Strong women execs: be ‘authentic’, just don’t be yourself
“I just love bossy women,” actress, director and writer Amy Poehler once said. “To me, bossy is not a pejorative term at all. It means somebody’s passionate and engaged and ambitious and doesn’t mind learning.”
While some women execs with c-suite aspirations may have found being a “bossy” straight-shooter works, most report that rising in the ranks of business is like navigating a minefield, even if you back off from your aggressive style, according to respondents of the newly released “Advancing the Future of Women in Business: A KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Report.”
For the study, KPMG surveyed 550 “high-performing executive women who are 1-2 career steps away from the C-suite.”
A woman’s leadership style is a touchy subject, replete with nuance and contradiction. Most women execs recognize that workers have a different set of expectations for them than men, but leaning too heavily toward one leadership style vs. another, according to survey participants, can label one in turns “too bossy or demanding,” “not aggressive enough,” “not collaborative enough” and “too direct.” One respondent said, “Women are expected to be warm and not transactional, but still ‘completely in control’.”
The study examined “authenticity” as a component of leadership and looked at how women execs perceive that quality. Authentic leaders “practice their values and principles consistently — sometimes at substantial risk to their careers — and lead with their hearts as well as their heads,” wrote the study authors.
It seems, however, that “leading with one’s heart” may be code in many organizations for needing to back down from strong stands. One survey respondent reported being coached to “be more vulnerable,” saying that “it seems female leaders are more accepted when they exhibit that behavior.”
Almost half (49 percent) of respondents to the survey said that, while they identify most with the “Authentic” leadership style as defined by the study, they’re unsure if it’s the quality they need to succeed and feel they must compromise their authenticity as they reach top positions.
Reading between the lines, if “authenticity” means being oneself and you happen to be the “bossy” type, the workplace may not be quite ready to accept you for who you are.
- Advancing the Future of Women in Business: A KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Report – KPMG
- Women Executives Believe They Must Adjust Their Leadership Style More Often Than Men To Advance – KPMG/PRNewswire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: In your experience, is the workplace ready for strong, authentic women leadership? If so, how do you define the style of authenticity that makes for a successful female business leader? And if not, what style of leadership should women execs adopt?