What Do We Need to Know About Female Bosses? They're Bosses
The Female Boss is regarded as a cross between Cruella De Vil and Roseanne Barr.
Posted Jun 26, 2018
Have you ever heard a man say something along the lines of “Don't think of me as a man; just think of me as your boss?” I haven’t, but I'm still hearing a surprising number of women singing this refrain.
Why do many female business leaders still prefer to think of themselves as miraculously gender free?
Is it because recent polls continue to find that both women and men still prefer a male boss to a female boss, albeit in increasingly diminishing percentages?
Or is it because there’s a creature of mythology and legend — The Female Boss — who still haunts our 21st century imagination?
Spoken of primarily in whispers and hisses, The Female Boss is regarded as a cross between Cruella De Vil, Roseanne Barr, and Bigfoot.
Curiously, she has no masculine equivalent. Sure, there are lousy male bosses, but with a kind of unconscious cultural math, we drop the lowest common denominator and simply refer to that person as the “lousy boss” without emphasizing gender.
But leadership doesn't work that way. You might not know your boss’s favorite food; you might not know your boss’s religion; you might not even know your boss’s politics; but it’s a rare workplace where an employee can’t state with a genuine sense of conviction whether the boss identifies as a male or a female.
It’s not like people don’t notice. So why not deal with it directly?
I have two friends who are about to become owner/partners of their own businesses. They asked me to distill the wisdom I’ve learned from women (and men) at executive levels in order to help them succeed — as women and as bosses — in their new positions. Here goes:
1. Take a deep breath, doll, because you'll have to embody enthusiasm, authority and confidence all the time. Being a boss is playing a role and, if you’re the principal player, a great deal rests on your ability to stay in character. Part of what you forfeit when you assume the position of leader is your right to display weakness or expect sympathy. No matter how exhausted, frustrated or anxious might feel, you can't show it. Why? Because nobody feels safe trusting a weak leader. Remember, too, that nobody ever feels sorry for the boss.
2. Robert Frost’s dictum that good fences make good neighbors translates to “clear boundaries make good colleagues.” Emotional space makes workplace relationships more efficient and, paradoxically, more congenial. You need to compartmentalize the personal and the professional, keeping a consistent and fair policy in place. Unless you expect your siblings to file W-9 forms, the people you work with are not like family.
3. Women too often feel we’re being unfair when we’re being fair. For example, if employees can’t use cellphones during work hours, then that rule applies to everyone: those who have boyfriends they don’t trust, girlfriends who don’t trust them, kids who will never know what the word trust means, and ones doing brilliantly at “Pet Rescue Saga.” You’re not being unfair to an employee who wants to be made an exception if you say, “no.” You are being fair. Learn to shrug off guilt you don’t deserve.
3. Careless habits are as contagious as the flu and spread just about as fast. Guard against the transmission of carelessness, laziness and inefficiency by catching them early and making sure whoever has them cleans up their act thoroughly. Make no mistake: over time, these small and almost invisible toxins can poison the atmosphere. Make sure there is, in equal amounts, enough light (attention), air (clarity) and running water (communication) to keep everyone healthy.
4. You shouldn’t seek to be loved by those who work for you. You should aim for their respect and admiration.
5. Remember that while it’s impossible to be everybody’s friend, it is possible to be everybody’s best boss every day. Make that your ambition.