When working at a Washington, D.C., foundation a few years ago, Jennifer Christian Murtie was promoted to oversee three staffers. She worried about how to project authority without seeming mean.
‘How am I going to get these people to listen to me?’ Ms. Christian Murtie, now 31 years old, recalls thinking.
Developing a leadership style is a challenge for most young managers, but particularly for young women. Leadership experts say they must navigate a ‘double-bind’: If they assert themselves forcefully, people may perceive them as not acting feminine enough, triggering a backlash. But if they act in a stereotypically feminine way, they aren’t seen as strong leaders. ‘This is a particularly challenging process for women early in their careers,’ says Herminia Ibarra, a professor at Insead, a business school with campuses in France and Singapore, who has studied women’s leadership styles. ‘It’s one of their big hurdles.’
One major problem is a shortage of female role models. People often learn leadership styles by observing others; but there are often few female executives to observe. Women can watch male leaders too, of course, but men can’t illustrate how to navigate female stereotypes.
Experts suggest several strategies. If there aren’t many female leaders at their employer, young women should join professional associations or community organizations to find role models. These nonwork settings also offer young women a chance to try out new leadership styles outside the office.
At work, young women should enlist mentors and solicit feedback on leadership techniques. After a meeting, ask a trusted superior what behaviors worked and what didn’t. Asking subordinates for feedback, however, is usually a mistake because it can indicate the leader is unsure of herself — a perception young female managers particularly want to avoid. In theory, these mentors could be either men or women, but young women should realize that male mentors may not be as aware of the unique challenges young women face in asserting leadership.
Deborah Kolb, a professor at Simmons School of Management in Boston, says it is important for young female managers to ask superiors to back them up when others second-guess them. Women should ask their bosses to be ready to explain why they were chosen and what skills they bring to the position. Many women don’t ask for this support.
Ms. Christian Murtie wasn’t sure how to exert authority initially. She had just been promoted from office manager, loosely supervising the receptionist, to administrative director with three reporting to her. It was her first job with real authority managing others.
She was preoccupied with wanting to be seen as nice. ‘The most difficult thing for me was taking an authoritative stance when I needed to — part of it was age, part of it was gender and part of it was my personality,’ she says. ‘I was uncomfortable having to give negative feedback.’
Early on, one of her employees wasn’t performing well. She gave him ‘a little pep talk’ with a sympathetic tone, but wasn’t explicit. ‘Nothing changed,’ she recalls. She realized she needed to be more direct. So she spelled out specific requirements for him to keep his job. She tried not to be harsh, but clear and straightforward. It worked; his performance markedly improved.
She sought out a mentor at work whose style seemed like it would work well with her own personality. Her mentor was ‘very straight and to the point and upfront, but in a really nice way,’ Ms. Christian Murtie says. She asked the other woman about her leadership style and observed how she led others. She noticed the woman led by example. She gained respect from staffers because she herself was willing to work extra hours when needed and threw herself into projects.
Ms. Christian Murtie is now a manager at an investment-consulting firm in Boston. There, she has had to ask an underperforming employee to leave. The woman had only been working there a couple of months but wasn’t up to par. Ms. Christian Murtie told the woman that she wasn’t coming close to meeting expectations and that she would have to be let go. She believes the woman ‘appreciated the honesty.’
Ms. Christian Murtie also had to manage the morale of her other staffers. She quickly held a meeting to explain why the woman had been let go, and how they would cover her duties while searching for a replacement. She told staffers the woman had seemed promising in job interviews, but wasn’t doing a good job. Ms. Christian Murtie said she would take on some of the work herself rather than dumping it all on others.
The meeting ‘seemed to go really well,’ she says.
It reinforced the importance of being clear and direct with her staffers. ‘When people feel like they don’t know what’s going on, they get very disheartened,’ she says.
几年前当詹妮弗•克里斯蒂安•莫蒂(Jennifer Christian Murtie)在一家基金会工作时，她得到提拔并负责管理3个手下的工作。在当时，她所担心的问题是如何能在不板着面孔的情况下行使职权。
对 于大多数年轻的经理人而言，培养自己的领导风格都不是一件容易事，对年轻女性而言这项挑战就尤为严峻。领导学专家称，女性的领导风格面临着左右为难的境地 ──如果表现得过于强势，则可能会被认为缺乏女人味，进而引发冲突；如果刻板地按女性的方式做事，则不会被当作领导对待。欧洲工商管理学院 (INSEAD)研究女性领导风格的教授赫密尼亚•伊巴拉(Herminia Ibarra)称，年轻女性在事业的起步阶段面临的挑战尤其大，这是她们职业生涯的一大障碍。
在 工作中，年轻女性应该征求指导意见或是人们对其领导技巧的反馈。在一场会议后，可以询问某个可信赖的上司什么做法能起作用，而什么做法不顶事。然而，向属 下征求反馈意见通常是一种错误的做法，因为这会暴露出女领导对自己缺乏信心，而这种印象是女性经理人尤其想要避免的。理论上说，提供指导的人可以是男性也 可以是女性，但要认识到的是，男上司可能无法意识到年轻女性在维护其领导力时遇到的独有问题。
波士顿西蒙斯管理学院(Simmons School of Management)的教授黛博拉•寇伯(Deborah Kolb)表示，当年轻女经理遭他人事后质疑时，请求上司的支援有重要作用，她们还应该请老板就选她担任该职务的原因和理由在必要时作出解释。然而许多职 场女性并没有请求此类支援。
克 里斯蒂安•莫蒂称，她在工作中找到了一位指导，而这位指导的领导风格看起来正对她的个性。这位指导非常坦率、中肯和直接，但方法很好。她要求这位指导评价 她的领导风格，并观察此人是如何做领导工作的。克里斯蒂安•莫蒂发现这位女性领导能够以身作则。由于她的全情投入和超时工作，她得到了下属的尊敬。