In my day job, I am a business consultant and manager. I have the privilege of working with many amazing, brilliant women. Women who, in my humble opinion, could be outstanding leaders in any organisation. I am also an activist within my workplace for diversity, inclusiveness, gender balance and reducing the unconscious bias that can occur, even in organisations with the best intentions, through education and challenger-thinking activities in the workplace on a regular basis. Last night we hosted a women in leadership networking event and heard two outstanding female executives speak about their experiences and their successes and how they achieved that, but it was a story a colleague shared during the discussion following that really caught my attention.
At the end of the talk there was an opportunity for discussion and questions, and a comment by one of the other women in the audience really stuck with me. She spoke of her experience, she loves to bake and is a very accomplished baker. I also happen to know that she is an outstanding business consultant with excellent attention to detail for her clients. Her story was about a piece of advice she was given. In her 20’s she would often bake during the week and bring this to share with colleagues on Fridays. She was told by the female manager she worked for, when she left that company, as a piece of parting advice, to never bring baking to the office if she wanted to be taken seriously as a leader, as by bringing the baking to work she was putting herself in the role of nurturer, rather than leader. This gem of advice is also echoed in the book “Nice girls don’t get the corner office”, women are advised, don’t feed people, don’t allow yourself to be seen as a nurturer, because it will impact on your career.
This makes me mad as hell and here’s why. I believe we need leaders who are nurturers too. I believe being a nurturer, does not prevent you from being a leader of people, the two are not mutually exclusive. Women are told, bring your whole self, authentically to the table, oh but don’t let anyone know you like to bake, because you will never make it as a leader if you bring your baking to the office! The message is still clear, if you want to succeed, the less nurturing you are seen to be the more likely you will succeed.
I refuse to buy into it, what are they going to do? Not promote me? I’m actually okay with that. Better not to be promoted if your organisation doesn’t value authentic leaders with diverse skills, backgrounds and approaches to leadership. One size does not fit all, when it comes to being an outstanding leader of people. The question of diversity and inclusiveness in the work place would not require a working committee if we simply promoted diverse leaders. Better to find an organisation that does value what you bring to the table as your full authentic self, or create one, than try to squeeze yourself through a mold that doesn’t allow you to bring your unique perspective!
I spent most of my drive home trying to work out exactly what it was beyond that story, that caused such a feeling of disconnection in that session, and it was the concept that it is not enough for you to simply be good at your job, and it’s not appropriate to allow the nurturing side of yourself to the office, if you are a woman who wants to lead.
Apparently we must now ensure we have an elevator pitch for ourselves, we need to be marketing ourselves in each interaction, jumping up and down in a world of frenetic chaos saying “look at me, look at me” along with everyone else. But make sure you can sum it up in 30sec because no one has an attention span anymore, and by the way, make sure you are authentic. How can this approach, which is all about ‘brand me’ spawn good leaders?
What seems to be being forgotten is that it is how you make another person ‘feel’ that will be remembered, long after your 30sec elevator pitch is forgotten. It’s the connection you make with another person that is what will matter in the long run, and connecting with people, genuinely, authentically in a way that leaves that person better emotionally is what builds real networks and that takes time and nurturing.
Mindfulness, taking time and yes, nurturing others – these are leadership qualities in my book, not a slick elevator pitch on ‘brand me’.
There is a school of thought that says, all these high ideals are well and good, but do you want to get ahead? If you do, just play by the rule book.
But there is another voice that whispers, “Do you want to change the world?”
I’ve never been good at playing by the rules.