Screw What “They” Tell You: Great Leadership Has Nothing to Do with Your Sex : Under30CEO Screw What “They” Tell You: Great Leadership Has Nothing to Do with Your Sex : Under30CEO
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Screw What “They” Tell You: Great Leadership Has Nothing to Do with Your Sex

| February 23, 2012 | 7 Comments

In 1990, I went to work for a very progressive company. Ironically, despite their progressive attitude, I was one of only three women hired for the 300-person sales staff. I spent the next five years of my life pursuing one, and only one, goal: to beat the top salesman.

While I admit that I achieved a certain level of success using the top-selling man as my motivation, it also led me to make some very unwise choices. I incorrectly focused my time and effort on winning at all costs. My misguided attempt to outpace him ultimately cost me my health, then my job.

He wasn’t responsible for my success, but I blamed him for my failure to get promoted. My obsession had become an energy drain that had taken over my life and had obscured me from the truth: sex had nothing to do with my failure. I had everything to do with it.

Your Best is Not Attached to Your Sex

The good thing that came out of this 5-year debacle was a new way of seeing work. I realized that success comes from competing with myself, not from competition with others. It was easier to use the #1 salesman as an excuse, but he wasn’t the one chasing someone else’s coattails: I was. The fact that I wasn’t a man had nothing to do with my inevitable departure. The problem was that I was trying to be someone I wasn’t.

Michael, the salesman, and I were two different people. Because I was trying to mimic him, I was a second-rate version of Michael – not a first-rate version of Wendy. I wasn’t giving my best, and it came through in my work.

For the last 17 years, I’ve woken up with a new goal: to do my personal best each day, and to always go the extra mile. No matter what circumstances or conditions I’m facing, I commit to giving 110% every single day. I don’t use circumstances as excuses, but I do take them into account and change the standard I hold myself to, based on what’s possible. This perspective has served me well in holding myself accountable for being me, at my best.

As a leader, this is also the best way to approach your staff. I’m only concerned with one question: did you give your personal best? As long as the answer is “yes” and the person hasn’t shown a pattern of deceiving me or himself, I am satisfied. After all, what can I ask of anyone but to do his best? This gives my team autonomy, and it prevents me from comparing them to each other. Best of all, it eliminates the question of whether or not we’re looking at their performance based on gender – we’re only asking them to consider their own work.

Your Worst isn’t Attached to Your Sex, Either

Being a better leader or positioning yourself for upward mobility has little to do with whether you’re a man or a woman. It has more to do with how often you light up the room versus how often you darken the doorway. You can flex your title as a way of getting people to perform, but you’ll never get them to maximum performance using that philosophy.

A great leader not only sees the road ahead for the organization and navigates the path, but he also sees each person for the value and utility he brings to the company. While you’re trying to bring out the best in your people, you have to remember to deal with their worst delicately. When you sit down and truly get to know someone and appreciate them for their uniqueness and creative capabilities, you remove barriers and allow trust to develop.

Physical wounds can heal, but emotional wounds inflicted by destructive criticism can last for long periods of time and ultimately hurt your productivity. This is true whether you’re a man or a woman, although society tells one group to buck up, and lets the other one cry. Think of your group, and name someone who’s been so unhappy with a decision that the person clammed up or became perpetually grumpy. I bet you thought of both a man and a woman. We’re all human; we all have emotions.

Because of this, you can’t ignore feelings. When your team isn’t giving 110% – or they are, but are still failing miserably – you have to be empathetic in your approach. I once had a CEO tell me that my best trait was that I could take people to the woodshed and metaphorically beat them, and they said, “Thank you, Wendy.” Nobody likes to be on the receiving end of criticism, but if you have to deliver it, become an expert at delivering it in a way that is meaningful but not hurtful. You’ll never get 110% from your staff again if you don’t.

Don’t waste time thinking about how your sex is hurting you in the workplace, and don’t compete against your colleagues. If you do, you’re setting the bar too low and discounting your own abilities. Focus, instead, on holding yourself to a standard that utilizes what you do best and allows others in your company to flourish, too. If you don’t focus on sex, no one else will, either.

Wendy Komac is a business turnaround specialist and author of I Work with Crabby Crappy People, a humorous and highly informative book about achieving happiness and success. She is also a Principle at Sustainable Innovations Group, LLC, and the Senior Vice President at SIRVA Relocation.

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Category: Personal Branding, Startup Advice

  • PM Hut

    It’s good to see a very balanced post on this. Leadership posts that are gender specific do not add any value (in my opinion). Leadership is all about decisions, and is about forgetting that your followers are seeing through your gender – they don’t really care about it at all. They just want someone to follow, someone with leadership traits…

  • Chris J Snook

    Nicely written Wendy! I love the distinction between delivering “meaningful” vs “hurtful” criticism!

  • John

    I could not agree more@37047f269fecf4624f6368feb9e8001b:disqus !!

  • John

    I could not agree more@37047f269fecf4624f6368feb9e8001b:disqus !!

  • Ami Shab95- Minaspresents

    I Couldn’t agree more, there were many times when i threw my hands in the air and said “it’s because i’m a woman right?” the reason why my success did not come over night. until i realized my mistake.every little thing I did I was comparing my work with those already in my field (mostly men) and would bash myself for not having the same or greater success at that time blaming it mostly on my gender. Now I have a different view on that. MY best (CAPS for emphasis) is my best and i shouldn’t compare that to anyone elses best based upon my gender or those things ideally someone would see as a setback. I give 200% and that’s all I can.
    presents as in Power Point Presentation

  • Wendy Komac

     Thanks for commenting!  Early in my career I found myself getting hung up on gender.  I was constantly feeling like the men were being treated differently and given more opportunity.  Albeit this can be true in some instances, It wasn’t until I truly released this notion and started focusing on ME that my career really took off.   What a difference.

  • Wendy Komac

    Thanks for commenting!  I couldn’t agree more. I often used the same excuse for my short comings. I believe that’s exactly where people tend to get stuck, comparing their results and actions to others. If you follow that strategy, you will always short change yourself because you will end up doing just enough to be better than someone else rather than being the best you can be.  I decided it was more about effort and growth vs. how I stood out next to others, male or female.  Realistically, we could have been bench marking against mediocre performance!