Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Being a Woman in a Leadership Role

This article is part of a series. You can start at the beginning: Leading Development Teams on Large Projects.

Although this article is about being a woman in a leadership role, I firmly believe that these qualities are essential for any good leader and that you can remove gender from them. I just think there are certain areas that are stronger for a woman and stronger for a man. So the areas we are not as strong in, we just have to hone in on those and build up those skills and then eventually, we all end up on level ground.

There are three areas I want to talk about in this article:
1.       Communication
2.       Decision Making
3.       Be Yourself


I touched a little on this in the last article, Resolve Team Issues Quickly. A woman’s approach to leadership is slightly different than a man’s. I think most women are in touch with their feelings or at least try to be. We always want to talk things out. It’s in our nature and how we were raised. I think this quality helps in leadership because it helps to get everyone talking – communicating, which seems to be the number one issue that comes up as a problem in IT amongst employees. Don’t get me wrong, I think men are capable of this too, but I think if a man wants to be a good leader, he will probably need to work a little harder fostering good communication skills.

Decision Making

There’s this stereotype of women – we can’t make up our minds. We want the couch on the left, no, the right, maybe if we turn it sideways, no, turn it the other way. Oh, let’s just paint the room a whole different color and maybe that will make the couch work. Yeah, I admit. I’m guilty of that with one exception: I’m not like that at work. This is something I’ve had to work hard at. The ability to make decisions and stick with them is important when you’re in a leadership role. This very important skill can single-handedly diminish all your good intentions as a leader if not done well.

When it comes to making a decision, I first listen to all my teammate’s points of views and their supporting evidence as to why they think it is the best solution. We meet as a group and I listen to each of the suggestions individually and fully. The whole team hears the arguments. A lot of times the team has differing opinions. So it’s up to me to make the final decision. When I make my decision, I center on what is best for the company and our customers first. Then I consider how well will this idea work for long-term maintenance by other developers or architecture-wise as a system. My responsibility as a leader is to be thinking about the big picture. Then I make the decision based on that. I explain to my team why I’ve made that decision. I know that some people may say you don’t need to explain your decisions, but I’m a member of the same team. I feel it’s important to communicate the reasoning behind your decisions. This way, you get your team’s support and understanding, while at the same time you teach them how to make important business decisions if they ever get into a leadership position.
The hardest part is not to waver after the decision is made. To become uncertain in yourself, shows weakness in leadership and to a team that’s full of men, that can lead to a mutiny of sorts – a slow takeover by someone who is strong-minded, but ultimately not the leader. You are the leader for a reason, stand behind your decisions and trust in your ability. Actually, this is true for men too. If you reverse the situation, say instead you have a man leading a team of women. The result will be the same. The women will take the man down at any sign of weakness. The ultimate message is to believe in yourself and stand behind your decisions, no matter your gender.
What about wrong decisions? Sometimes that happens. It’s happened to me before. Your approach just didn’t work out. Admit to the team that the approach didn’t work based on factual reasons. Demonstrate where the decision went wrong. Then, have the answer to what has to happen next. How can we turn it around and make it work? Have the answer in hand already and you will still be considered a good leader. If you can’t think of the answer, consult with your teammates and brainstorm solutions. Then rinse, lather, and repeat the decision making process I outlined above. Remember through the process, it’s a learning opportunity, for you and the team, and you will all make better decisions in the future as a result.
I find that sometimes people new to my team will be doubtful of my abilities, but my ability to make good decisions and use facts to support them usually ends up in turning their opinions around. I’ve heard before that if you’re a man, you don’t have to prove yourself with facts, but I don’t find that to be true in my experience. I think all good leaders have supporting evidence and reasoning to back up their good decisions. If you want to get ahead genuinely, you have to know your stuff whether you’re a man or a woman.

Be Yourself

It sounds simple, but in actuality, we all tend to wear masks when we are at work, school, parties, etc. Think Carl Jung’s Persona mask here. “Because of his more or less complete identification with the attitude of the moment, he deceives others, and often himself, as to his real character. He puts on a mask, which he knows is in keeping with his conscious intentions, while it meets the requirements and fits the opinions of society, first one motive and then the other gaining the upper hand. “[1]

To be fully satisfied in your accomplishments as a leader, you have to do them as yourself with your own beliefs, conscience, and values. My personality is gentle. I am not a harsh, demanding person. I don’t draw hard lines. I am generally happy, kind, and I have a good sense of humor that I use to my advantage. I like to put my team at ease and build a friendly rapport amongst the team. When I work with other teams, I try to understand their point of view. They probably are just as busy as me with just as many obstacles. My approach is very different than a man’s approach to leadership, but it works for me and that is my point. I try to let myself shine through. Consequently, my gentle approach leads to a lot of support by my team members and other teams. They trust that I only have good intentions. I treat everyone as equals and they treat me as an equal too. I can be a woman with my woman ways (in other words, I don’t have to act like a man) and my peers respect me for who I am.

I used to work for a company that didn’t put women in leadership roles, and I truly felt jilted as I saw men promoted above me that weren’t as knowledgeable or didn’t work as hard. But then I realized the truth – I don’t owe that company for any of my accomplishments. I am in control in this situation. There are many other companies that promote a person for their abilities, whether that person is a man or a woman, and all that is left is to seek them out.
[1] The Basic Writings of C.G. Jung as translated by R.F.C. Hull. © 1990 by Princeton University Press.

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