It has always been assumed that women have much more highly developed Soft Skills than men. This is a stereotyped position, but it is probably true that up until recent times, society has been much more accepting of women leaders openly demonstrating their Soft Skills than it has been about male leaders doing the same thing. In other words, it’s been a strength for women, but a weakness in men. It can, however, work against women and if we are not very conscious of the “games” that are played in the workplace, those skills we value and espouse as women leaders can actually work against us. Women’s leadership styles need to be reworked.
We try to be “nice”, for example. We try to be inclusive. We are very social, express feelings and be sensitive. This can result in women often not being heard. They can express ideas and opinions in meetings that no one responds to or even acknowledges. A man, then, expresses the exact idea in different words and in a different style and it is enthusiastically taken up and acknowledged – but without any acknowledgement of what the woman had previously said.
Women communicate much more indirectly than men. In meetings men tend to say “I” and women tend more to say “We”. For example, when we are praised for doing a good job, we will often divert the praise to the team. “”My team did a great job,“ but in fact the team would not have achieved what it did without our leadership.
A better response would be: “Thank you. I put a lot of work into the early stages to make sure my team knew what we wanted. I threw out the challenge and they responded. I asked for 100%. They gave me 150%. I am so proud of the enormous amount of effort my team put into this and what we have achieved together.” That way she makes her leadership role clear but also praises her team. She doesn’t devalue her role.
Women also tend to ask questions rather than make statements. For example, they will say: “Why don’t we….”, instead of “I’ve analysed the figures on this and it seems that the best approach would be to……”; or “Could we…..” instead of “We could….”. It’s their attempt to be collaborative, but it comes across as them lacking the sharp focus and decisiveness they need to make hard decisions.
Asking permission to speak or interrupt is another characteristic of women’s communication style. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but have you time to have a look at……”, instead of: “Here is that completed report that you wanted by today”. Often they even apologise for speaking.
As women we need to value what we have to say and express our ideas authoritatively and confidently. Our communication can be seen as weak or indecisive by others, but so many of us fear we won’t be liked if we promote ourselves or claim credit for our own work.
Women are often very wordy especially if we have something to say that will hurt and offend. We set the scene first to soften it up. We need to be much more precise and focused in our communication in the business world.
Being assertive is often challenging for us and many women find it difficult to distinguish between being assertive and being aggressive. They feel being aggressive is not feminine and therefore be non-assertive as a way of avoiding being aggressive. Unless women can learn to be assertive they will not be able to take charge of their lives, to take them in the direction they want them to go.
Finally women tend to favour consensus in decision-making. They often spend much time getting everyone’s ideas and opinions. They want to listen to everyone. They try to be very inclusive. They try to please everyone. Often, however, they end up pleasing no-one. The fact that we can’t please everyone is a concept that is difficult for many women to manage. Women can over-consult and then take a long time to make decisions. They are often seen to be indecisive and unable to make the hard calls.
It is true that as we develop ourselves, our greatest strengths can become our weaknesses, and what I am writing about here is the weaknesses in women’s leadership styles. However it is important that in the reworking of those leadership styles we hold on to what sets our leadership apart – inclusiveness, empathy, lack of ego, commitment to our teams, consensus in decision-making, collaboration with our people, willingness to listen. We need to re-turn these qualities to strengths and articulate them loudly and increase our visibility as we lead from that position of strength.