It’s Time for Women Leaders to Shine!
The focus of my consulting and coaching work at thrive! has been helping leaders of teams that are underperforming, stuck in conflict, or mired in politics. CrisMarie and I work to help them become better leaders, transform their teams, and get great business results with their teams and in their organizations. We love what we do!
Recently, we got curious about why 90% of the leaders we work with are men. So we decided to do some research to find out why.
We started interviewing women leaders, creating focus groups, and doing surveys specifically around the challenges women leaders face.
Here is what we found:
Women leaders generally have darn good teams, or, at least, they don’t see their team as their highest pain point.
Women leaders see their lives as an integrated whole. Their success is not simply about their own accomplishments. Yes, they’re driven, but success in their professional and personal relationships has equal weight on their happiness.
Where women leaders are most challenged is in their peer-to-peer relationships or with their boss or next-level-up. Women leaders are too often considered peacekeepers or relational experts, and their collaborative style is seen as a “soft skill” and not taken seriously.
When women leaders don’t speak up assertively or aggressively and are focused on keeping the peace, they often wind up taking on too much responsibility for others and doing way too much.
A loud chord was that women leaders really don’t believe they can be successful being themselves. Instead, they believe they have to lean in or not lean in, lead like a man, or settle for positions that allow them to maintain a balance between their work relationships and their families.
These smart, successful women are often so focused on serving others. They want to be a “good _____________” (leader, boss, employee, mother, wife) so much so that they often don’t include themselves in the equation. They say yes when they would rather – and ought to – say no.
Frankly, it was not a surprise to realize that women leaders have quite different challenges than their male counterparts. What we also realized was that women leaders also have quite different and unique strengths!
I realize that these finding are generalities, and that there are and will always be exceptions. Still, let’s play with the findings so far.
Let’s Take a Look at the Strengths First
Women are good at developing relationships and building trust on teams. Because of their commitment to relationships, women leaders tend to pick up on cues in situations where people are upset, and they work to handle those issues quickly.
This is great, and may very well explain why we don’t get as many calls from women leaders about their teams as we do from men leaders.
Now for the Challenges:
In looking at the challenges women leaders face, it’s clear that the bigger issue may be that they tend to lack confidence in and not value their own opinions, contributions, and needs.
This lack of confidence in and commitment to their own value, opinions, and contributions is what often leaves women leaders feeling frustrated, resentful, and doing too much.
We wanted to increase our support of these women leaders in doing things differently – meaning connecting more to their own confidence, value, and opinions while leaning into their natural strengths as leaders. As we coached women leaders, one key issue we noticed that kept tripping them up was resentment.
What’s Really at the Root of Resentment?
Resentment can be quite tricky in terms of finding a root cause.
Let me give you an example:
Sally is the Executive Director of a non-profit educational center. She works over 60 hours a week. She has maintained a balanced budget in the face of a declining student base. She has brought on new, engaged staff and faculty. The staff and faculty enjoy flexible hours and an excellent leadership development program through the center, available at a very exceptional discount.
Sally is seen as a rock star leader.
However, in my coaching sessions with Sally, it’s pretty clear she’s doing too much. She acknowledges that she’s been feeling a bit resentful when staff or faculty have complained about not getting requested time off or ideal time slots for classes.
It may be easy to understand why Sally feels resentful. In many ways, the complaining staff/faculty aren’t working nearly as hard as she is, and yet they’re unhappy. You might even agree with Sally, like “Yeah, why can’t they be more appreciative or considerate?!”
Though I empathize with Sally, focusing on staff/faculty is a quick distraction from the root of Sally’s resentment. The real root of Sally’s resentment lies in her own inability to create healthy boundaries and say NO to taking on more of the workload.
The root of resentment is always about the person feeling the resentment. If you feel resentful, you’re doing something you don’t want to be doing. Remember, we’re adults and we have choices. We can say, “No, that doesn’t work for me.” Women leaders seem to forget this much more than men leaders do.
Sally has done what many women leaders do oh so well. She makes sure the work gets done and people are taken care of; however, the cost has been her own well-being.
Making ME as Important as WE
Leadership is all about dealing with the tension between taking care of ME and taking care of WE. If Sally continues to dismiss herself, in the long run the organization will fail when its best contributor and leader burns out because she hasn’t learned to speak up and say no when she needs to.
I confronted Sally on this behavior by calling her out on playing small by not considering her own team as being able, and by holding herself back. Initially, she was quick to protest.
Sally never saw herself as playing small or as taking care of her people until she realized that when she denies her own needs and continually focuses the light on others, she is indeed shrinking and not letting them see her.
The good news: Now Sally’s feelings of resentment have become her signal to value herself, to have the confidence to show up and speak up. She’s been surprised to find that when she does speak up and addresses her needs, wants, and frustrations, the great team she has built is even better.
Take in these words of Nelson Mandela, as written by Marianne Williamson:
“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine…”
At the bottom line, our research shows that an important key to helping women leaders shine in today’s workplace is helping them build their own unique brand of leadership that shines brightly without having to make anything wrong or anyone else shrink.
I’m confident that helping more women leaders shine will only enhance the bright leaders already out there. Don’t hold yourself back!
Bring all of you, be relational, and dare to shine brightly!
CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke are Master certified life coaches, business consultants, speakers and authors of The Beauty of Conflict. They believe real relationships are the key to creating great business results. They’ll take your team from mediocre to great.
Interested in coaching? Check out CrisMarie’s executive coaching and personal coaching, or Susan’s personal coaching and equus coaching.
Want to take a class? Sign up for one of their virtual classes: Get Unstuck, Relationship Mojo or come to their signature retreat Find Your Mojo in Montana. Click here to check out all their service offerings.
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