Post by Patricia Hewitt, contributing Women On Business writer
Last week, I shared with you a story about how nature trumps nurture and discussed the natural leadership skills all women possess. Yet, these powerful natural abilities can also be our worse enemies; tell me if this situation sounds familiar to you:
You’ve worked hard and contributed a great deal to the organization – much of it however, behind the scenes. You provide coaching to your peers, generally when no one is watching. You quietly cover up errors in the interest of furthering the company’s reputation. You allow others to claim your ideas as your own; cheerfully congratulating yourself on your contributions. During all of this, you believe that you are being strong and powerful – the woman behind the success.
Next situation you may be familiar with:
You work for a strong-minded, intelligent individual (man or woman) with whom you agree with on many business decisions. Even when you don’t, you defer to their judgment. He/she often consults with you on business matters, yet doesn’t include you in important meetings. Later you find out he/she is discussing your ideas, but sometimes not mentioning you. Each time you begin to build a reputation for business acumen in your company, you find yourself excluded from information you need to further your ideas. You’re happy that your contributions are making a difference and you assume that your boss is going to make certain you are rewarded since he/she relies on you. When your annual review comes around, your boss tells you there are critical areas you must improve before you could be considered for a promotion.
Welcome to the dark side of yourself and the world of many women in the workplace. Often finding ourselves in positions where we are giving so much of ourselves for so little reward or worse yet, being bullied by our bosses. These situations can feel like being on a treadmill to nowhere, where one is just going around and around and around the same path, not knowing how or where to jump off, perhaps not even recognizing the need to jump off.
How do women avoid getting themselves into this situation? By tempering our natural empathetic and collaborative tendencies with a little old-fashioned self-preservation. In other words, at the same time we are building our careers, we should also be building our inter-personal skills in such a way as to be able to stop ourselves when we are ready to go too far. How far is too far? Let’s examine again our two situations:
In the first situation, our heroine went too far in thinking that being the “strong, silent type” was creating value for herself in the workplace. Was she thinking that someone would notice and sweep her to a major promotion? Sounds like the white knight syndrome, don’t you think? Believe me, that is not going to happen. In today’s business place, it is perfectly acceptable to professionally draw the line in the amount of work you are willing to silently do for the good of the company. In addition, if you allow yourself to be taken advantage of – you will be taken of advantage of – again and again. Next time someone asks our heroine for advice or she notices an error that needs fixing, she should stop for a moment before jumping in. What other ways can this situation be handled that don’t require my never-to-be recognized skills?
In the second situation, a boss that is flagrantly taking her for a ride is quite simply bullying our heroine. This may sound far-fetched to some, but I’m confident many readers have found themselves facing similar circumstances at one time or another in their careers. There is only one way to deal with this situation and that is to face it head on, right away. Bullies only understand one thing and that is a firm “no”. But this requires our heroine to first of all, be alert to the potential for this problem to occur and if recognized, deal with it quickly and firmly.
In a study conducted by S.E. Lewis in 2006 and published as, ‘Recognition of Workplace Bullying: A Qualitative Study of Women Targets in the Public Sector’, in the Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, the author noted that “…women may have different perceptions of bullying, in part related to self-doubt and different perceptions of power. “
Women’s power in the workplace stems from their natural leadership abilities. But the keyword here is “leadership” and that holds true for own careers and lives as much as it does for our employees or our company’s. True leadership is based, in part, on confidence. When women wrap up their abilities in a box of confidence, is when the situations I just shared with you will be nothing more than footnotes in history.