In my book, The Image of Leadership, I discuss different challenges female and male leaders face often when it comes to their image and the way others perceive them. There are certain patterns, certain types of perceptions, certain stereotypes if you want, that I see more often than others. Some people are perceived as too serious and others as too fun. Some people feel guilty of being too stubborn and others of being cute. Here is an introduction to one that some of the female leaders I work with face often:
We all know them—those nice women who flutter around the office. Always happy, always smiling, and exuding a positive aura, with some magical sprinkles too. The soft voice, the soft handshake. She usually nods her head to the side when she giggles, making her look like she would be a little embarrassed about this oh-so-grown-up joke. She is the first one who raises her hand if someone asks who will get coffee for the meeting, so she can easily trip through the conference room door—since she anyway doesn’t look forward to possibly standing up in front of the crowd and presenting last months’ results.
Why don’t Tinkerbells get promoted? Because they appear to be overly emotional. Because companies fear that with the slightest threat of a challenge, they’ll either burst out in tears or just flutter away. And if they get promoted? And face the slightest hint of a leadership challenge? They’ll burst out in tears or flutter away.
My answer to this dilemma? There is no answer other than:
Stop being cute! Because you are a lot of other things too.
But the only one people seem to notice is cute.