Firstly it must be said that authenticity is a strength and a virtue and those who mask or pretend do not fare well in the long term, regardless of their sex or position. We are who we are under pressure, and it is difficult to be inauthentic when the going gets tough.
When it comes to women in positions of leadership, does our perceived femininity and the character traits most often identified with females put limits on us? Is there a necessity to balance between being authentic and being recognised as a leader? Indeed there may well be.
The traditional image and traits associated with leadership are masculine, and women who are seen to act ‘like men’ are not always well received and can feel quite contradictory personally, and those who act ‘like women’ may not meet the expectations of a leadership stereotype.
As discussed here, we need the soft skills in business, as they help us connect, empathise and communicate well; traits that women seem to find less challenging than men and make them better people managers in many cases. Authenticity is one of those soft skills that can enhance a leadership role, as no one wants to work with or follow a fake.
Women who experience gender based conflict in leadership respond in a variety of ways. Some become overbearing and try to prove they are as equally tough as the men around them, downplaying their strengths in soft skills. Another reaction is to undersell themselves as bragging is seen as arrogant and unfeminine, so whilst they can be fantastic negotiators for the people they represent, they tend not to value themselves and ask for that pay rise or benefit when mediating for themselves.
Some women will avoid decision making or delegating responsibilities all together, so that they do not feel vulnerable or obvious in their leadership style; of course this can’t be managed for long.
Avoiding and ignoring our natural responses as female leaders might reduce conflict or make us feel less vulnerable, but it doesn’t do any favours to our success or career advancement. Second guessing, and denying our instinctive responses can also be draining and distracting, which also impacts on our ability to achieve and perform at our best.
So how do we balance our natural feminine strengths in a masculine leadership world? The key is finding your own niche and style. Be clear about your values and drivers, use these to guide you and how you relate to your team and co-workers, and the choices you make when faced with a challenge or leadership decision.
And whilst you are identifying the styles that work for you, don’t be afraid to try out some new ones. Find a mentor or meet with a person you admire and whose style resonates with you and try even just one strategy they use to see how it works for you. Pay attention to how it feels and the results, and if appropriate seek feedback to assess if the strategy works for you and those around you.
An independent and supportive sounding board can be highly useful in this process and our Executive Coaching services can be invaluable. Our Positive Psychology, Appreciative Inquiry and Authentic Leadership approach are customised to your specific needs to help you find exactly what works for you and moves you closer to your goals.
Being authentic does not need to hold you back. Let us help you be the real you and a real leader.