For a long time, we asked female leaders to act… like men. For a long time, the only women that managed to reach key positions were the pioneers, who opened and led the way with a machete (yes, I’m talking about the jungle of companies) and who only had men as models. So, to feel accepted in this very masculine world, they replicated their behaviors on their colleagues.
And when women started becoming models for the new generation, it was no surprise that they had a management style that was… masculine.
I’m writing these things because I’ve been there myself!
First of all, what do we mean by feminine management and masculine management? I’m against the idea of giving different genres to management. In my opinion, a person’s skills are not related to their sex. Yes, women tend to show more empathy, whereas men are generally more authoritative. However, it’s only a general sentiment, and there’s no absolute rule! It’s also difficult to tell if these tendencies are “natural” personality traits, stemming from the evolution of our species, or if they’re the result of young boys and girls feeling the need to conform to society’s expectations – but that’s a whole other topic.
The problem today lies in the fact that society has established a certain leadership style as being the one that all managers should follow. Every day, new books are issued, explaining how to be a good leader, the 10 things that big leaders do every morning before 7am, the 8 habits of people who succeed, and so on.
As a result, an ideal of leadership is created, often by supermen, sometimes by superwomen, who manage to build teams, motivate them, understand them, have time to work out 1 hour every morning, do yoga and meditation in the evening, and are obviously very charismatic and always confident. Leaders who never get angry, who coach their teams, reassure them, explain things, who give guidance without micromanaging… I mean, you know…
So after the myth of the “perfect woman”: that one who succeeds in her career, raises wonderful kids who are happy and succeed in life, all the while cooking the best gratin tofu in the world (boeuf bourguignon is no longer trending) on sundays… please welcome the injunction of the perfect leader.
However, this perfect leader comes out of a mold, which was cast and lovely carved by generations of leaders… mostly men.
So why do I find this problematic? First of all, because as is the idea of the “perfect woman”, this model is inaccessible to many, which tends to dissuade rather than inspire. Women will be particularly reticent because most of them aren’t going to recognize themselves in this model, ultimately putting a brake on their career.
The second reason is that, in an attempt to become the perfect leader, a lot of people are going to begin working on themselves to conform to the model. In that case, what happens to diversity? How can we talk about mixity and diversity, if we end up with clones in all the positions at the top of the ladder?
So, why don’t we stop with this injunction? Why don’t we say: “Become the leader that you want to be, stay true to yourself” and then, companies will adapt.
Remember my infamous “silent talents”? These women who are everywhere in the company, but that we don’t know, because they’re working hard silently. They do an amazing job without talking about it, without putting themselves forward. These women that I often mention in my articles, that need to be fetched during the nomination of new managers. They have to be on the list, just as much as those who fit the classic profile of the superleader.
Let’s pretend that you did a nice prospecting job to find atypical profiles and that you’ve now come to the conclusion that this “silent talent” is clearly the best for this manager’s position, so, naturally, you promote her to the new job because she deserves it.
You went to get her, because she perfectly fits the profile that you need for this job. Are you now going to make her change her style in order to fit the skills of the classic leader? I hope not, it would be appalling – not only would she not be able to offer her full potential, because all of her energy will be focused on becoming somebody else, but also, she would be unhappy and would most likely quit. Would that be reasonable?
I recommend you read this article from Fast Company: « Telling women to be more confident is a stupid idea ».
What if we tried the opposite for once? What if we accepted an atypical leader and waited instead for the company to adapt? What if we gave diversity a true chance?