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The (female and male) manager’s dilemma

I was quoted in a recent issue of Forbes about my experience being a female boss in a male-dominated industry. The reporter wanted to know about times when I handled things differently than a man in my position might have, or received different treatment. I offered a couple of stories that didn't make it into the article.

On one occasion years ago, I called a meeting with my roughly 100 employees to discuss a former employee's public, defamatory statements about me and the company.  I was teary-eyed. I thought that was OK - and I still do - because the incident was a terrible betrayal, and the tears reflected how truly upset I was by it. The president of the company, a man, told me in kind terms after the meeting that he was embarrassed by the waterworks. As a man, he wouldn't have cried. As a woman, I did. I can live with it.

In a more recent example, a technical journal published an article I wrote on mark-to-market accounting rules, a rather complex subject. One of my senior executives, a man, complimented me on the piece. He then asked, "So did your husband write it?" I suspect he wouldn't have asked the same question to a man. What I know for sure is that, male or female, this person showed poor judgment.

The Forbes article examines the balancing act female managers, in particular, face between being well-liked and being effective. I strive for clarity, and that often comes across as something other than "nice."

By focusing only on women, the topic feels a bit outdated, because the matter of managerial style and "too nice/too tough" is relevant regardless of one's gender. Most managers I've known, male or female, have worked to develop an effective style they are comfortable with. The best organizations accommodate a variety of styles. They temper the intemperate and embolden the meek.