Day 74: and not or

On Day 61, I wrote about words we use to diminish ourselves, and I’d like to come back to this idea. It’s one that many women leaders are writing about, from Sheryl Sandberg to Tara Mohr in one of the books I’m reading, and I’ve heard it come up at conferences the past few years as well.

An idea I’ve heard several times is that of competence and/or friendliness. Many successful male leaders are viewed as competent and friendly, whereas female leaders are often seen as competent or friendly, but not as often both.

I think about this a ton. The reason? I know I’m competent, but I don’t come across as friendly. I am friendly, and good-hearted, but people might not guess that immediately. Since I’m a thinker, I often have a furrowed brow. In short, when I’m concentrating, I often look mad.

Take a look at the candid photos of me on Facebook. My daughter-in-love posted some candid Christmas pics, and we happened to be discussing what a specifically-designed piece of plastic could be for on a screwdriver set. I wasn’t in the least bit mad, but I do look it in the photos. Someone even asked me about it in church Sunday. It made me laugh.

And it’s not just in photos. Sometimes at work, as I’m in the middle of a project, people pass by my office without stopping. When I see them later, they often say, you looked intense, or upset, or any other number of words that aren’t that positive.

Knowing this furrowed brow makes me look mad, I’m working to adjust it, but it’s not easy. Seeing yourself as others see you (whether by recording, or looking at photos, or asking for feedback) can help you to make improvements that can making finding kindreds easier.

Why do I say that? The books are telling us that the competence perception is something built over time, while the friendliness factor is a judgment in an instant. “It takes only one or two behaviors that we perceive as cold or selfish in order for us to change our opinion,” Mohr writes.

As I reflect on that, my past 7 years in HR leadership under a policy-focused leader has left me in many situations where the perceptions about me were rightful perceived as policy-driven (i.e., law over grace). Now that I’m back in a creative leadership role under a more people-focused leader, the perception of my friendliness is not returning as quickly as I would wish. That perception is formed. It can be changed, over time, but for some people, it may never change. I know that, and have to let that warm person inside me come out to play more than the thinker.

DAY 74 HOMEWORK: Are you competent and friendly? If you need work on one of these, take some time to look at yourself as others see you. Ask for feedback. Look at candid photos. Record yourself. Then you’ll have some basis on where you can start to become and not or.

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