Leading Ladies and Lads

By: Wendy Merrill

I believe that women's definition of leadership is different than that of men. For many women, being a leader does not absolve us of doing something that might be considered a menial task. Quite the opposite. To many of us, leadership is about just making sure the job gets done, and done well.

Really strong leaders possess the ability to both get their hands dirty and have a command of their limitations with regard to where their time is best spent. Jumping in and rolling up one's sleeves demonstrates modesty, dedication and a team spirit. While these are all super important to inspiring and leading a successful team, they must be tempered with the right amount of delegation to maximize efficiency and empower others to develop their skills. Many working mothers embody this invaluable skill set which is why I often tease my colleagues that if they want stuff to get done they should give it to a working mom.

This week there was a post on LinkedIn that chastised professional women for jumping in to "save the day." In other words, the author said that women continue to sabotage opportunities for advancement because we all-too-readily take charge and do what needs to be done to complete a task, no matter how obsequious it might be. She went on to describe a situation where a female colleague was asked by a male colleague of the same level to make photocopies of a report just before a presentation that they were both due to deliver together. The author claimed that by agreeing to the "base" task of making copies the woman was propagating the stereotype that women were somehow subservient to men in the workplace.

Frankly, I am not sure I agree with this. Certainly, on the surface his request might rub an "old-school" feminist the wrong way. But what if the woman were to pursue a different path? Instead of calling the guy out for his innocuous (albeit a bit indelicate) gesture, what if she went the more collegial route by agreeing to complete the task while at the same time turning to her colleague and leveling the playing field by delegating other pre-presentation tasks back to him (like setting up the bagels and coffee for the meeting attendees). It is precisely nuanced behavior such as this that brings about real change.

The only way for women to achieve parity is to demonstrate all of the strengths and unique qualities that we bring to the workforce by skillfully weaving them into our daily interactions. If we are both strategic and shrewd we will prove our abilities and obligate our less evolved male (and female) colleagues to assign credit where it is due. There is too much "talking" going on and not enough "walking" to back it up. Talk is cheap. Especially soap-boxy, chest-pounding declarations of female empowerment lacking material actions to back them up.

For me, the leaders I admire most are those who are never too self-important to roll up their sleeves and set the meaningful example of doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Both genders can and should aspire to master this ability.