As one of the millions of species that inhabit this earth we, as human beings, have a unique gift – the power to choose how we want to shape our way of being in the world. We may have been born with a certain disposition, but there is huge choice as to what we make of it.
As a leadership coach, I want each person I work with to be conscious of their personal leadership style, as it manifests in every avenue of their lives, both personal and professional. I get clients to pay attention to the language they choose and the impact of that choice both on themselves and those around them.
One company I have worked with has its weekly executive committee meetings in the ‘War Room’. The lang-uage of the War Room is military: Up to now, X has beaten us; next month we will destroy them. We must identify the weak spots. We must throttle them by the jugular.
However, the effectiveness of feminine energy is having an impact, slowly but surely. CEOs of some predominantly male boards are noticing that executive teams that include women are creatively different and solve problems more innovatively, less aggressively. Testosterone in the boardroom is not quite so predominant in these teams. A review of bottom-line performance of global companies suggests that diversity pays off.
Many women in leadership pos-itions have really struggled to get there. I coach women leaders who feel that they have had to work harder than the men around them to prove their worth. I have coached black women who feel burdened by affirmative action. They feel it is used to cast doubt on their ability, and that some people will say that race rather than excellence got them to the top.
However, there are women in leadership roles who have not only survived and won these battles, but have also adopted the aggressive ways that made their lives so tough.
I have worked with clients who experience certain women leaders as overly assertive. They even use the word ‘bully’ to describe the coercion used toward those who are weaker or who have less power.
How does bullying manifest in the world of business?
Unreasonable work requests made at any time of day. I am your boss. You will do this for me now, because I say so. I have the right to email you at 9pm and to expect you to respond.
Bullies translate the power of their status into the right to interrupt disrespectfully or even walk out of the room while you are still speaking.
The bully may also assume the right to criticize in a manner that is humiliating, sometimes in front of other colleagues.
Physically, bullies may ‘throw their weight around’ by using intimidating body language, volume and tone of voice.
But beware of the subtle bullies; those who exercise a more sophisticated, psychological bullying smile and who smile while they turn the screws.
How do women support each other when there is a female bully in our midst? I have noticed many women choosing silence. Either they are fearful of offering critical, supportive feedback (after all, the person is a bully and bullies often respond by lashing out), as they are worried that such a reaction will be career limiting. Or as a woman, they do not want to be seen as critical of another woman. Some simply resign and hope that the retention problem will be noticed.
However, I have also observed collusion and denial. The wish to have women represented at senior levels can translate into silence around inappropriate leadership behaviors.
It pains me to witness women leading badly. It does not have to be this way. We can choose another path. The available literature indicates the enhanced business results from leadership styles that encourage, motivate, build, validate, appreciate, respect boundaries, and pay attention to timeous constructive criticism.
The Tao Te Ching, a classic text by the ancient Chinese poet, Lao Tzu, is widely acknowledged in the world’s wisdom literature. The last stanza of his chapter 76 reads:
An army that cannot yield will be defeated A tree that cannot bend will crack in the wind Thus by Nature’s own decree the hard and the strong are defeated while the soft and gentle are triumphant.
As women leaders we have power. Let us use it wisely. Let us play to the strengths of the feminine. Let us design the brand we aspire to build. Let us work out how best to support each other and hold one another accountable.