Have you ever encountered one of those female bosses who act like a man in women’s clothing? And if you don’t dare to think about it for fear of becoming a victim of her bossy ruthlessness, you might consider such media characters as Meryl Streep’s interpretation of Miranda Priestly, the major fashion magazine editor in “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006) or Patty Hewes’ heartless, calculating and morally unscrupulous head attorney in “Damages” (2007) played by Glenn Close.
Why is it that some powerful women seem to lose their feminine qualities, such as nurturing, caring, gentleness? Or maybe they willingly give them up, because those women who earned their leadership role did so by increasing the length and sharpness of their knowledge to overcome others, and not by expanding the breadth and depth of their understanding to relate and grow.
The business world rewards men for demonstrating such leadership qualities as no-nonsense decision making, competitive edge, toughness, action-orientation, cut throat negotiation, assertiveness, bold action, take-charge attitude, etc. Often times though, women can earn the unpleasant label of “MegaBitch” or “Ice Queen” when they show these same behaviors.
Only recently have global organizations openly and formally started recognizing and rewarding the “soft skills” in leadership, such as collaboration, listening, inclusion etc. as well as the more traditional “hard skills”. A lot of these kinds of qualities are what come more naturally to women than men. I recently heard that when you get a group of female children together to play they tend to collaborate and groups of male children tend to compete. Organizations need the willingness and ability to both compete and collaborate. I think women have the opportunity to be viewed, respected and rewarded as feminine female leaders now more than ever. The question is, what needs to change in order for men and women to be recognized and rewarded for their own authentic leadership styles?
Here is the low-hanging fruit: We need to change the perception (of both men and women) that women need to be “tough” to get ahead, and the perception that men who exhibit soft skills are “weak”. Both men and women can be powerful when they learn how to bring their authentic self to their own leadership style.