What is the right way to lead?

Women in Leadership Part Two

I am a trial-and-error type person, I like to give things a shot and see what works.

Right after college, I was working as a bartender and wanted to get myself into a management position. Eventually, I was given an opportunity to elevate my career. At that time, most of the managers I had ever had were men. The managerial styles and techniques I observed from men where either very headstrong, stern, and unquestioning of authority OR so laid back and jovial with a “one of the guys” attitude. Knowing I couldn’t be the latter – I tried to be the former. I managed – with absolutism and authority.

I felt I needed to command respect and wanted to be respected as an authority. I had insecurities when it came to my ability to be an effective leader. The results were me turning into something I wasn’t. I failed to become the strong managers I was surrounded by, because I was not effective. After about six months in my new managerial position, I received a slew of anonymous feedback from the staff. I went in with the confidence that they would see me as a strong leader, assertive, and confident, like they did with the men in my role. Instead they saw me as bossy, had a bad attitude, egotistical, and stubborn. They thought I wouldn’t listen and uncompassionate about their needs…. And in all honesty, they probably weren’t wrong.

What had happened?

I didn’t want to be perceived this way. I cared about all these people – they were my friends. I wanted to be a respected, strong leader, but in the end I was seen as an incompetent authoritarian who served their own interests before considering others.

I had trained with another manager at the same time – a man. We went through the same experience, and worked in a very similar fashion. He was floating through his managerial life with ease. The staff respected and felt empowered by his strong presence, but with me they felt steamrolled.

At first, I blamed them. They didn’t respect me the way a manager should be respected. But, then I decided to take their feedback to heart. I couldn’t blame them. The only person I could blame was myself. I wasn’t being true to who I was, so I couldn’t lead them honestly. Other managers told me if I was genuine, the staff would respect me more. I thought that would make me seem weak, but inevitably I was wrong.

As a woman, it’s often hard to find strong leaders to emulate, because so many examples are traditionally men. While I don’t think men are bad examples of leaders, they don’t go through the same struggles as women. For one reason or another, the actions of men are perceived differently in our culture than the actions of women. Hillary Clinton has spoken about this very idea when discussing the prospect of becoming president.

I’m not Barack Obama. I’m not Bill Clinton. Both of them carry themselves with a naturalness that is very appealing to audiences. But I’m married to one and I’ve worked for the other, so I know how hard they work at being natural. It’s not something they just dial in. They work and they practice what they’re going to say. It’s not that they’re trying to be somebody else. But it’s hard work to present yourself in the best possible way. You have to communicate in a way that people say: ‘OK, I get her.’ And that can be more difficult for a woman. Because who are your models? If you want to run for the Senate, or run for the Presidency, most of your role models are going to be men. And what works for them won’t work for you. Women are seen through a different lens. It’s not bad. It’s just a fact. It’s really quite funny. I’ll go to these events and there will be men speaking before me, and they’ll be pounding the message, and screaming about how we need to win the election. And people will love it. And I want to do the same thing. Because I care about this stuff. But I’ve learned that I can’t be quite so passionate in my presentation. I love to wave my arms, but apparently that’s a little bit scary to people. And I can’t yell too much. It comes across as ‘too loud’ or ‘too shrill’ or ‘too this’ or ‘too that.’ Which is funny, because I’m always convinced that the people in the front row are loving it.” – Hillary Clinton

In the end, I found my voice and am proud to say I have continued to progress in leadership roles. Currently, I lead a team of very competent and incredible people – both men and women. I am more honest and transparent with them then I have ever been before. I am much happier being myself, than trying to be someone I’m not. They say fake it ‘til you make it. But, I think it’s much better to just be who are you with whatever you got inside, because that’s all you’re ever going to need.

– Nicole Davenport Manager of Sales Training at Gravity Payments

 

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