I was eighteen years old and working my very first office job. It was a temporary position through Kelly Services - known then by the infantilizing name of "Kelly Girls". Being as I was then, a good little girl and more than eager to please, I brought all of my desire to please to this position. I was ready to scale tall buildings in a single bound, walk through fire, dedicate myself to whatever was asked of me!
In I walked, ready to take on the most onerous tasks. I was nervous, I was scared, but I was strong and ready.
The boss sat me down and gave me a large stack of forms, four pages to a form, and told me to separate them by color.
Pink sheets here, yellow there, blue over here, and green over here. That was it: the whole job.
I thought I had died. I knew I hadn't gone to heaven.
Two hours in, I got a call from Kelly Girls. I had been fired. I couldn't understand it! I had been dutifully separating the forms - no mixing of greens and blues - and suddenly I was fired? What had happened?
Being eighteen, and a good girl, I didn't question a thing. I just...went home. Being a really good girl, I blamed myself. I hadn't yet learned to be a threat to insecure authority figures by speaking up and asking questions, or walking out of bad situations before being asked to.
Now, fast forward to adulthood.
I'm top of the line in my Sales position because I know how to connect with people and I know how to sell with integrity. My boss is fantastic. He's hip to how women are downplayed. I trust him. I like him. He gives me an opportunity to be on a major feedback call with a number of bigwigs who want to hear from various departments.
He gives me tips for being on this call, and all of them are prophylactically butt-covering and factual. Except for one. "Don't sound like you're smarter than the people on the call." You mean, "Don't sound smart?" Sorry. No can do.
When you're a woman, and a leader - whether you are a Woman of Industry, or a leader in your approach to your work, your community or your life - you are handed two scripts. One of them is the Capable/Masculine script and the other is the Willing/Feminine script.
The Capable/Masculine script is the one you follow when there are expectations of accomplishment, whther those expectations are your own or are lobbed at you from external agencies. You go into "can-do!" mode, and you pour your heart into doing your best, proving your worth, making it work.
The Willing/Feminine script is the one you whip out when you have stepped in it; when you can tell, or have been told, that you have been "too much". You have been too smart, too strong. You have crossed the power line.
Of course, life is not scripted, but if you are a good girl, you're probably adept at reading whether people around you are pleased with you or not; and when they are not, you're good at feeling really, really bad about that.
To be a leader does not mean to stop caring about how the people you lead feel about you. It means to put it in the right perspective, which means that you have to put YOU into the right perspective. Which is a game changer and A Big Honkin' Deal!
So let me ask you a question: When you imagine yourself as the best badass leader you can be, what do you picture? Who is this woman?
Is she capable, intelligent, successful? Of course! But how is she emotionally, attitudinally? Is she stressed and working for the bottom line or is she fulfilled in her work and bringing everyone around her up, along with herself? Is she striving to succeed someday? Or is she succeeding every single day in her approaches to her work and her people?
Why are any of these questions relevant to leadership as a woman?
Because we have been professionally raised under male tutelage, and we are in the infancy stage of defining what it actually means to be a leader and a woman, especially when it comes to how we see ourselves, and how we handle ourselves and others as leaders.
We need to bring into our leadership style – without losing the healthy masculine - the feminine traits we have been shamed for, and honor their worth. Sensitivity to others, honoring process instead of enslaving ourselves solely to meeting goals, collaboration, vulnerability and the beauty of emotion. In so doing, we find balance, and we bring balance and our own unique strengths to a business world that has been power-over instead of power-with for far too long, and to everyone’s detriment.
Showing up to the struggle: Good!
Bringing all of your gifts: Priceless!
Women's Leadership Coach and Speaker Lori is the author of Call Center Crazy and The Human Solution: Human Solutions to Every "Unsolvable" Business Problem,
As featured in:
Do you like the idea of breaking those social "should's" that have held you back for too long? Do you like the idea of successfully changing your modes of communication, your business structures, your self-image, and to your quality of life?
Lori Kirstein, Founder
The Goodbye Good Girl™ Project LLC
The Feminine Face of Business
Cincinnati, OH 45205
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