Most of my clients are businesswomen who are the CEOs and/or founders of successful businesses. Being the boss isn’t easy. And women in power constantly walk a tightrope, balancing strong, assertive, leadership with normative definitions of “what it means to be female.” Some of us end up going too far to the side of being too nice, but others fall on the side of being so aggressive, they become bullies.
Being the Boss As a Woman
Being the boss of my own company, I like to think that I mastered the “assertiveness balancing act” many years ago. However, many of my clients who are highly successful still frequently ask themselves, “Am I being a bully?” or calibrate with me to determine whether they’ve handled situations appropriately or too aggressively.
I could easily write a blog post about the wrongness of the norms that create the dilemma of women in business having to be too careful about being too meek or being the aggressive bully. That’s certainly a topic that merits conversation.
However, today I’d rather focus my attention on helping you own your power without going overboard. So here’s my take on being the boss (as a woman) without being a bully.
Keep Yourself in Check
It should go without saying, but in reality, it might not, so here goes: to own your power without being a beast or a bully, avoid abusive language, swearing, accusations, and insults. Never be dismissive or denigrating. Maintain the high ground and your professionalism at all times. Remember: “With great power comes great responsibility.” (Thanks, Spiderman!) And being the boss means keeping your cool and never, ever, ever yelling at your team.
It’s important that you’re aware of how you come across to your team. That doesn’t mean you become a people-pleaser, but rather that you pay attention to continuing patterns of your behavior and reactions to it. You can assess whether you have a continuing pattern of bullying behavior a couple of ways.
If you’re fairly self-aware, you can conduct a self assessment. Think back across your history with your team. Have you received any feedback—verbal or nonverbal—that would indicate that you’ve been overly aggressive? Is that feedback recurring? Do you often feel that you’ve been too harsh, or do you get the feeling that your team is afraid of you? Respect is one thing, but fear is quite another.
Third Party Assessment
When you have a team of any size, it’s rarely a bad idea to get a third party assessment. My clients occasionally bring me in to observe their teams, watch them in action, see how they function and see what leadership issues emerge. That observation gives me key insights into where the business owner and I need to spend a little time, and can tell me whether I need to train my client in specific leadership and self mastery skills.
Expand Your Toolbox
Sometimes, if you discover either through a self assessment or a third party assessment that you have tendencies that move you to overly aggressive behavior, you’ll want to expand your toolbox and learn new strategies. Why? Because overly aggressive, bullying behavior virtually guarantees that your team will be miserable, you’ll have high turnover, and your team won’t be able to function at its full capability. Learn new strategies and you’ll be amazed at how your team’s performance will improve.
Choose the Right Team
Being a good leader starts with smart hiring. If you hire on skills alone, you’ll end up with a qualified employee who still may not be a good fit. You can teach skills, but usually not culture and personality, so if you choose someone who’s a good fit who can learn skills, you’ll start out at an advantage. Find someone who’s a good cultural fit and has the skill set you want and you’ll be golden. Plus, you won’t get frustrated when employees don’t measure up because they’re not a good fit.
Know Your Team
Every employee is a little different. Some are motivated by money. Some are motivated by making a difference. It’s the job of each manager to determine what motivates his or her staff members and your job, as leader, to approve ways to motivate those employees. And you have to find ways to motivate your managers as well. Take the time to get to know your team so that you know what benefits and bonuses will make the most difference.
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