Tag Archive: women and leadership

When To Be a Bitch at Work

Ruth and I spend a significant amount of time teaching our clients and training participants to be kind and curious, ask open ended questions, reduce assumptions and judgements, and basically be the most lovely manager your team has ever had.  I’ve laid out a broad sweeping generalization in our blog before – coaching is everything. But I take it back. Coaching is ALMOST everything.  The final key to the mysteries of management is just saying what needs to be said – in the right way and at the right time.

While coaching might be 90% of the solution, the other 10% is delivering firm and clear messages that get results. Interestingly enough, it is often that behaviour that makes many women leaders “the bitch” and their male counterparts “assertive and determined”.  But that’s a whole other topic for our Women and Leadership Series – in today’s blog – I’m talking about being assertive and clear and not trying NOT to be a bitch by softening the message.


Which comes first the coaching or the bitch?

Well it depends on the situation and the person of course! One of our favourite leadership theories, and one that resonates well with our clients, is Situational Leadership.  At its core, it trains leaders to effectively diagnose the needs of an individual or a team and then use the appropriate leadership style to respond to the needs – based on two communication styles: Task oriented and relationship oriented styles.

This means that each individual and situation needs to be diagnosed appropriately.  There is a time to use coaching for:

  • selling –> How might this benefit you?  What would make you want to do this? Tell me what is working well for you?
  • discovering –> Help me understand what happened? Tell me more? Tell me about a time you have you done this in the past?
  • problem solving –> What is the impact of your decision? How might you approach this? Who needs to be involved?

And there is ALSO a time, for more directive language. Directive language, or more simply, direct, assertive, to-the-point language, is often deemed negative and insulting to the recipient.  Our Canadian (and British influenced) culture, in fact, does a particularly bad job of being direct. We are much more likely to soften the message with the sandwich approach (good feedback, bad feedback, good feedback) or softening our message with words like “occasionally” or “maybe” or perhaps. It is this weakening of messages that causes confusion in employees.  They are unable to discern between the message and the words.

So when can you just say it?

3 Situations When You Can (and should be) Be a Bitch.

  1. Urgency (when time is of the essence) –> I need you to contact the following people by end of day to resolve this customer service issue before it becomes a bigger problem.
  2. Lack of skill or experience–> First you will contact the suppliers, then you will generate the purchase orders, and finally you will order the parts – that is the process I need you to follow.
  3. Resistance to  previous coaching –> We have talked about the impact of your tardiness at the last 3 meetings. You are required to be at work at 8:30.  Another incident of tardiness will be noted in your file.

The coaching drives engagement, but it is the direction (when appropriate) that drives results. Your ability to be the bitch at the right time and in the right way, will make both you and your team a success.  Discover the magical balance between coaching and direction to become both a loved AND respected manager (Click to Tweet!).

Tell us your stories about your results @whiteboardcons!

Until next time,


Women and Leadership

Woman-leadershipThis week at Whiteboard Worldwide Headquarters, Ruth and I have been thinking about Women and Leadership, particularly with respect to training.  I have to be honest that my first thoughts were, “Why would women need Leadership training that is any different than the training we would offer to men?” I hated the thought of saying that women needed something different or special – to us leadership meant building relationships, coaching your team, developing and executing in a “one-size-fits-all “strategy.

The literature and media I looked at seemed to emphasize that women need more training, whether it be in order to debunk  media’s presentation of “stereotypical” women and their roles, or to add some additional skill-sets that would make women more successful. I reached out to a few feminist women in my circle who hold leadership roles, and was overwhelmed with their excitement and passion on the topic – but I still wasn’t convinced.

“Part of the hesitance to embrace powerful women is embedded in feminism itself,” says Buzzfeed’s Anna North. “Feminism is a movement founded on women’s status as a marginalized group,” North writes, “and as a woman moves closer to the centers of corporate or government power, she can come to seem like, for lack of a better word, the Man.”

Could I agree with this? I’m not sure!

My government leadership experiences have all been peppered with a wide array of women leaders, many of whom were stellar strategists and coaches, and seemed to kibosh any and all barriers to women being successful in leadership.  I have been fortunate in my career to have these leaders to guide me to take on leadership roles and excel in them.  So my experience makes it hard for me to say that women are treated differently than men in the workplace.

But how do others feel?  Do women need to learn how to react, mitigate, and respond to situations where they are being treated differently? (Click to Tweet)

This week, Ruth and I delivered some “executing on strategy” training to a team of 30+ engineers (95% male) and my mindset changed a little.  Talk about a tough crowd. My inner-self was torn between being my best, teaching the material that I knew was great in the ways I know how – and running out of the room to have a nice cathartic cry.  Wow. I don’t think I had ever experienced that before, and it was alarming to me. Did I have to win over this crowd because I am a woman? Was it because I’m not an engineer? Were there other reasons? I don’t really know. To be honest, my biggest issue is that I cannot prove that any of those reasons was the culprit. So many questions, so few answers.

While I still have questions and a lot to learn about the topic, I’m going to start this series of blogs on Women and Leadership with the concept of like-ability.

Do women prefer to be likeable over successful?

Do I need to be affirmed to feel successful? Ruth and I had a retreat last winter – and we learned that we feel the most satisfied about our work when we receive positive affirmations – either from each other, our clients, or especially training participants.  It made us re-focus our strategic plan on training in 2014 – because we like that feeling and want more of it.

To quote Jessca Vallenti – to be driven by this like-ability – “means that your self-worth will always be tied to what someone else thinks about you, forever out of your control.”

I felt a little out of control in that session of engineers who were highly skeptical of the methodology we were trying to teach. Deep down inside, however, I knew that I could turn them around. More, I knew Ruth and I could turn them around.

So I actually knew things were in fact in my control.

My ability to relay the content to the participants and get them to “get it” (or “grock it” as Ruth would say), was completely in my power. My ability to comprehend their engineering examples and summarize and repeat them would improve my credibility, would get me to understand their world, and would ultimately get them on board.

But is that unique to me? Is that some skill that I have that other women don’t? And if so – WHY?

Now, I think we did turn the course around and reach the curious and open side of that group of engineers, and we saw success.  I’m still considering the concept of how much they liked me in my mind – and how that impacted me.

It’s still early in my research, and I  have a lot of work to do to solidify my views, however, I did learn a little about myself in that room.  Most importantly I wondered if I could harness that learning and help other women . Am I a feminist yet? Stay tuned for this series in Women and Leadership to find out more.

Do you have thoughts on women and leadership? What concepts do you think a leadership course on women should have?  Comment below or send us a Tweet @whiteboardcons with the hashtag #womenleaders.

To be continued……

Until next time,