Up until fairly recently, and arguably still, women have been the underdogs in business. Boardrooms are still largely dominated by men, the percentage of male CEOs still vastly outweighs the percentage of female ones and alpha-male leadership strategies still prevail. Having said this, women are increasingly winning the top jobs, taking on positions of authority and leading teams big and small to huge success.
However, society – as much as we don’t like to acknowledge it – still portrays men as the dominant sex and with this in mind, leading men is a skill that needs honing as a female boss. Ultimately it’s your leadership skills that will earn you respect, however getting people to take notice of your business acumen as opposed to your gender can be given a head start if you play by the following rules.
1. Be Fair
The number one rule of good leadership is fairness or put another way, acting free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism. Good leaders, just like good teachers don’t offer preferential treatment to any of their subordinates. As a woman, it’s likely you will have more in common with your female team members, however if you let this kind of partiality cloud your professional judgment you will fail to gain the respect of your male employees. Treat everyone equally and with respect, in time it’s likely they’ll return the favor.
2. Don’t Undermine Their Masculinity
One sure fire way to isolate your male team members is to undermine them in any way. It’s a sign of your weakness as a leader if you have to resort to putting people down in order to reaffirm your authority. Cheap shots, mockery or highlighting the fact that they have a female boss not only makes for terrible leadership, but also undermines your own success and that of other female managers. Lead from the front and encourage your male employees to seek higher opportunities. The sign of a good manager is the strength and growth of their team – remember that.
3. Critique Their Work
Don’t allow archaic gender hierarchies prevent you from giving honest and constructive criticism. If you shy away from critiquing your male underlings, not only are you preventing them from developing personally and professionally, but you’re also giving them ammunition to question your ability as a leader. This goes back to equality and fairness – treat everyone equally and don’t be afraid to provide criticism and direction when it’s required. Likewise, praise good work and reward employees when they go above and beyond the call of duty.
4. Don’t Try And Be A Man
For goodness sake, whatever you do, don’t try and get on a level with your male subordinates by imitating their behaviors. One thing I whole-heartedly disagree with is women being told to act like their male peers in order to succeed in business. It makes no sense. Women need to play to their own strengths in order to earn the respect of their subordinates, male or female.
You’re headed down a slippery slope if you begin changing your business personality and body language to suit the company or situation you’re in. Good business leaders need to be honest, trustworthy and genuine – if you begin changing who you are to please different people you are in danger of coming across as disingenuous or lacking in integrity. Furthermore, if men sense that you are playing up to male stereotypes to get on side, you are likely to do more harm than good, not to mention it could alienate you from your female peers. Be yourself, know your own strengths and weaknesses and have confidence in your ability.
5. Don’t Flirt To Get Them On Side
It’s lame and obvious to use your femininity as a way of getting men on side. Women have fought long and hard to be given equal opportunities in business, don’t undermine that by acting all ‘tits and teeth’ in front of your male peers. Instead focus on the task at hand, speak confidently, provide well-considered thoughts and feedback and focus on what you can bring to the table as a woman that isn’t just a pair of breasts!
What’s more, flirting with your juniors is frightfully unprofessional and may leave them feeling uncomfortable in your presence. Being a good leader is all about open communication, managing expectations and providing guidance – don’t ruin that by behaving inappropriately.
6. Manage Expectations
Good leadership is all about managing expectations – the expectations you have of your employees and what they expect from you in return. Open communication as a leader is critical, and the one and only way to manage people is by clearly defining what you expect from them on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. What do you want them to achieve each day? What sort of progress do you expect them to make? How can they go above and beyond the call of duty? Where would you like them to be in one year’s time? Managing the expectations of your employees, male and female, will see you, and them reap success in the long run.
7. Be Bold And Authoritative
Having an air of authority, while maintaining an approachable demeanor is very important when it comes to managing men – well managing anybody really, but men in particular. We are all programed to ‘test’ one another. Right from when we are children, we begin working out how far we can push our peers and siblings – how much ribbing can they take before crumpling or lashing out? And nothing changes in later life; we only learn to be a little subtler about it.
In the workplace, men specifically will try and test the leadership mettle of their managers. Be bold and authoritative; don’t accept poor excuses, ask questions if tasks haven’t been completed on time or to a good enough standard, put your foot down when it comes to making the final call and don’t be afraid to discipline employees that are not hitting the mark. Being dominant, but fair and approachable will help you earn the respect of your employees.
8. Never Get Emotional
Traditionally in business, showing your emotions is a sign of weakness – it can also be perceived as a very female trait – don’t let your guard down. Women are often guilty of letting work get under their skin – taking business personally – and reacting emotionally in front of your colleagues is never a good idea.
It’s wonderful to be passionate and vibrant, to have conviction in your concepts and present them with enthusiasm and excitement, but know when to tow the line and ignore emotional cues. Likewise, don’t allow yourself to take business discussions personally.
Men are a lot more bolshie, vocal and animated than their female counterparts, particularly when they don’t agree with something, however it’s not personal – don’t take it that way. Relax your shoulders, take a deep breath, listen to what they have to say and let your composure soften the blow. If you look physically shaken up by any conversation, it can be used against you or seen as a sign of weakness.
9. Avoid Talk Of Overtly ‘Female’ Topics
Talk of children, fashion, rom-coms or any other perceptibly ‘female’ topics should be avoided in the workplace if you want to be taken seriously by your male subordinates. Unfortunately, women still have work to do when it comes to breaking down stereotypes and conversations that reaffirm ‘female’ sentimentalities don’t help.
I’m not for one moment, however suggesting that you begin dropping fast cars and beer into conversation either. Instead, focus on what needs to be achieved from a business point-of-view – discuss how things can be improved, ask them for their suggestions as well as sharing your own and inquire about their career aspirations. By keeping the conversation businesslike, your male team members will see you as a leader.
10. Consider Your Appearance
Your appearance is important, especially in a work environment. How you dress and take care of yourself communicates clearly to others how you would like to be treated – it sets a precedent for people to follow. Take pride in what you wear; spend time to ensure your hair and make-up is well manicured and professional; choose outfits that are classic, that suit your figure and that make you feel confident – avoid anything too short, too plunging or too informal and remember this one golden rule: Don’t ever wear anything to work that could make others feel uncomfortable.
11. Have Total Confidence And Conviction
Last but certainly not least, have confidence in yourself and your leadership abilities. Have conviction in your decisions and be prepared to defend them. And the way to do this? Know your stuff. Modern leaders cannot get away with being good talkers and nothing more, they need substance, experience and the ability to lead from the front. Your employees will recognize this and thus respect your opinions and ultimately your decisions.
Men are no harder to lead than women, but often our own confidence can let us down. The key points to take away from this article should be fairness, equality, self-confidence and conviction. Remember these critical points and forward thinking, dynamic male leadership is just around the corner.