Women in Leadership

We recently worked with a female leader who had gotten feedback from a 360-degree feedback exercise. The feedback was positive, with constructive comments on the leader’s strengths and a few suggestions for expanding her impact as the organization grew. This leader was clearly making a positive difference in her organization.

Several of the feedback providers noted that the leader had a “strong personality” – others noted she was a “force of nature.”  These comments were among the positive ones, noting the leader’s self-confidence and knowledge, and ability to drive results despite complexity and hurdles.

Many women, however, hear the feedback “strong personality” in a somewhat less positive light. Including this leader. “Strong personality?” this leader said. “When did you last hear a man described as having a strong personality!?”  Oscillating between anger and self-doubt, the leader set aside all the positive feedback, and instead focused in on the skills she needed to develop to be softer, gentler, less strong.


This is not an unusual internal conflict for women leaders.

Women leaders are expected to lead organizations and make the tough decisions, but also to be the gentle mother, sister and friend.  What are the most effective leadership skills and characteristics for these strong women, who are making a difference in their organizations, and yet feel internal and external demands to be gentler and more feminine?

Here are three tips for these women making a difference:

  • Be yourself.  As basic as it sounds, you can only show up as yourself. The key is being your best self – getting enough sleep, eating well and noticing and managing your reactions to others.
  • Notice your impact and calibrate. Some people are more comfortable working with strong woman leaders than others. To maximize effectiveness, it is true that sometimes, women do need to adopt softer approaches to maximize their impact. It is easy to respond that it is a double standard to expect this of women but not men. However, it is worth considering that male would do well to do the same.
  • Embrace your role. You are in your role for a reason. You are making a difference every day. Accept feedback, keep learning, course correct where needed and find peace.