Managing Leadership Styles and Overcoming Stereotypes

JaneSandersContributed by Jane Sanders, President, GenderSmart® Solutions

Yes, things in the corporate world are getting better for women. And yes, we still have a ways to go. Women in leadership and executive positions stare down a double-edged sword daily. If their style is primarily assertive, decisive, task vs. relationship oriented, etc., they are labeled as too tough and masculine…the ‘b’ word. So does this mean don’t act like a man? Or, if a woman’s style is predominantly collaborative, supportive, and friendly, she is perceived as nice but less competent. So does this mean don’t act like a woman if she wants to advance? But what’s left – how is she supposed to act?

Managing Gender Stereotypes

Women must walk a fine line in the corporate world, especially in longer-established industries such as financial services, insurance, automotive, and manufacturing. Using solely one gender communication style or the other can often backfire, much more so than it would for a man, as this inflexible behavior will illicit stereotyping and misperceptions of women’s competence and personality. Such behavior by men can cause judgment too, but less often and less severe, with milder consequences.

Eliminating these gender stereotypes is a valid but lofty goal and, for the foreseeable future, completely unattainable goal. So instead of focusing on eliminating stereotyping, the world would be better served by becoming aware of gender styles, accepting them merely as differences rather than right or wrong behaviors, and learning how to work with them more effectively. In a way this is a form of eliminating typecasting, but it approaches the issue by managing stereotypes, not expecting them to disappear.

The Solution

The solution? Women will get the best results by recognizing that they are being judged more strictly, and by interacting and working with a blend of masculine and feminine styles. Men will get the best results by also working with a balance of styles, and by recognizing gender style differences as just that – merely differences – not right, wrong, bad or good. A different style does not translate to less competence, intelligence, or leadership ability.

No one needs to change who they are naturally, as all people are already a combination of both approaches (although many people, especially in business, get off track from their authentic blend). It’s a matter of flexibility, awareness, and having the skills to apply each style in appropriate situations.

Bottom Line

Women (and men) should use a blend of feminine and masculine styles – be trustworthy, honest, approachable, open, collaborative and supportive; while also taking risks, being assertive when necessary with courtesy, delegating, making the tough decisions, and promoting yourself appropriately.

The following are communication and behavioral tips for women (or men with a “feminine” style) that will help improve productivity, working relationships, and chances for advancement.

  • Be succinct, to the point, but not abrupt. Hold details for back-up purposes. No one has time to pour over details unless paramount, especially the people in power positions who are judging your interactions with them.
  • Avoid tag questions, apologies, disclaimers. “This is a good report, don’t you think?” Better would be, “Good report.” Hear the difference in power? “Well, this is just my opinion, but…” Better would be “I think we should…”
  • Take credit for your accomplishments. Or someone else might!
  • Give brief updates on your projects whether asked for or not. You are not bragging! If you don’t communicate your successes to the powers-at-be, no one else will do it for you and your skills may be underestimated. Key word – brief!
  • Reduce personal disclosure and problems. Men don’t bond and process the same way women do. This behavior makes them uncomfortable and they often view it in the workplace as weak and unstable.
  • Handle conflict directly, politely, with empathy. Be clear, to the point, but not rude or abrupt. If you are nervous about an upcoming confrontation, outline your thoughts to clarify and focus them. Take the bull by the horns but keep him feeling safe and respected at the same time.
  • Make most decisions independently. Reduce the number of times you ask others for their opinion for consensus’ sake. Men see this as indecision and lack of confidence. Just step up to the plate and get things done.
  • Avoid strong displays of emotions. Men see this as weakness – “too” emotional and not managerial.
  • Avoid saying “I’m sorry” unless you are literally at fault. It communicates that you were wrong when it may simply be a transition or conversation smoother.
  • When interrupted, be direct and courteous, not sharp, but take back the floor. “Hang on a second please, thanks.” Put your hand up to signal “stop” if you have to.
  • Remember you don’t have to like someone to get the job done. To be successful and promotable, it’s more important for staff to respect and trust you first. They want to know you are the leader. Like can come later and will if the respect and trust remain consistent. Like can come first, but without the respect and trust they may still run over you and challenge you at every turn.
  • Communicate your vision for the company/department to people-in-charge, and your ideas for achieving this vision. If you don’t have a vision, get one!
  • Be flexible and keep a positive attitude about differences. Different is not right, wrong, bad, or good – just different!
  • My work, which consists of 18 years of interviews, consulting, and speaking for the corporate world, strongly indicates that the best leaders, regardless of gender, employ a blend of gender communication styles. The best companies recognize, encourage, and reward collaborative leaders who nurture and develop their employees, building loyalty while making the tough decisions, managing their time, and getting the job done.

    Jane Sanders, president of GenderSmart Solutions, is an expert in gender issues and communication and helps companies recruit, retain, and sell to women. She is a consultant, coach, and speaker in the areas of gender communication, recruiting & retention of women, selling to women, strategic life planning, authentic leadership confidence, and presentation skills. Jane is author of “GenderSmart: Solving The Communication Puzzle Between Men and Women.”

    Views expressed by guest writers do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Glass Hammer team.