From Awkward to Authentic: 4 Ways Men Can Lead Women Well

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Holly Moore, the Vice President of Growing Leaders, reflects on the different male leaders in her career and offers several suggestions on how men can best lead women who report directly to them in the workplace

Today, I’ve asked Holly Moore, the Vice President of Growing Leaders, to write a blog on being a female leader in her male-dominated career… and what she’s learned along the way. Holly and I have been friends for 15 years and have worked together for the last seven. I hope you are encouraged by her words!

Over the 27 years of my career, I have served in multiple roles within both for-profit and non-profit organizations. For the last 15 years, I have been in senior executive leadership positions. Throughout all of these career opportunities, I have reported directly to a male leader over 80% of the time. In fact, during my tenure in a Fortune 200 company, I was often one of only two female executives in a room full of male leaders.

I have reflected back on the different male leaders in my career and want to offer several suggestions on how I think men can best lead women who report directly to them in their workplace. I admit up front that this is not an exhaustive list and only reflects my personal experience. I also recognize that many of these items work equally well for both genders. Hopefully, some of you who read this will be able to add to the list, and we can all learn together.

How have male leaders led me well?

They gave me opportunities to grow and develop.

I reported to Bob during one phase of my corporate career. When I first met him, I was in a training position with a local branch of the company. During a site visit, he asked my opinion about how a certain aspect of the business was being handled and wanted to learn what I was doing to better connect with customers. Soon after, he invited me to speak to a gathering of regional leaders within the company. This exposure and platform led to a promotion for me. In time, I actually worked under Bob as the vice president of a division responsible for 450 staff and a $50 million annual budget. It all started with one man giving me a chance and identifying something in me that I didn’t see myself. He took away my self-imposed glass ceiling.

They respected my femininity without being patronizing.

Although some readers may disagree with me, no matter how accomplished I become as an executive, I will always be a female who processes information and makes decisions with a different mindset than my male colleagues. The best male leaders in my career have been willing to embrace and accept my uniquely female perspective or reactions without showing disrespect for me as a business colleague and partner.

They gave me specific, tangible feedback in “real time.”  

I have heard some people say that women in the workplace are at times “fragile” or unable to receive constructive criticism as well as their male counterparts. I would respectfully disagree. In my experience, women want to get an accurate assessment of their performance as much as their male colleagues. They desire clarity and direct communication if they are missing the mark and can handle feedback that is given in a timely and professional way.

I worked for Eddie during one season of my career. After working with me on several projects, he told me that I needed to pay more attention to detail, and proceeded to give me specific examples of what he was talking about. He didn’t bring the subject up to me in a condescending manner, or quietly complain to others about his frustration.  He spoke directly and with care because he believed I could do a better job than he had seen from me thus far.  I will always remember his willingness to “speak the truth in love”.

They let the best idea win.

Most of us know leaders—male or female—who are insecure. Consequently, those leaders view their ideas as the best ones, even if they’re not. Their insecurity won’t let them see things objectively. Every one else who wants to share an idea must work to make it feel like it came from the “boss.”

A number of years ago, I worked in a very challenging job situation. The male leader I reported to was domineering and had rarely had a female as a direct report. There were a number of occasions when I had ideas about how the organization could grow or how  to best respond to a certain work situation, but he found it hard to take advice from me and routinely dismissed it. On the other hand, I have enjoyed working under men whose ego was in check and who were secure enough to allow outside ideas to win out, even if they were contrary to their own. I currently serve in an organization where the president I report to, Tim, has welcomed and actively pursued my input. It’s empowering! The men I know who do this gain loyalty and respect, especially from females who’ve not had the opportunity to weigh in with an idea because the environment was constrictive.

What about you? How have you been led well by a man in the workplace?


Written by Holly Moore

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