Caught between a rock and a hard place

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Women seem to be caught between a rock and hard place.  And that place is called the double-bind.

Unfortunately, we’re stuck in the middle between two beliefs.

One belief is that effective leadership traits are masculine in nature; think command-and-control.  The second belief is that feminine characteristics are not effective leadership traits; think collaborate-and-communicate.

The dilemma then becomes how a woman can be perceived as an effective leader, and still an effective woman.  Not that this should be a problem, but it is.  When we behave in line with expectations of a woman, we’re viewed as an ineffective leader.  When we behave in line with effective leadership traits, we’re judged harshly because it’s misaligned with expectations of a woman.

I know, before you say it, collaboration and communication ARE effective leadership traits, and command and control behaviours are frowned upon more and more.  I get it.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that we are programmed to think that the two are mutually exclusive.  It’s an unconscious bias that we have to work hard to overcome, but that’s not the topic for today.

Today is about understanding how to be both soft and hard at the same time.  How do we walk that fine line between masculine and feminine?  How do we balance strength with compassion?

History gives us a role model who was believed to be effective in her career of running a newspaper at the same time as being respected and revered as a woman.  Katherine Graham (1917 – 2001), owner and publisher of the Washington Post was described by Historian Arthur Schlesinger as “a quiet revolutionary on behalf of all women.”  So how did she do it?  She worked hard and was courageous when it came to protecting freedom of the press.  On the other hand, her emotional intelligence must have been quite high as she’s been described as having an “ability to maintain friendships despite holding a different viewpoint.”

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It was the Washington Post, under the leadership of Katherine Graham, that broke the Watergate story.  Graham describes herself at the time as being “a kind of devil’s advocate, asking questions all along the way – questions about whether we were being fair, factual and accurate.”

Women are constantly looking for good role models that are worthy of our trust and our respect.  Every woman leader needs a copy of Katherine’s Pulitzer Prize winning autobiography titled Katherine Graham; Personal History.


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