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Why are successful men liked more than successful women? How to show up as your authentic self...

In Sheryl’s Sandberg’s 2013 book, Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to lead, she mentions the Heidi/Howard study conducted by Columbia Business School in 2003 to test the likeability of successful women.

The study is about a successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist and CEO who co-founded the software T/Maker, Heidi Roizen. A professor at Columbia Business School presented half his class the case with Heidi’s name on it and for the other half, he changed her name to Howard. The students rated Howard and Heidi equally competent, however they liked Howard and not Heidi.
Why aren’t successful women liked as much as successful men, even when the same strategies and methods are used to be successful? What is even more intriguing, they are also disliked by women.

I read “Lean In” over 5 years ago, as I progressed on my career journey. This story and Sheryl Sandberg’s own leadership experience recounted in the book, always comes to the fore especially when tough conversations and decisions are necessary. Can I be a well-liked and successful manager? Do I need to sacrifice one for the other?

Coming from a small Caribbean island, where your reputation precedes you, many of us learned to be ‘nice’ and ‘polite’ in order to be well liked. I think for women even more than men, being liked is important. However, being an effective leader/manager who can make tough decisions and have hard conversations does not always go hand in hand with being liked.

When I first became a manager, with a small team, I had all these notions of what leader I wanted to be. I devoured books on leadership and management. As a young professional, who loves to have free rein, I decided that is the only way I would manage my team. Boy oh boy, need I say more! I jumped into management thinking if I was nice to my team, they would like me and do their duties to the best of their ability. Management does not always work that way – especially for women.

I distinctively remember a situation of a past team member who reported to me and another manager, the other was male. He never dealt with the complaining, crying or sassiness about meeting his deadlines. He’d come in and casually say, this is what I need you to do, and we need it done by X date and it was always done. With me, I would ask, so what do you have on your desk, can you please do these 3 things, and there would always be an issue with getting the output when it was needed. This same employee would say, I am the best manager they had, but the work wasn’t being done efficiently, and this made me appear incompetent. I recall an experienced leader saying to me, do not let people take advantage of your civility. You need to be kind and fair, most importantly you need to be respected. This piece of advice has stuck with me and reiterates a truth adulthood continuously teaches us, life is about unlearning behaviours that no longer serve us and cultivating new habits. I had to learn that its ok to not be nice. Being nice is essentially being a people pleaser. Being kind, fair and respected were better quality traits I required to be an efficient manager.

My girl-friend and I who swap work stories, often discuss how difficult it is to maintain our ground without being perceived as a B*tch. If we speak just as strongly as men in management meetings, we are too aggressive, if we show too much passion, we’re too emotional, if we set firm deadlines with our team we’re not empathetic. As young women, it often feels that we are limited in our scope of management styles and the glass is always clearer to our short comings than our male counterparts.

Three ways we can get over being liked to being respected as our authentic selves in our corporate roles:

1. Hold yourself and your team accountable:
Once a work plan is laid out and responsibilities delegated, with check-ins and deadlines, maintain a strict sense of accountability that starts with you. Do the work you committed to do, on or before the date you committed to doing it. This sets the tone for your team, that my leader is passionate and serious about the work that needs to be done. Maintain a strict sense of accountability in your team which begins with you. Be fair when holding team members accountable, do not sugar coat or disparage. Always have the end goal in sight and communicate to the team.

2. Be authentically who you are:
Lisa Hana recently announced she will be stepping down from representational politics once this term is over, in an interview she recalls a piece of advice the Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller shared with her, ‘Young girl, never let them see you bawl’. This piece of advice started so many conversations. I believe in the power of authenticity in leadership, there are times you need to be stoic and press on, but standing in your truest authentic self, requires you to show emotions. I am a passionate individual by nature, and I cannot always hide the emotions. Be authentically who you are. Our team members need to see the human side of us. It also opens pathways for better communication and forging of open honest work conversations.

3. Never stop learning how to be an effective communicator:
Effective communication is single handled one of the most important aspect of all relationships, including work relationships. Communication is not only what you say, but how you say it and your body language when you say it. Conversations are taken out of context not because of what was said, but because of how it was said. Try to always have the end goal in mind when discussing matters with team members. What is the outcome we need achieved from this conversation? Am I calm enough to discuss this now? How am I going to get back on track if a major curve ball is thrown during the conversation? Do we have all the facts – not feelings - needed for this conversation to be meaningful? Managers are respected when issues are discussed and dealt with promptly and not left lingering in the air hoping to die a slow death.
Being an effective communicator is something we never stop learning to do, the more we work at it, the better the quality of our work relationships.

As always, I would love to hear your stories and thoughts on how young women can get over the fear of not being liked and being effective Boss – beauties in the corporate world.


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