With all the great empowerment initiatives for women today, we are still looking at massive gender inequality in corridors of power. Many great women thought leaders point to re-evaluating business policies as it relates to the flexible work schedule and eliminating obstacles that force brilliant women to choose between family and career. Others point to women’s ambition calling us all to man up. While I think there is truth in both, I think there are 4 missing links from this important dialogue.
In my keynote speech at Possible Woman conference two weeks ago, I addressed what it takes to be a successful woman leader in The New World Marketplace. Here’s a 5-min video highlight of this keynote address followed by my written summary of the 4 tips I shared:
1. Be authentic, focus on your own unique differentiation, gain trust and respect
I wasn’t just a woman working hard to advance my career in Corporate America, I was an Iranian-American woman….so you can just imagine the brutal stereotypes I had to face and overcome. I wasn’t just an Iranian-American woman, but I had multi-colored hair and tattoos. A far cry from a traditional image of a successful businessman. But at the end of the day, results speak for themselves. Under my CMO leadership, we drove 5 years of consecutive same-store-sales growth. So, I built trust and respect instead of focusing on changing myself to fit into a cultural norm…and I’ve always believed once you gain trust and respect, love follows. Trust and respect are two most important shared values in relationships in The New World Marketplace. But how can you possibly gain trust and respect of your collegues, employees, bosses, even your customers, when you’re trying to be someone you’re not?
It’s far more important to always find the richest, fullest expression of your authentic self, and spend majority of your time in your strengths and passion, versus trying to fit into an exclusive image of the professional businessman, which is no longer the success archetype in The New World Marketplace. Because being good at what you do has nothing to do with how others see you…but it has everything to do with how you see and feel about yourself.
I not only believe the inner authenticity translates in to your own power and success, but I believe authenticity in branding strategies also translates in to your company success. Strategy is not about being the best, it’s about being different and unique. Your own branding strategy has to be the same….about your own uniqueness and differentiation. Be authentic, focus on your own unique differentiation, gain trust and respect and let the results speak for themselves.
2. Be the woman leader other women want to work for
Beyond my non-traditional image and my business and financial performance, it was my style of leadership that differentiated me. I was determined to become the woman leader other women wanted to work for. As an emerging leader, I was always promoted every 2-3 years by working hard and driving results. And I’ve had just as many female bosses as I’ve had male bosses….yet the women bosses weren’t the ones promoting me. I always questioned whether it was a scarcity mentality that there is just not enough abundance to go around for all of us…or a flaw in leadership training for women. I decided then that I wanted to be a woman leader other women wanted to work for and that I’d provide an environment for women to thrive and succeed.
As I was doing research for my book, I came across this data from Time Magazine: More than 2/3 of women still think men resent powerful women…yet 45% of women say female bosses are harder to work for, versus only 29% of men. This is a major issue not often addressed.
Believe it or not, men and women of all races and ages largely agree on life goals. It is the position of power and domination that differentiates us, not just between men and women, but also among women ourselves. That’s even more of an important topic than gender inequality, because one of my biggest fear is reaching gender equality but maintaining the same business culture of domination, command and control. Because that model is not working, and simply switching gender without redefining power and success will not address the core issue.
3. Redefine Power as a blend of hard and soft powers – SMART powers
I believe it’s time to redefine power as less need to limit or control others and define power as affiliation, linking and partnership. In fact, the need to control and dominate, in reality, is a feeling of powerlessness. That means leaving behind the hard, conquest and domination-oriented values. I don’t believe you need to man up to be a successful woman leader.
Feminine values or soft powers are loaded with polarizing reactions, but they are meant to refer to values associated with creation, life-generating, nurturing powers, caring, relating…human and relationship values that have become a business imperative and taught in almost all leadership materials…versus taking, conquest and domination.
It’s time to use feminine and masculine powers as qualities and values in all women and men, instead of gender stereotyping. Let’s face it…there are many women who lead with masculine hard powers, and there are many men who lead with relating, nurturing, caring & soft powers. It has nothing to do with gender.
I believe we all need both…. and it’s a matter of knowing when to use which… Blend of hard powers and soft powers….let’s just call it “SMART POWERS.” It’s time for women leaders to re-evaluate how they view power to succeed and use SMART powers.
4. Stop gender stereotyping, avoid focus on gender differences
Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. Ask yourself why do we persist to focus on gender differences. Men are logical. Women are emotional. If that’s true, and marketing is designed to get an “emotional” response and attachment from customers, why do we bother market to men at all? Men are different from other men. Women are different than other women. Why the continuous focus on how men and women are different? Haven’t we confused our next generations of leaders enough?
I, for one, have defied all gender stereotypes, but that doesn’t mean I forgot how to be a caring, nurturing woman as a leader. I used my masculine powers to gain competitive market share and drive financial results, but I led my team with feminine powers of caring, relating and partnership.
The focus on gender inequality must be different than our continuous focus on gender differences. In fact, I believe if we want to achieve gender equality, we must first stop gender stereotyping for it serves no purpose other than protecting traditional orthodoxies that have held women back for generations.
In The New World Marketplace, it’s neither the man’s world nor a woman’s nation. It’s a dynamic, cooperative shared reality that is under constant evaluation. And the template of success and happiness is very unique and personal to each individual, and is gender neutral and color blind. If you lead with authenticity, purpose and passion, power and success will follow.
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