True leadership does not have a gender

Summary: An effective leader doesn’t have to be rude. It’s about finding the right balance between confidence, assertiveness and relationship building.

Let me start by saying that I am a total feminist – in every possible social, political and economical aspect. I strongly believe that e.g. there should not be a wage difference between two people doing the same job, just because they are of a different gender. It’s a no-brainer to me and I would love to see more women as executives, as from my experience they bring an incredibly valuable point of view to the table.

I recently came across the following satirical text / string of images:

And I was shocked. Its obvious sarcastic nature aimed at displaying the absurdity of “non-threatening” ways of communication specifically for women is one thing – but what surprised me probably even more was the left side of the images, the “threatening” style, which the author of the cartoons sees as the way women should really behave in the workplace.

In my job I come across various types of managers, but I actually rarely meet leaders. The cartoonist put the word “leadership” in the header of each image, but I think it got completely twisted and misunderstood. I hope no woman will actually start communicating as the left side of the cartoons advises! Unless they want to be a manager with an ancient management style of “do what I tell you, you don’t need to know why or ask any questions, or else..”, which is a short-term strategy that will force the best people out of your organisation and will burn the remainders of your team.

If you, dear reader, want to be a leader, then non-threatening is the way. Not the non-threatening from the cartoon, obviously; I mean a way of communicating what you need with confidence and purpose, not by plain power-play and showing who’s the boss. Remember this:



So why don’t we rewrite some of the left hand-side messages from the cartoons in a way that communicates leadership:

  • “This has to be done by Monday.”  – “Let’s set the deadline for Monday, as – as you know – the client expects this by Tuesday, so this will give us enough time to review & amend if necessary. How can I help you in achieving that deadline?”

Your team member understands why he needs to do that piece of work by Monday and your role as a leader is to help him, plus also make sure that he knows how to do what you’re asking for. Or you can go “this has to be done by Monday” and leave him to it, not uncovering what he’s got on his to-do list, whether he’s got the skills to complete the piece of work and basically not caring about him at all.

  • “Send me the presentation when it’s ready.” – “As discussed on.., please send me the presentation when it’s ready. Let me know if you have any issues.”

A little please changes the vibe for me completely. Plus, if I was in that situation, I would set the expectation beforehand, ideally face-to-face, and this email would be just a follow-up / reminder.

  • “Yes, that’s exactly what I just said.” – “I’m happy that you’re agreeing with me – what do the others think about this?”

This is a tricky one, as the person who repeated your idea is pretty much wasting the time of the group, but simultaneously brutally / passive-aggressively shutting them down, especially in a meeting, is not an effective long-term strategy for a leader as much as it is a power play.

  • “I’m the one that taught you this 6 months ago.” – “Don’t know if you recall, but I actually helped you with this one some time ago. How about I tell you how I see it and then we can compare if there are any differences?”

This one really made me go “no”. The question that a true leader needs to ask of herself / himself is what am I trying to achieve with my communication? By pointing out in a passive-aggressive way that you were the initial source of the knowledge in this case, you’re only putting that person off and not moving your working relationship with them forward. Simply put: don’t be a rude dick.

I hope that you get the idea – I’m sure you do.

True leadership does not have a gender – female leaders don’t have to be tougher, less polite and more “bossy” than male leaders to be effective. The best female leaders I have ever worked with communicated in the style described above (in my versions, not in the cartoon ones) and not only got the job done perfectly and on time, but also kept their team satisfied. It’s about finding the balance between a relationship behaviour and a task behaviour as a manager, which Ken Blanchard wrote about ages ago. But we’ll maybe come to that in a different post.

PS. “That’s not appropriate and I don’t appreciate it” is the ONLY right response to a sexist comment. Remember that! We need to eradicate that culture and the only way of doing it is through assertive, direct reactions to it.


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