I’ve been reflecting on a piece I read recently in The New Yorker. In an article entitled ‘A Woman’s Place,’ the role of women in leadership is explored through the personal story of Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook.
One of the key elements of this article and so many others on the topic of women in leadership is that women need to be more assertive. So often that comes across to me as “be more like leaders as we know them today, i.e. be more like men.” Is that really true? I’m all for women being assertive if that’s what they wish to be. I am also in favor of valuing the classic feminine traits of being nurturing and helping others succeed, and find the world sorely in need of this approach to leadership. It seems to me that the big opportunity for women is not so much to adapt to the work world as it is currently defined but rather to redefine the objectives and rules themselves. We did this on the playground. While boys generally ran around roughhousing and enacting zero-sum games where one side won and the other lost, girls looked on bewildered, choosing instead to initiate more collaborative games like hopscotch or jump rope, or to sit together and create something of beauty by making dandelion chains in the grass. When we were younger, we were sure of ourselves and the superiority of our choice. Boy games just didn’t make a lot of sense, and we would create our own games, thank you very much. But then as life goes on we too often forget our inner girl wisdom, and come to believe we should join in the typical boy games, and play by boy rules. We give up valuing our approach.
Perhaps the thing is not to admonish women to be more assertive. What if we instead began to truly honor women as they are and build up one another’s confidence in having a different point of view? What if we regained that sense of certainty that our approach is totally valid? How might the wisdom of women help shape what leadership even looks like? By valuing our distinct approach to life and work, we might help everyone—male and female—to bring their unique gifts to the table and remake the world for the better.
And by the way… I know boys who make darn good dandelion chains too.
© July 2011 by Pam Daniels. All rights reserved.