As a woman of a ‘certain age’ (okay, 45) I grew up being told that I could (and should) do it all. I could have a lucrative, fulfilling career, marriage, and kids. I think everyone was just so happy that women COULD work outside the home if they wanted that we instantly transitioned into SHOULD. I’m not complaining because otherwise I wouldn’t have discovered that I have a gift for leadership and coaching. Being a working woman, business leader, and Mommy (in that order, actually), provided me a lot of insight into what I’m great at, what I love, and what stresses me out.
For quite a while, I bought into the fact that in order to be successful in business, a woman simply had to do the job as well, or better, than a man the same way a man does. I didn’t know any different because there were no female role models for me. The only working women I knew were either administrative assistants, or in a completely different profession (doctor, pharmacist, teacher, nurse). The only woman boss I’d ever had was a highly emotional, frazzled woman who insisted we all keep track of her menstrual cycle so we’d know if she was approachable or not. Needless to say, she was not an inspiring leader, and she wasn’t particularly interested in mentoring any other women, either. Rumor was she saw other women as a threat but I don’t know if that’s true.
My leadership journey began within a Christian company, before I was a Christian. I had a pretty dim view of believers at that point and was so convinced they’d relegate me to coffee and note-taking that for five years I insisted I didn’t know how to operate the coffee machine. The one time I was asked to take notes, I refused and asked if they were asking me that because I was a girl. Despite my initial prejudices, my experience at this company was transformational. I’ve written about it elsewhere. In addition, I was provided management opportunity and mentored, giving me a solid foundation for servant leadership. From a male’s perspective.
For the most part, it’s served me well, but there were things I wasn’t taught because it would never be on a male mentor’s radar. Most of the difficult situations center around boundaries, assumptions, and expectations. For example:
- Having performance improvement conversations with men without apologizing OR getting overly dramatic to get my point across.
- Being around a man who is crying without wanting to evaporate off the face of the earth.
- Telling a woman that her performance needed improving even though it would mean that she’d hate me or talk crap about me with everyone else
- Having to talk about a woman about her office attire, and hearing later that she told everyone it was because I was just jealous of her.
- Having employees assume my standards were lower, or that I welcomed interruptions just to chat for hours at a time.
- Forcing myself to stuff down all my feelings because if I got frustrated enough to cry everyone thought I was weak and either patronized me or discredited me.
- Being told I was intimidating, and having no idea if I really was, or if I just wasn’t conforming to their expectations of a ‘girl boss’.
- The fact that no matter how much responsibility and status I shouldered at work, and no matter how much my husband helped at home, I’m still ‘the brain’ who needs to keep track of school stuff, and schedules, and likely gets thrown up on when the kids are sick and who needs to figure it ALL out.
Do my male counterparts face some of these challenges? Some yes, others no. And I know full well that they have challenges that I don’t have. And that brings us to the positives. After I stopped trying to act like the (male) leaders around me acted, or process things the way I thought they were processing, or feel the way I thought they felt, amazing things started to happen, and I felt free to:
- Use my desire to connect with others and to connect others to form incredibly strong teams.
- Acknowledge my and others’ emotions and using that to overcome problems and defuse situations.
- Use the way I process information to come up with unique and innovative solutions
- Encourage others to take risks
Once I embraced my gifts and accepted myself the way I was, my leadership was exponentially better and the people who reported to me would tell you the same thing, but it was a long and painful road. The only thing I would change if I could would be having more Christian female mentors or colleagues to bounce ideas off of. There were other things I learned along the way about how to conduct myself as both a Christian and as a woman in the messy world of business, but those are stories for another day!
I’m writing about this today because more women than ever have been reaching out to me and sharing their stories, and it’s made me realize that this continues to be an area where women can support each other. I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunities I’ve had, but one thing life has taught me is that you can’t keep what you don’t give away.
How can you get involved? I was hoping you’d ask! I’m partnering with some powerful thought leaders, executives, and coaches to design some elite caliber leadership content to support this mission of women helping women. If you’re interested in the subject of women mentoring women for professional growth and development, please sign up here for our Women Business Leaders Newsletter so you can be on the front lines as this develops. As a thank you, I’ll send you my free e-guide 10 tips for managing multiple priorities. Thanks, and as always – if you enjoyed this article, please share the love!