In this chapter, you will learn how to use the strengths that you have right now to be the best manager possible at work tomorrow. After you have read this chapter, you will be more comfortable leading the men on your team.
We will cover:
How to focus on your female strengths
How to stop being a perfectionist
How to find your unique leadership style
A common concern many new female managers have is their lack of management experience, especially experience managing the opposite sex. What many women don't realize is that they already have certain natural qualities that are going to make them great managers, just as men naturally develop leadership strengths such as risk taking and seeking out new competitive opportunities at a young age.
For example, in my senior year of college, I had a part-time job, an internship, a full-time class schedule, and a boyfriend. That year, not only did I learn how to multitask and manage my own time, but I also learned how to stay calm and graceful during tough situations such as living with five girls in a two-bedroom apartment. I never would have thought that year of busy chaos was preparing me to be a great manager someday. The skills I acquired helped me to step into a management situation where not only did I need to manage my own tasks, but I also needed to manage the tasks of other people.
I can go back even further to see myself developing the skills I use most today as a manager—skills such as coaching and mentoring. I was always the go-to-gal through high school. I was the one my friends would seek out for advice on anything from ditching their boyfriends to getting into college. Mentoring and coaching are natural strengths that I now apply as a woman who manages men.
I have learned to focus on the strengths I know I have to quickly develop trust with the men I manage. When managing women, I don't have to focus as much on my strengths because it is more natural for me to speak to and manage a woman due to our similar strengths. The table in the following section will help you identify what strengths you have right now that you can use from day one as a new manager of men.
In my experience, there are many qualities that female managers inherently have that men appreciate. Men often have different strengths than women, and that is why diverse teams of men and women work well together. Review the following table of strengths and think about what strong points you already have.
It's also important to know that many of these leadership strengths can also be disadvantages if taken too far. While many of the following strengths are good qualities, at times they can be double-edged swords. Women have to balance their traits so that they can gain the trust and respect of men. They need to learn how to "play" to their audience, which is why I have also included ways that these strengths can be a disadvantage if taken too far.
After you determine what your unique leadership strengths are, brainstorm how you can use those strengths more as a manager. For instance, if you are great at listening, think about how you can meet in small groups or one-to-one with your employees to build trust on a more personal level.
Strengths and weaknesses of the female managers I have had
Strengths and weaknesses of the male managers I have had
My first manager, Sally, was supportive of my goals and made me feel like she always had my back. My next manager, Nancy, was always available to answer my questions and trusted me to complete tasks on my own. I was able to succeed because her delegation of tasks was organized and well thought out. My next manager, Kathy, was very understanding, and often we felt more like and friends instead of a manager and employee. She had that female intuition and knew things even before I said them.
The strengths of my previous male managers are very different. My first male manager, Anthony, used humor and jokes to break the ice. My next male manager, Timothy, was very serious, and people respected him because he was decisive and forward-thinking. But, he also intimidated a lot of people (including me). My next manager, Cory, took a hands-off approach and only checked in with me when he needed something.
My previous female managers demonstrated strengths in listening, intuition, attention to detail, and empowerment. My previous male managers demonstrated strengths such as delegation, humor, and decisiveness. These various strengths that were demonstrated to me helped me determine my managerial role models.
I hope you are seeing now that there are innate things that women, like you, excel at that men often don't, and there are some things that men excel at that women naturally don't. You have to be proud of your differences as a woman and learn to use them to build trust with your team.
If something isn't going well, many managers focus on trying to improve the skills of the people they manage. Instead, self-assessment of the manager can make a big impact on the effectiveness of the team. A common saying you may have heard is that a team is only as good as its leader. You should look at yourself as a leader to see if there are any improvements you can make so your team can be more successful.
As a female manager, you want to take advantage of feedback in order to understand your current strengths and weaknesses. You want to know how people perceive you so you can have greater control of creating the outer perception that you want. The following sections mention a few ways that you can do this.
A 360 degree assessment is a process in which employees receive anonymous feedback from the people they work with. Create survey questions specific to your work and offer a chance to respond with numerical values such as:
"On a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, would you say your manager is supportive of your current work and future success?"
When you are done gathering feedback, don't get mad if the feedback is negative. Instead, think about how you can turn the negative response into a positive perception now that you have this information. Also, make sure you ask as many women as men for feedback to see if there are any differences in your perception based on the different genders you manage.
After you get the feedback, pick three focus areas that you are going to work on over the next year. Brainstorm action steps that you can take to improve, and focus on enhancing the positive perceptions and strengths that you already have. Mark in your calendar the actions you will take throughout the next year that will help you improve such as reading a book, taking a course, or finding a mentor.
Another option is to openly ask someone you currently manage in person about your management style and how you could be a better manager. This is a great way to break down any communication barriers with your team, but actually this option should not be your first choice. The employees you manage may not be completely honest with you if they are worried about getting in trouble for their feedback. The best bet is to ask for feedback anonymously.
I used to drive myself crazy making sure my team's work products were 100 percent perfect for our client. Unfortunately, my team didn't have much fun working for me because I created a lot of stress. I almost had a nervous breakdown trying to keep my team operating exactly how my client wanted things to be. I didn't realize that only another woman on my team and I had this perfectionist mindset until my male manager pulled us aside one day and told both of us, "You know things don't have to be perfect."
Striving for perfection is actually one of those things that you think would be a great strength to have as a female leader, but it can be especially negative when managing men who don't have the same concern for perfection. After my male boss told me not to be perfect, I realized that men don't strive for perfection like women often do. The other woman working for me eventually moved positions, as did I, and two men took our place. They laugh, have fun, and don't stress about making things perfect. And guess what? The ship doesn't sink.
We are all imperfect, and trying to attain perfection can come with a lot of stress. Also, perfection kills creativity, which is very important when managing a team. Here are some ways you can start moving away from perfection:
Make a deadline for your task: When the time comes, move on to the next task even if you haven't finished the current task. Settle for as good as can be in the time available in order not to spend countless hours trying to make it perfect. If you need to, you can always return to the task at a later time with a fresh perspective.
Set realistic expectations and goals: Make sure you don't set arbitrary deadlines for yourself for no reason.
Ask for an extension: I know it's hard because it shows that you aren't perfect, but usually there is no negative side-effect for asking for an extension because it shows that you really care. Just don't make a habit of constantly missing deadlines, which can ultimately ruin your trust and reputation. Make sure you know the difference between a hard deadline and a soft deadline.
This is another area where a positive female strength of being detail-oriented can turn into a negative quality when managing men. When my team first started working for our male client, we put together fifty page reports for him to review. He would glance at two pages and then ask us to summarize it for him. I made my team kill a few trees before I realized that our male client cared only about the "big picture" and he, like most men, was not as detail-oriented as me.
Keep a notepad next to your desk with the big picture goal that your team is trying to achieve. My team's big picture goal was to save the government money. When I started to think about telling one of the men I managed to format his Excel spreadsheets perfectly, I would look at my big picture goal and remind myself that the size of his font really doesn't matter. If you nitpick the details of a man's work product, most likely he will get frustrated with the rework, which will impact your ability to reach your big picture goal.
It is also important to think about the big picture goal when you are preparing to give a presentation. You don't need to go over all the details; just focus on what the audience really wants to know. The next time you are preparing to present something to the men you manage, think about the following:
What do I want them to take away?
What is the end product or the result that I want to happen?
What is the biggest question the audience wants to know the answer to?
Don't assume that you have to present all the details to show that you know the material. Keep it short and sweet. If they want more details, they can always ask you after the presentation.
If you are like me, after a stupid mistake, you think about it for days and are very hard on yourself. Men often get over mistakes and losses faster than women. Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada found that men apologize less frequently than women because their bar for what warrants an apology is higher than for a woman. Even saying the words "I'm sorry" when, in fact, there's nothing to be sorry for is one of the 101 unconscious mistakes women make according to Lois Frankel, author of Nice Girls Don't Get The Corner Office. Here are some ways to get over your mistakes fast:
Focus on what you did right instead of focusing on what went wrong.
Understand why you made that mistake and figure out how not to make the same mistake again.
Remember that mistakes can often be a good thing because you learn something from them. Think about what you learned from this mistake and move on.
Think realistically about the mistake. Was it really that bad? Are you the only one who will remember it tomorrow?
Create a new process to ensure that the mistake doesn't happen again. For example, if you forgot to complete a task, put a reminder on your calendar for next time.
For the sake of your team, don't dwell on your team's mistakes. Start the next day fresh because you have much more important things to think about as a manager.
As a woman in charge, you have to be able to think on your feet and take some risks. When a man you manage comes to you asking for direction, he wants a quick answer that is straight to the point. He will not be very happy with, "Well, let me think about it." Besides, it's better to delegate something to him and start him off in a direction immediately rather than you spending more of your precious time thinking about it.
Remember that something is better than nothing, and you can always make changes in the future. Here are some steps you can take to make quick decisions as a manager:
Go with your gut. What was your first thought? Use it.
Lay out your options. Write down the pros and cons and narrow it down.
Lean on your previous experiences. When did you face a similar issue and what did you do?
Don't doubt yourself. You have the knowledge and experience to make this decision, or otherwise you wouldn't have been promoted to manager. People trust you and believe you have the ability to make great decisions.
Remove the detail and distractions. Get rid of the emotions and all other details of the decision that don't matter. What are the facts that really matter?
As a manager, you may not always know the right direction, but trust your intuition and lean on your past experiences to help you make a quick decision.
Your success as a manager depends on how confidently and comfortably you are leading. You want to be authentic and never want to act like someone you aren't. My first experience as a manager was not great, but I learned from it. I didn't get the respect I deserved from the man I managed because I was trying to be like his previous manager instead of being like myself. I was afraid of confrontation and was not comfortable leading. He could tell I was uncomfortable and he didn't respect me because of it. Little did I know he actually had a job transfer in process and already had one foot out the door!
You have to find a leadership style that works for you and believe in yourself. You don't have to become one of the guys and you don't have to fit in with everyone else. You can stand out and be different with your unique leadership style by just being yourself.
So, what type of leader are you? Daniel Goleman, author of Primal Leadership, describes six different styles of leadership. Answer the following questions to determine which styles reflect you most right now as a leader:
Do you enjoy getting your team's perspective on decisions? If so, you are a democratic leader.
Do you set high standards for your team to meet so that you can get the best possible result? If so, you are a pacesetting leader.
Do you rely on teamwork most of the time to get tasks done? Do you think two heads are better than one? If so, you are an affiliative leader.
Do you prefer to meet with your employees on an individual basis in order to discuss their development and future goals? If so, you are a coaching leader.
Do you like to envision a future goal for your team to meet? If so, you are a visionary leader.
Do you often use criticism in order to motivate your team? If so, you are a commanding leader. If this is you, be careful, because criticism is not usually an effective form of leadership.
Question: How can I make sure I regularly use my leadership strengths so that I am continually improving as a manager?
Answer: Write down the strengths you already have and the characteristics you want to improve on. Review your notes on a weekly basis to see how you are doing. The best way to make sure you are on track is to continually remind yourself and assess yourself. Write down a few words that will remind you what you are working toward each month and keep the note at your desk. This visual reminder will help you remember to keep improving on a daily basis.
Question: What do you do when a man resents being managed by a woman no matter what you do?
Answer: Most of the time, this is just a test of your patience and he will come around. I have had this happen, but I just kept doing what I was doing and didn't let him frustrate me. Eventually, when he saw that I knew what I was doing and that I deserved to be in a management position, he started to respect and trust me. It was just a very slow and gradual process. Stay patient and keep doing the great things you are doing; he will come around or he will quit. One way or the other, it will be OK!
Now it's time for some self-evaluation; by answering the following questions, you'll identify your knowledge of your own leadership strengths and learn to focus on what makes you unique as a female manager:
What are my leadership strengths and how can I use these strengths at work?
Do I need to focus more on the big picture and less on being a perfectionist?
What makes me unique as a manager?
What are the traits that I admire most about my previous managers?
In this chapter, you have learned:
What strengths you have right now as a female manager
How to get feedback to see how you are perceived as a manager
How to stop being a perfectionist and focus on the big picture
How to make quick decisions
How to move on after a mistake
In the next chapter, you will learn how to use your strengths to communicate assertively to the men you manage.