops strategic perspective

Comparing mean scores for men and women the women scored significantly (statistically) higher than the men on 12 of the 16 traits – and not just the ones that women are known to be better at. They scored the same as men on connecting to the outside world, innovating, and technical or professional expertise.

The only trait where men scored higher was on developing a strategic perspective.

So what’s to be done? Ibarra and her colleagues don’t suggest anything dramatically new or innovative.

Progressing to leadership positions means leaving behind your old professional identity and learning new skills (have a look at Charan’s pipeline model).

That can be scary so having supportive mechanisms in place such as providing leadership programmes, mentoring and coaching (and I find in my coaching that women are less defensive and often respond better than men), and providing a support group or a safe space – perhaps an action learning group – can make a real difference.

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Women who have power at work are at risk of poorer mental health………….

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Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

Women who have power at work are at risk of poorer mental health than women further down the career ladder, a study has found. Researchers found that while men tend to feel better the more authority they have, the reverse is often true for women.

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‘Women with job authority – the ability to hire, fire and influence pay – have significantly more symptoms of depression than women without this power,’ said Tetyana Pudrovska, of the University of Texas, who carried out the study.

 ‘In contrast, men with job authority have fewer symptoms of depression than men without such power.

‘What’s striking is that women with job authority in our study are advantaged in terms of most characteristics that are strong predictors of positive mental health,’ she added. ‘These women have more education, higher incomes, more prestigious occupations, and higher levels of job satisfaction and autonomy than women without job…

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Have you got charisma?

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Charisma literally means Christ-like, and although difficult to define there are some key factors to consider if you want to develop or increase it.

Having self confidence is one of them. If you are confident and comfortable with yourself then you will project this outwardly.

If you are not self-confident then think of someone who is and copy their voice patterns, body posture and non-verbal signals (NVC) which you think contribute to their self-confidence.

This may mean for example, walking more slowly/ more briskly, lowering the pitch of your voice, or speaking more slowly/ more quickly.

Socially confident people have good emotional intelligence; not only are they self-aware and know how to control their own emotions, but they can sense others’ moods and know how to deal with them. Your spoken word and body language NVC must be telling the same story. If they don’t there will be leakage and people will sense that you are not being genuine. You should mean what you say but you don’t always have to say what you mean.

Physical presence is the quality that makes people give way for you or listen to what you have to say. This is mainly communicated through body language. Having an assertive posture – standing with feet slightly apart, looking still but alert (a zen-like martial arts readiness posture), maintaining eye contact but not overpowering others, smilingappropriately (and eliciting smiles in return), and being confident with your gestures.

Tall people are considered to have more leadership/command presence, so hold yourself tall (that piece of string through the centre of your head to the ceiling) and no slouching. Wear high heels and flattering clothes that make you look taller.

If you are really keen sign up for a Karate, Aikido, Yoga or Tai Chi class to help improve your self-confidence and develop your inner calm.

For those of you who feel less than charismatic the good news is that researchers have now found ways of measuring charisma and also how to teach it.