Breaking the spell of ‘being nice’ versus ‘the leader’

I have just visited a business owned by a dynamic and gorgeous woman, 120 employees; colourful, empowered, dedicated – inspiring. It is clear to me that when good women do leadership well, there is nothing like it. It is creative, unpretentious, empowering, inclusive, effective and kind.

No doubt the world could do with more women in leadership positions..….

There are many reasons women don’t sit in senior leadership positions. Even though many more women than men now graduate from university and 45% of middle management positions are held by women, when it comes comes to top positions, only 1% of them are held by women.

Some of the reasons for this are external, such as: men are still 5 times more likely to have a ‘wife’ (a home support person), which means most of the responsibility around children still belongs primarily to the woman, lack of child-minding opportunities, poor availability of flexible working hours, ‘boys culture’, gender stereotypes etc.

These biases are not only problematic for women, they also mean that men often feel locked into a limited version of themselves.

The inner reasons for why we don’t pursue senior leadership roles are however just as powerful.

‘Nice’ versus the leader

A common obstacle that I see when coaching and training women in Leadership, is the tension that women experience between being a nice, good and likable person versus being a successful or strong leader.

In ‘The Female Brain’ Brizendine says that after only eight weeks in utero, the neurons in the female brain morph to generate communication and emotion while the neurons in the male brain concentrate on areas of sex and aggression.

True or not, we have internalized ‘a good woman’ to be foremost nurturing and considerate of others. This makes declaring ambition and our own needs difficult and often when we do, it is followed by guilt around not being a good person, mother, partner and friend.

We experience being nice and being a good leader at odds with each other.

If I am successful and claim my space by saying the occasional ‘no’, by saying: ‘yes I did that’, by declaring my ambition; it feels scary, it feels like going out on a limb. This is different for men. When it comes to male stereotypes we have a positive correlation between likability and success. It is a negative correlation for women.

Interestingly women who lead using the stereotypical female traits or those drawing on the traditional masculine traits, both lose out, the best alternative is Mindful leadership as it is authentic leadership. It is transparent, clear and kind, the integration of both the masculine and the feminine. Great leadership is combining being a good clear leader with being a kind and generous human being whether you are a woman or a man.

Not only are we stuck in a limited idea of what it means to be a good person, but we are also addicted to wanting to be nice and be seen as nice. This plays a crucial role in why so many women sell themselves short when it comes to declaring and ‘actioning’ their own needs within the workplace and relationships. This inability creates a cluttered, anxious and often resentful mind.

We can’t blame men for this, it is not helpful and also it doesn’t change anything – we have to set ourselves free – by breaking the spell….

When we blame we often use manipulation, we complain in projection, while not realizing that we are our own prison guards.

We all know about the importance of using the Oxygen mask first for ourselves. The oxygen mask is putting our needs first or at least on par with the needs of others. Being nice includes being nice to self…..If we don’t do that how can we expect others to?

So how do we break the spell?

First we become aware…notice if this issue is relevant to you.

Next we learn to ‘lean in’. ‘Leaning in’ is about being with the discomfort that going against our culturally or personally internalized ‘rules’, habits or ideas bring.

You know the discomfort you feel when you worry whether others see you as nice or not? Well don’t release it, know that all emotions only last a couple of seconds. The way you don’t release it is to sit with the tension as a body sensation. You focus on the tension in the body, holding it in NACK (non-judging, acceptance, curiosity and kindness). As you sit with the tension, you will notice it transform. This brings you one step closer to breaking the spell.

You can also remind yourself that a leadership position naturally means that some will not like you – it goes hand in hand with leadership. We have to get used to it in order to become a good leader.

How do we support each other in this? We stop being harsh on other women for being ambitious or for not being loving, caring and kind towards others to the detriment of caring for themselves. We don’t reward women for being ‘selfless’ or always thinking of others.

Stay tuned for Mindful Leadership retreats coming up in Australia, Bali and NZ in 2015.

Visit for more information!

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