Tag Archives: managing emotions

Women in Leadership – too nice? Too bossy?

women_calculator_desk_1600_wht_7996Leaving aside the whole issue of women on FTSE100 boards and the Norwegian Golden Skirts have women finally cracked the glass ceiling?

Well according to Herminia Ibarra and her colleagues, writing in the September 2013 HBR, persistent gender bias disrupts the learning process of becoming a leader.

They are talking about what they call “second generation gender bias”. Not direct discrimination but things like the paucity of role models for women, career paths and jobs that have become entrenched with a gender bias, and women’s lack of access to sponsors and networks.

They also talk about the double binds facing women. In most cultures leadership is associated with masculinity. The ideal leader, like the ideal man, is decisive, assertive, and independent.

Women, on the other hand, are expected to be nice, caretaking, and unselfish.  Research shows that female leaders who excel in traditional male domains are viewed as competent but less likeable than their male counterparts.

Yet research shows that female CEOs are trusted more than male ones and can add real value to teams.

Behaviours that suggest self-confidence or assertiveness in men often appear arrogant or abrasive in women. Female leaders who adopt a feminine approach to their work may be liked but not respected.

They are seen as too emotional to make tough decisions and too soft to be strong leaders.

Yet research carried out by Zenger and Folkman in 2011 on over 7,000 executives using 360 degree feedback, showed that women were rated higher than men at every managerial level.

However the higher in the hierarchy you went the more men there were. So were companies promoting the right people?

They used 16 competencies in their research, which they had identified as being the most important in terms of overall leadership effectiveness.

These were:

  • Takes initiative
  • Practices self-development
  • Drives for results
  • Develops others
  • Inspires and motivates others
  • Builds relationships
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Establishes stretch goals
  • Champions change
  • Solves problems and analyses issues
  • Communicates powerfully and prolifically
  • Connects the group to the outside world
  • Innovates
  • Technical or professional expertise
  • Develops strategic perspective

Comparing mean scores for men and women the women scored significantly (statistically) higher than the men on 12 of the 16 traits – and not just the ones that women are known to be better at.

They scored the same as men on connecting to the outside world. innovating, and technical or professional expertise. The only trait where men scored higher was on developing a strategic perspective.

So what’s to be done? Ibarra and her colleagues don’t suggest anything dramatically new or innovative.

Progressing to leadership positions means leaving behind your old professional identity and learning new skills (have a look at Charan’s pipeline model).

women_puzzle_pieces_1600_wht_7872That can be scary so having supportive mechanisms in place such as providing leadership programmes, mentoring and coaching (and I find in my coaching that women are less defensive and often respond better than men), and providing a support group or a safe space – perhaps an action learning group – can make a real difference.

Resilient Leadership

Over the years there have been many approaches to leadership with trait theories, style theories, functional models, situational/contingency models, transactional/transformational theories, ideas about biological and personality characteristics, and more recently emotional intelligence competencies.

So do leaders need to be more intelligent than their followers? Well probably a bit, because that inspires confidence, but not too much more intelligent. Do they need to be empathetic? It’s probably better if they have tough empathy ie “grow or go” but they do need social skills. Do they need to be liked? No, but they need to be respected. And since the last recession integrity has become important again.

Difficult times require people to perform better than normal and people need exceptional leaders to help them do that.  By exceptional I don’t mean charismatic or heroic leaders – although some people respond to that style of leadership which “encourages the heart” – but leaders who do what they say they will do ie are conscientious, and also act as role models. And to do that they need to be both self-confident and emotionally stable.

Research among elite performers found that they had a number of characteristics in common. As well as being intelligent, disciplined and bold, with strong practical and interpersonal skills, they bounced back from adversity.

Jim Collins describes in his new book “How the mighty fall” people who are exasperatingly persistent and never give up. They are not necessarily the brightest, most talented, or best looking, but they are successful because they know that not giving up is the most important thing they do. He says; “success is falling down and getting up one more time, without end”.

This resilience (from the latin to leap back) is linked to personal attributes such as calmness in stressful situations, reflection on performance through feedback, and learning systematically from both success and failure. Resilient people generally:

  • Recognise what they can control and influence and do something about it, rather than worry about what they can’t
  • Stay involved rather than becoming cynical or detached or simply walking away
  • Work with others to shape the environment and influence things that affect them most
  • Act as a source of inspiration to others to counter self-destructive behaviour

Aren’t these the sort of behaviours you would expect from good leaders? So it’s not just about “bouncing back” and carrying on where you left off before. It’s about reflecting and learning from what has happened and then getting back to business.

Resilience seems to be an innate ability for most people and is increasingly found in leadership competency frameworks where it is linked with confidence, authenticity and ethical leadership ideas.

Modern leaders need not just brains and emotional intelligence but also resilience. Acting as a role model is an essential part of being an effective leader hence the need for them to be hardy and emotionally stable. Research shows that resilient leaders can have a positive effect on the well-being of organisations and their employees so it’s well worth organisations developing such capabilities.

See how you can develop resilience

Lies, damned lies

Goebbels famously said in 1941:” The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness.

The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous”. And so the BIG LIE idea, 16 years after Hitler had first used the term in Mein Kampf, passed into popular usage.

I thought of this when I read about Stephen Wilce. He was, until exposed by TV journalists, New Zealand’s Chief Defence Scientist and had a high security clearance and access to highly sensitive information.

According to his CV he had been in both MI5 and MI6, played international rugby for Wales, swam for England in the Commonwealth games, competed in the bobsleigh in the Winter Olympics, been a member of the New Zealand yacht squadron, fought alongside Prince Andrew in the Falklands and Gulf wars, been decorated for bravery, and had an honorary PhD from Cambridge university.

He did have an MBA, had been in the Royal Navy, had competed in bobsleigh events, and had worked as a bar manager at the Americas Cup but everything else was pure fantasy. It sounds funny but how embarrassing after all the security vettings and selection processes.

So while Wilce was clearly a fantasist, research tells us that people in positions of power are better liars.

Dana Carney, at Columbia University Graduate School of Business carried out research to see if it made a difference if you had more power. The research subjects were divided into bosses, with bigger offices and more power eg they could assign salaries, and employees. Half of each group were then asked, via computer instructions, to steal a hundred-dollar note then lie about it later when interviewed.

The subjects were then measured on 5 variables associated with lying:

  1. accelerated speech – liars utter more syllables at a higher pitch and repeat words and sentences more
  2. shoulder shrugs – liars shrug more when trying to suppress the lie
  3. cortisol – liars’ saliva contains a higher concentration of the stress hormone
  4. eyes – liars’ pupils dilate
  5. mouth – liars press their lips together and involuntarily smirk when they think they’ve got away with it

Only the low-power liars could be seen to be lying. High-power liars were indistinguishable from non-liars. A sense of power seems to buffer people from the stress of lying and increases their ability to deceive others. As most people can’t detect liars better than chance unless specially trained it suggests most people in a position of power can get away with it. Perhaps they are in positions of power because they are good liars. (See “Leadership – the dark side“)

Occasionally of  course powerful people get caught out lying. MPs are a case in point and many lost their seats following the expenses scandal exposed by the press. More significantly perhaps, former Labour Minister Phil Woollas has been found guilty of contravening an old statute that prohibits “false statements” against a rival’s “character or conduct”. He accused his Lib Dem opponent of cosying up to Islamic militants (this was particularly sensitive in a town that had been the centre of race riots previously). His appeal against the decision – which means the election will be re-run – continues.

Another aspect of the research was about power posture compared with low power, non-assertive postures. Power postures take up more space, like a peacock spreading its feathers, whilst subordinates want to take up less space.

The researchers found that those people asked to adopt power postures, even though they didn’t know why, had higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol. In other words they felt more powerful and less stressed out.

Stress & absenteeism in the public sector

Stress is on the increase again (see my earlier post)

And with the cuts in public sector spending it could send the already high levels of stress and absenteeism even higher. The public sector already has an average absence rate of around 10 days per employee, 50% higher than the private sector.

This has been the case for the last 20 years at least. Generous sick-pay schemes have been blamed, often allowing 3 months of full pay and then 3 months of half-pay, and managers and HR departments seemingly reluctant to take action. In the Civil Service there was a tradition of taking your “Whitley Days” as employees saw their sick pay as just another way of taking holidays.

Times might have changed of course since then but the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development’s (CIPD) latest survey showed that public sector employees took off an average of 9.6 days compared with 6.6 days in the private sector.

Public sector employees cover a wide range of jobs including those inherently risky such as the police and the fire and rescue service, as well as teachers, social workers, and NHS staff working in A&E or other front-line roles and their absence statistics include victims of assault by the public. Nevertheless it costs on average £899 a year for each public sector worker compared with £600 for someone in the private sector.

Overall 40% of organisations surveyed noted an increase in mental health problems, including anxiety and depression, which they attributed to the effects of the recession, double the number reporting it the previous year.

The public sector reports higher levels of work-related stress, partly for the reasons described above and the need for resilience when dealing with clients with emotional problems, but mainly because of the re-structuring and organisational changes forced on these services by the government cut-backs.

80% of public sector non-manual workers rated stress as one of the leading causes of absenteeism compared with 50% in manufacturing and 60% in the private sector.

It has been suggested that employers should provide workshops, staff surveys and training of staff to manage stress – all of which is in line with HSE recommendations.

It might therefore be timely that November 3rd is National Stress Awareness Day (NSAD) when advisers from the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) will be providing free stress sessions to organisations.

Leaders, Charisma, and NVC

As I’ve posted before in Body Language Watching Opportunities” watching politicians is always good for practising your skills at reading non-verbal communication (NVC). The recent UK elections and the subsequent election of a new leader for the labour party provided lots of contrasting examples.

And although Gordon Brown, for example, was regarded as a poor performer in this regard compared to Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, Blair and Obama’s falls from favour show that people do eventually see through the spin and the rhetoric (see “Being visionary is not enough”).

Ken Rea, a senior acting tutor from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, who also coaches senior executives, wrote an interesting piece for the Sunday Times on this topic putting Ed Milliband, the newly elected labour leader, under the spotlight: “Leaders must act like they mean it”.

He is quick to say that he doesn’t believe leaders should act their way through presentations – after all it takes 3 years to for students to learn how to control their voices, body and emotions – but by understanding techniques used by actors leaders could have the confidence to be more authentic and thereby gain credibility. Milliband’s recent conference speech was sincere but Rea says because it lacked passion – a criticism also levelled at Obama – it made him look lightweight and lacking in charisma.

He says charisma is about revealing your personality by widening your vocal range and projecting a positive and engaging body language – driven by your enthusiasm. (see also “Have you got charisma?”). Milliband needs to learn how to use NVC, particularly his eyes, as Rea doesn’t think they register emotion or show any enthusiasm. Rea also points out that audiences mirror what actors are doing. So if you are giving a flat performance, the audience will give you back what you deserve.

When I run presentation skills or impression management workshops one of the key elements is getting the presenters to look confident and visually connect with their audience. Having emotional intelligence is also important I believe. Having self-awareness, controlling your emotions, understanding what your audience is feeling and developing a relationship with them is the basic requirement of good leadership. As Rob Goffee said in a previous post; “It’s not all about charisma”.

FYI this is not the first time someone from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama has expressed opinions on this subject. In an earlier post “Leadership Panto” the “charisma queen”, voice coach Patsy Rodenburg, explained how people can be coached to be more effective presenters.

Back in September the Daily Telegraph ran a piece in their Science section explaining why they thought David Milliband would be the new leader of the labour party (I almost typed new labour party leader but that would never do in these post-Blair days). Asking; “Is he built to lead?” the authors, Anjana Ahuja & Mark van Vugt, argue that we always pick a chief who can “emote”.

They remind us that David M owes his place at Oxford to his gift of the gab rather than his academic achievements (rather overlooking the possible influence his father might have had) and received an unconditional offer – not for him the need for outstanding A-level results. In their book: “Why some people lead, Why others follow and why it matters” they say that leadership and followership behaviours are hard-wired from our past over 2 million years ago and that we still measure our leaders in the same way we would have done over 10,000 years ago when we first settled in communities.

So if you were fit and healthy you were a potential leader and being big and strong helped you settle disagreements. They point out that that still holds true; taller candidates beat shorter ones eg Obama v McCain and stronger looking CEOs run larger companies than weaker-looking ones. And we know tall men earn more and first impressions count at interviews. (See “Take me to your tall…leader”)

One of the authors was able to demonstrate experimentally how people could be influenced by their sense of belonging to a tribe to choose an incompetent leader over an incompetent one, and even choose a leader who had previously failed when they had a choice of someone who had previously succeeded! So perhaps Red Ed’s triumph over David M through the tribal support of the unions shouldn’t have been such a surprise after all.

They are not saying whether leaders are born or made, because we don’t know. But we do know that some inherited personality traits such as extraversion and verbal IQ are associated with leaders. Leaders tend to speak more fluently using more metaphors and are able to create an emotional connection. Tony Blair said that because Gordon Brown had zero emotional intelligence he couldn’t communicate to the electorate and we saw some examples of that before he decided to retire.

The authors concede that we are sometimes poor at selecting our leaders because we are influenced by their spin or their good looks rather than their expertise or principles. But they say we have also evolved ways of dethroning power grabbers and failing leaders, not least by gossip or ridicule. These days it seems we go for character assassination rather than the real thing. Machiavelli must be turning in his grave!

FYI Research at Columbia University compared power postures to low power, non-assertive postures. Power postures take up more space, like a peacock spreading its feathers, whilst subordinates want to take up less space.

The researchers found that those people asked to adopt power postures, even though they didn’t know why, had higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol. In other words they felt more powerful and less stressed out.

Tim Lambert, a colleague of mine who is a consultant and trainer and a former actor, coaches people into making use of their personal space to help them to be more assertive and influential.

Most people prefer male bosses

The majority of employees prefer male bosses.

And that despite years of  anti-discrimination legislation and diversity training, and women generally doing better than men at university.

But in a widely reported survey of 3,000 people by  UKjobs.net, three-quarters of the men interviewed said they preferred a male boss –  and so did two-thirds of the women!

Male bosses were seen as more straight forward, better at “steering the ship”, more focussed on the long-term vision and less likely to have hidden agendas.

Female bosses were criticised for having mood swings and bringing personal problems to work, being overly competitive, and spending too much time on their appearance. (Appearance is important and a subject I have posted on before: “Impression Management“)

Women on the other hand were considered better at delegating, at giving praise, and at listening, so it wasn’t all bad news. Nevertheless the majority of people seem to prefer male bosses.

This is not the kind of thing that goes down well in politically correct circles of course and you can imagine what Harriet “Harperson” would make of it. Several columnists also got their knickers in a twist with Barbara Ellen in the Guardian saying women who said these thing should be ashamed of themselves; “We’re doomed if most women want a male boss”.

She does however make a valid point; “the boss thing is not a gender issue – it is a personality issue”. I posted on this a while ago asking; “Do you have what it takes to be a leader?” and I have also had a go at so-called Alpha Males in the past.

I also wonder just how much influence Emotional Intelligence (EI) is having on the current crop of managers. Women are more at risk of stress in high pressure jobs it seems and also can’t afford to be too nice as more aggressive women will compete with them – a point made in the survey about women managers over-compensating. So they are not seen as managing their emotions – one of the core competencies of  EI.

On the other hand the positives that women were recognised for in the survey related to other EI competencies eg empathy and relating to others, yet these strengths were disregarded in favour of what might be seen as the less flexible (in management style), straight-ahead approach that male managers are perceived to have.

So what is going on? Do women really prefer to work for men? Some said that they thought they could be a better manager than their present female bosses so why would they rather work for man?  Is it “imposter syndrome“, believing they are not deserving, because I don’t see assertiveness being a problem amongst women these days?

More recently a survey in America confirmed this tendency. A survey of legal secretaries found that, although almost half had no preference either way, not one of the 142 questioned actually had a preference for working for a female partner.

Another informal survey found that almost 7 out of 10 men said they preferred to work for a man. Even more women (3 out of 4) said they preferred to work for a man.

Only a third of men and a quarter of women said they preferred to work for a woman.

See the full article on these surveys

Happiness and Productivity

Are happy workers more productive or are more productive workers happier?

This is a question that has exercised work and organisational psychologists for over 50 years. And there have been mixed results from workplace interventions. For example in Sweden – with a highly educated workforce doing repetitive work in the car industry – increasing job satisfaction reduced absenteeism but didn’t increase productivity.

Now economists at Warwick University think they have the answer. The Sunday Times article; “Why happy people are the hardest workers” (11 July 2010) reported Professor Andrew Oswald as saying; “… human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings while negative emotions have the opposite effect”. (This is straight from the positive psychology handbook of course and as a psychologist I wonder why they didn’t just ask one of us).

The research team carried out a range of experiments and showed their subjects either a comedy film or a boring (placebo) film. The subjects who reported higher happiness levels after seeing the comedy film were 12% more productive whereas unhappy workers were 10% less productive.

However those subjects who watched the comedy film but did not report increased happiness were not more productive. So the increase in productivity was linked to an increase in happiness but not to just watching a comedy film.

A surprise finding was that those subjects who had experienced a death in the family in the last two years were 10% less productive. But subjects whose parents had divorced recently didn’t appear less happy or less productive. Perhaps with divorce being so common it’s  no longer seen as a negative life event.

They conclude that if happiness does bring increased productivity then HR departments and business managers should be paying more attention to the influence of emotions at work.

This is interesting but there are lots of questions. Some companies have tried to inject fun into work, for example call centres (often the modern equivalent of Victorian sweat shops) but I haven’t seen any evidence it does anything than temporarily alleviate boredom.

The fact that some subjects didn’t report increased happiness after seeing the film might be because they didn’t think the film was funny (it featured a well-known British comedian for a start) and humour is very subjective.

The subjects’ personality as measured by the Big 5 might have been a factor. Extraverts tend to be happier and more positive than Introverts and also respond better to incentives (the subjects were paid an attendance fee plus a performance fee depending on their output).

It also appears that the subjects were working individually rather than in teams. This reduces the element of “social loafing” and usually maximises the incentive effect but there is a strong social effect when working with friends or in teams, especially for more sociable types.

Anything that improves employee engagement (at an all-time low at the moment) is of interest to business leaders but I can’t help thinking that the more holistic approach adopted by companies like Sony Film is worth looking into. See “Rituals engage staff”.