SOLUTION SATURDAY: I’M A MALE LEADER WITH AN ALL FEMALE TEAM
Love your blog, it’s my regular go-to!
I am the male CEO of an organization that has no other male staff. I find increasingly that staff and board members are going to a female Vice President for advice and to disclose information that really should be coming to me.
I have a good working relationship with my Vice President so no issue there. I am told this occurs because “women find it easier to share with other women”.
I’m not sure how to address this without being sexist! Would love to hear your thoughts and advice.
The Only Male
Dear Only Male,
Thanks for your kind words. It’s a privilege to be of service.
Your question is awesome. We are so afraid of saying the wrong thing when bringing up these concerns that sometimes we prefer silence.
A word on diversity:
I know you didn’t write about diversity, but I thought I would begin there.
The vitality of diversity is destroyed by the false belief that men and women are the same.
Women and men are different from each other right down to the way our brains and bodies function, never mind the obvious anatomical differences. The vibrancy of diversity is found in difference, not sameness.
Respect for diversity is best expressed in honoring and leveraging difference, not in propagating the myth of sameness. Frankly, when leaders learn to honor diversity, they also learn how to celebrate strengths in everyone on the team, regardless of gender.
We must treat each other as equals, even as we celebrate difference.
Now to your question.
Look outside your organization for female mentors. Women leaders often navigate the challenges of being in the minority. Additionally, look for a male counterpart who is in a similar situation.
Go to your VP for mentoring on how to be approachable.
Acknowledge that many people feel a natural discomfort with authority. It feels safer to go to a person with less authority. Adopt strategies to mitigate this challenge. However, it never disappears completely.
The word “increasingly” in your email concerns me. You wrote, “I find increasingly that staff and board members are going to a female Vice President for advice …” What has changed?
Are you growing isolated?
Does your VP aspire to the CEO role?
What if your concern has more to do with you and less to do with leading women?
Practice a daily walkabout, if you’re growing isolated. Monday walk around giving praise. Tuesday walk around learning what people are working on. Wednesday walkabout asking, “What’s working?” And so on…
Take the bull by the horns. Go to them. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Schedule brief update meetings with board members and key team members.
Include your VP:
Why isn’t your VP directing people to come to you?
It’s ego-building to hear things that should be said to someone in authority. Your VP might excuse herself by saying that they are uncomfortable coming to you. If that’s true, your VP can come with them. She might say, “This is an issue that Bob needs to address. Let’s go talk with him.” (Fictitious name.)
Develop proactive strategies with your VP that answer her resistance to directing people to you. The strategies might be things she says. They might be behaviors you adopt. But I have a nagging concern.
If your VP resists directing people to you, your relationship with her isn’t as good as you think. Don’t trust her to help you. Don’t look to her for mentoring. Work around her.
Strengthen connection with listening.
Let people vent. People feel reluctant to come to leaders when leaders offer quick solutions before giving them space to feel heard. You might say, “I want to work toward solutions, but I also want you to feel heard. What am I missing? What else do you need to say?”
Strengthen your coaching leadership style.
The heart of coaching is trusting connection.
Stay curious when you meet with staff and board members. Make fewer statements. Ask forward-facing questions. Include questions about the person as well as the project. “What’s important to you about this?” is one of my favorites.
Thank people when they bring up tough issues. “I’m so glad you brought this up. Let’s work on a solution.”
Let go the need to design perfect solutions. Ask, “What imperfect step might we take to make this situation better.” Watch out for reverse delegation where teammates expect you to do things that they should do.