Breaking Ingrained Tags & Character Holds

We can all make a list of good and bad leaders that we have experienced in our careers. This list is easy, but the second, more important question is: What makes a Good Or Bad Leader? In Becoming a Resonant Leader (Mckee, Boyatzis, Johnston, 2008), we are asked to articulate these descriptions of best and worst, and what specifically made one identify a leader into these categories.

I would like to ask another more intriguing question. For women, why is it that these descriptors may change? Not only do women have to often prove themselves worthy of positions of higher leadership, but also there are different expectations for female leaders, particularly for them to be labeled good.

Smith and Berg (1997) discuss the conflict that occurs with group dynamics when women possess traits traditionally deemed as masculine versus when men express nurturing characteristics. I often wonder why their needs to be conflict; and why, in this day in age, we still have to stick to archaic gender roles. If women possess more traditionally masculine traits, like being assertive, they are labeled good leaders, but too mean. Even worse, they are called a variation of the B-word (Hence my subtitle). Yet, in my experience when women are more nurturing, they are thought of as weak leaders, and too nice.

Why do we have to fit into masculine or feminine boxes to identify ourselves as good or bad leaders? Most women have modeled their behavior after more masculine role models, because in fact, we have seen more males in leadership positions. But, what if we expressed more of our nurturing side, we should still feel comfortable that we are good leaders.

And, when are these gender stereotypes most likely upheld: when women are evaluating other women. In a recent study comparing female nurses’ evaluations of female and male residents as leaders, the researchers found that in their earlier training years, female obstetrics and gynecology residents received more negative (destructive) feedback than their male counterparts. At this past CORD Academic Assembly in Nashville, TN, Mathews et al. (2016) presented a poster further comparing how females are perceived while leading resuscitations in the emergency department. They found that more authoritative behavior from female residents was perceived as overly assertive.

So what do we do to change the conversation?

  • Get more females in leadership positions in medicine: We need more FemInEMs in the big chairs at the important tables. These women will be our role models of what good leadership looks and acts like.
  • When you get higher, pull others’ up: It is important as we elevate to positions of authority that we consider gender balance in our team demographics, and more importantly in the team dynamics.
  • Be True to Yourself: You do not need to step outside of your personality to either gain respect or make others feel comfortable. Let your work and merit speak for itself.

And, finally what do we do to change the conversation?

  • Change the conversation: Let’s try to judge each other less, be less competitive towards other women, and work together to change our culture.