Growing and Supporting Powerful Women Leaders

Women in positions of leadership and power face challenges from within and without that men don’t share. Internally, we can struggle with a variety of issues. For example, some women leaders are less comfortable with making people unhappy. We are more likely to let others set the agenda because of an ingrained responsiveness to expressed need. Outwardly, we run a tightrope between being seen as cold and bitchy if too aggressive, or not up to the job if quiet or reserved.

Our advising service can help women leaders on four fronts:

  • Understand your own emotional vulnerabilities and develop strategies for both respecting them and preventing them from being obstacles in your self-presentation and performance. increasing self-awareness leads to resilience and maximally effectiveness. Ongoing support for acting powerfully can make it possible to grow into a leadership position or improve leadership process and impact rapidly.
  • Understand the emotional reactions (including and especially unconscious ones) of others towards a woman leader.
  • Learn to project an image of a powerful woman that is compelling and attractive because it hooks into positive unconscious wishes and fantasies.
  • Avoid inadvertently projecting an type of image of a powerful woman that is off-putting and triggers deep negative emotional reservoirs in those you want to engage.
  • I can advise you on how to use metaphor, messaging and presentation to maximize the positive and minimize the negative reactions that woman leaders encounter.

    There are economic aspects and cultural prejudices that contribute to these challenges. Access to the old boys’ network, finding a voice and claiming a place at the table are well-documented problems and women leaders have many resources available to them to meet these.

But there’s another level of challenge--the unconscious emotional reactions both men and women have to women in power. We humans are ambivalent about women with power. It's not fair but it's real. A powerful woman tends not to exert an automatic pull of attraction like a powerful man, but rather wariness at best or even repulsion. See my blog posts that elaborate more on this theory on Huffington Post and this website.

Followers or constituents have complex feelings about their leaders, even those they have enthusiastically chosen. Leaders are often idealized and expected to immediately or quickly solve everyone’s problems. Women leaders who can’t relieve immediate stress in an organization (or solve all the problems in a country!) can be perceived as the equivalent of “bad mothers”. Women leaders who are assertive or forceful can be seen as irritating or bitches. It can be very lonely.

In my own experience as a woman leader, president of a 3000-member professional association, I learned to endure a barrage of criticism and personal attacks that both male and female leaders often face. The flavor of the negativity is rather different for women leaders, however, as well as our reactions to others’ aggression. Learning as I went, I discovered my own natural leadership style was not the expected feminine one of achieving consensus. Rather, I relished the power to make decisions, trusting my instinct and judgment. Comfort with this “masculine style” ended up sparking some of the bitterest enmity of my term as president but ultimately allowed me the most satisfaction and creative energy. Other women leaders find a different path to success. What counts is insight and developing a leadership practice that suits you and gets results.

Advisory services to women leaders or their teams or offered on a project or on a monthly retainer basis. I am also available as a speaker or workshop leader on dealing with the challenges faced by women in leadership. For more information or to set up a time to discuss whether this service would work for you, please email me at prudy@invantageadvising.com or call me at 312-883-7949.