Monday, February 28, 2011

Women, Leadership, and Temperament

I had the opportunity on Friday to hear Lois Frankel speak at my alma mater. Frankel is a corporate coach and prolific writer, focusing on women in leadership.  She's written books like Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office and See Jane Lead.  My wife was participating in a women's leadership day and so I tagged along for Frankel's talk. 

The talk got off to a rough start for someone who has written about introverts and leadership. Frankel started out by saying "People like speakers with energy. So be sure to speak with lots of energy." Later on she said "Those who speak up first are considered leaders. So make sure, in meetings, that your voice is one of the first voices to be heard."  Essentially she confirmed many of my frustrations with our extroverted-biased culture. Those who speak up the most and who radiate the most energy are considered self-confident leaders, ripe for promotion, whereas those who reserve their opinions and have a smaller "presence" in a room are considered followers or worse, timid or ineffective.

I've written much about this topic, especially in the two leadership chapters in my book. I've tried to demonstrate those who speak up first may not actually have the best ideas, and that often the person with the most power in a room is the one who remains silent for a time and then speaks up later.  In fact, later in the talk Frankel talked about how traditionally "feminine" qualities, like listening, are becoming increasingly valued in our leaders.  She said, "People want leaders who will ask their opinions and listen to them."  Those also sound like introverted qualities.

She also later qualified that "having your voice heard first in a meeting" does not mean that you have to state your opinion. You can just ask a question or clarify something. But speaking early shows you are engaged. I think that's pretty good advice.

What her talk helped remind me of is that being an introverted man is a different experience from being an introverted woman. A man who is silent in a meeting most likely has more power than a woman who is silent in a meeting. A man who speaks softly and slowly is interpreted differently from a woman with those qualities. In the personal sphere, a woman who wants time to herself is often read differently than a man who goes into his cave. I wish this weren't so, but it's unfortunately still a reality.

Women, what is your take on these things? What is your experience of being an introvert in meetings?  How do you think you are interpreted differently than introverted men? Do you think that you have to project extroversion more than your male counterparts in order to be successful?