A few days back I was at the Oxford Cha Bar to enjoy the cup of tea that I had missed in the morning hurry. I flipped through the first few pages of ‘The Finkler Question’ to reach the part where I had left it. I beckoned to the server. Just as I did, there was a deafening command – like a terrorist leader ordering his troops to storm the bookstore. I would have leapt under the table but, just in time, I realized, that it was not a terrorist – just a woman leader.
She was sitting a few tables away with a group of skinny boys, evidently, her team. And was booming instructions, orders.
Where are the logo designs?
How is your tea?
I don’t want any excuses.
Pass me some sugar.
This looks good.
She even chose to voice her compliments thunderously.
Everything she uttered was loud and angry. It got me thinking – a lot of women that hold leadership positions choose to be gargoyles that could scare Evel Knievel and the Moari warriors put together. Why is it so? Have women figured that they need to be man-like in order to survive in a male-dominated world? Does this style get them better results than a plain, not necessarily feminine style of communication? Have men, inadvertently fanned a belief that they’d respect only those women leaders who have in-built loudspeakers and an anger-button to boot?
I don’t know. And I am not saying that all women leaders subscribe to this style. But I have found many young women leaders, in their thirties following this pattern.
Just when I was reviewing my observations in days that followed this experience, I crossed paths with another woman leader who stormed into a meeting room and emptied a volley of verbal bullets. She was confident, angry and very loud. She countered every bit of logic offered with a loud,
‘I understand your point of view. But, I would like to take that call myself.’
Whatever that meant. All I could hear after a while when my ears were damaged by her deafening roars were,
‘I understand your point of view. But, I would still like to eat the ice cream that fell on the pavement.’
‘I understand your point of view. But, I would still like to give a shot at colonizing the moon.’
What she lacked in logic, she made up with her bellows. The team stood no chance. They cringed against the wall of the wall, letting her complete her tirade. There was not enough ‘wall’ for all of them, and one of them stood pressed against the water dispenser, occasionally turning on the taps with his butt.
It’s a message we hear at all too many women’s conferences: “‘You should be loud in order to make your mark in the world.’ Not only is that not true, but it’s also limiting for women who are not naturally loud,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. “It’s a limited view of what leadership can mean.”
Instead, she champions the power of quiet leadership.
University of California, Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., doesn’t see an outright problem in encouraging aggressive leadership, however. “People need to feel bold, and they need to be assertive, and I think that’s the upside to the Lean In hypothesis,” he says.
But he admits, our culture has antiquated, mistaken ideas about influence and power that trace back to Machiavelli, whose theories implied that leaders need to be coercive and forceful to achieve power. Those ideas largely don’t work today.
So what works?
I guess women leaders need to figure out the key competencies needed, pull out the weeds and retain the flowers. In my personal experience, what has worked it mastery, upwards, and empathy, downwards. When convincing leaders, mastery of concepts was sufficient to get their ears and while inspiring teams to perform, being genuinely empathetic worked.
I never felt the need to holler.