Friday, March 15, 2013

Ginger vs. Sheryl

As regular readers of this blog know, clients comes to me to develop their own authentic leadership presence. They come from various management and executive positions, and I have several who are running for elected office. Since these particular clients have all been women so far, I am always on the lookout for information that deals with how women win elections. Some terrific new research from the Barbara Lee Family Foundation shows that when women run, the perceptions of "qualification" and "likeability" are inextricably linked.
She's qualified. But is she likeable?

Interesting, when you think about it. We'll vote for a man if we think he is qualified, even if we don't really like him. But a woman . . . ? Voters want the reassurance that she will be approachable and "like us." Because she needs to be even better than the man to win our vote. Like Ginger Rogers, who did everything Fred Astaire did, backwards -- and in heels!

It is difficult, however, to project the authority, expertise, vision, and character needed to be a leader, while keeping a foot in the "likeability" camp. Some people just seem more "likeable" than others, due to accidents of physiognomy or physical stature. Hillary Clinton, who has the traditional round cheeks associated with a "friendly" face, had to work so hard to prove her qualifications when she ran for President in 2008 that she was deemed only  "likeable enough" by then-Senator Obama in a debate!

There is lots of good commentary out there about Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, so I won't add my two cents. I haven't read it yet (though that has not stopped others from passing judgement), but I have read many other books on women's leadership. And it seems that in arenas other than elected office, experts are telling women that they need to seize more authority. Act more like leaders, less like peers. Run the risk of being "not liked" to get to the top. Very different advice.

So--what's a woman to do? There are general trends, but no hard and fast rules. Because when it comes to leadership there are many variables, aside from what you see on a resume: position sought (elected vs. corporate), gender (it will be fascinating to see what transgender leaders will bring to the mix), physical package (tall women have a whole different set of issues than short men). 

It is good to read the books and look at the research; they give you the knowledge to formulate some ideas of how you will climb the leadership mountain. Then look for someone to help you: a professional guide for your particular journey toward authentic leadership. It's a jungle out there. Don't go it alone!

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