The 2014 Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor joins a growing body of research that concludes that today’s leaders must have feminine as well as masculine leadership strengths. This study shows that women score higher on 10 of 14 key leadership attributes, including the top four. They are feminine strengths so, naturally, show up more in women than men. Key feminine strengths include communicating in an open way, admitting mistakes and bringing out the best in others. If you follow the work of DifferenceWORKS, you understand these strengths.
In my book and blogs, I explore differences in masculine and feminine approaches to work — e.g., the value of relationships, structure, decision-making, work style and communication style. There are strengths and limitations to the feminine approach. One limitation is in selling products, services and one’s self. The feminine approach avoids the hard sell and tooting one’s own horn. I teach this difference. Yet I am personally hampered by the feminine approach to self-promotion. I have hired a coach to help me LEARN to toot my own horn and be more effective at having others see the value of what I offer.
One obstacle for women in business reaching the top is the double bind. If men become more aware of this problem, they can lower an obstacle to gender diversity. Business workplaces tend to be more masculine than feminine in nature. To succeed, women learn to adopt a masculine style. But if she is “too” masculine “too often,” she may be penalized. If she operat
There are two “languages” in the workplace — masculine and feminine. We use the term “Frax-wise” to describe people who understand, appreciate and leverage both masculine and feminine ways. (We are all “Frax,” a combination of Fran, the feminine prototype, and “Max,” the masculine.) If I am personally Frax-wise, I know which “language” is most effective in which circumstances. In working with others, as a Frax-wise person, I do not take speech styles literally; I know Fran may simply not be expressing his or her ideas powerfully and Max (though sounding confident) may be expressing an opinion. As a Frax-wise leader, I understand that these differences may create obstacles for those who speak “Fran” and I can lower those obstacles. I can be an inclusive leader and get the upsides of gender diversity.
Sandberg’s advice fits into a large genre of advice for women on how to succeed in the masculine workplace. She correctly says women need to appear more confident. The typical man speaks with confidence even when he is wrong; the typical woman speaks more hesitantly even when she is sure. While advising women to learn to speak more confidently, we need to encourage leaders to understand the gender differences in communication. Translate vs. taking literally. Bilingual cultures (inclusive cultures) allow women to feel valued and be engaged. That’s good for business.
The masculine and feminine ways of expressing ourselves and, literally, of talking are different. The masculine approach is to maximize and declare, speaking with certitude. Confidence breeds confidence so Max (our prototype for the masculine) will benefit by getting assignments and promotions. Its downsides are that it can sound arrogant and over promise. The feminine approach is to minimize, disclaim and qualify. Fran (our feminine prototype) may sound self-deprecating. Her ideas may not be heard or credited to her. But her form of speech is valuable when one needs to signal humility and respect for another’s superiority.