“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
This week is a little different in that it isn’t about a story but more of a reaction to the way I am seeing successful women being characterized. So sit back and read on, and perhaps you will comment and share your perspective.
I continue to be so impressed and grateful to those that are giving of their precious time to read these posts and also helping me get better at this endeavor.
Words Really Matter…
To me, words absolutely matter and should be chosen with care, especially when you are giving them to an audience that will have their own connections to the words. We all have our own visual imagery when we hear words. The imagery is based upon our own experiences and our own impressions.
So as a disclaimer, when I see headlines and read stories, I have to work hard to not come into it with my presumptions or assumptions that derive a conclusion before I even begin. That is really really hard. So I ask that you put aside all these things, as you read this post until the end. Then reflect and see if you agree or not. There is growth for all when we spend time sharing our different ideas and notions.
Do women want to be characterized as Powerful?
Over the past year, as more articles come out about successful women, I have noticed an increase in the use of headings that say something like “the most powerful women in [insert industry]”. My noticing is unscientific, however, it continues to kinda stick in my craw as they say.
Being viewed as a powerful leader, in my preconceived view of it, is about bringing authority over others, seeking to control and not exemplifying all the amazing characteristics of successful women.
It also seems to me, to be fitting these amazing women, who have done tremendously well in their careers (or life chosen endeavors), into the male leadership language of success.
This honestly has begun to rankle me. So much so, I felt I needed to write about it as a way to explore why.
Assimilating was the only way…
The reality is, many women have been assimilating to a power structure devised and crafted by men, to get ahead and make their way to the “C” suite. To their credit, there was no other model to emulate, so it is awesome they broke through.
There is a price they have had to pay, as I have seen those very same women, struggle with how they can be authentic and help shift the paradigm. How do they shift the model to be more influential, inclusive, supportive and collaborative? It is like they have one foot in and one foot out, and that isn’t very comfortable.
Therefore, I think in their effort to remain at the top, they find they have to focus more on staying there, than changing the system and even giving back to those building coming up in their careers. They seem to become part of an exclusive club, of senior executives.
This is certainly changing, and quite rapidly, as women become more vocal in striving for equity and all voices to be represented at the table. So I think this is why it strikes me so visceral when successful women are characterized as “most powerful anything”. If pictures say a thousand words, just do an image search on google for “Powerful Leaders” and then reflect on my reaction to it.
The Female and Male leadership model…
Women bring a very different energy to leadership, when coupled with a way a man leads, can bring about a great synergistic vibrancy to an organization. There are benefits from the differences of the way each gender leads.
Women are typically nurturing and influence change. They lead through collaboration, building communities, being authentic and humble, fiercely advocating for what’s right, giving back as well as building bridges. (Check out the Athena Leadership Model @ Athenainternational.org).
Women build relationships through the work, gain confidence through knowing the details, and typically have no time for extra curricular work activities, especially when raising a family.
So, crafting their career that is building towards a senior level role to be in a powerful position just isn’t typically in their minds eye. This doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to achieve high levels in their career or that they don’t have drive and ambition to lead at the highest levels.
They tend to focus on the work, think they will be promoted based on that good work and how they help others to be successful.
In contrast, men are by nature competitive. They typically lead by building networks that work to provide and give help in their careers, developing relationships with already influential and powerful leaders, don’t really worry about the details and delegate to achieve outcomes. They also are unabashed at self promotion (no judging 🙌). They have no concerns about telling their leader and those higher up “what they accomplished”. They do see success as gaining power, but more from the hierarchy of a males view of ranking.
Power in itself isn’t bad. It is in what it can do when not checked, and when you start believing it.
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”
So why does this even matter?
Honestly, here’s the thing, words do matter. As I think about using the term “Powerful” and also the need to call out female accomplishments as effective and successful leaders, I would rather see headlines like the following (to reflect the unique leadership style of women):
“The most fearless and successful female leaders in [enter industry]…”
“The most influential women in ….”
“These women are using their success to build a platform of inclusion and equity…”
“Giving back by building a pipeline of successful women…”
“These women are building a new leadership model for inclusion…”
“The most innovative female leaders”
What is the headline you would like to see?
The world might be a more diverse and inclusive place if we got away from striving for power, and focused on being personally intrinsically powerful in ourselves and building influence and equity. By that, I mean being strong, resilient, capable, inclusive, influential, and sharing positive supportive energy with others.
To me, power has no place in the workforce, if we want workplace cultures that are based on empowerment, inclusion, engagement, and innovation. To have those attributes, leaders should be in service to their staff and focused on developing future leaders and helping to unlock talent. Servant leadership is the way to business success that thrives and delivers business results.
Check your power, increase your service to others as a leader, and shine brightly!
Please share your thoughts in the comments.