By: Merrick Rosenberg, Author of The Chameleon: Life-Changing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has a Personality or Knows Someone Who Does & CEO of Take Flight Learning
The 2016 Presidential Election, the first race between a man and a woman, has magnified the gender stereotypes that impede female leaders. Secretary Clinton has become a lightning rod for prejudices. To commentators, she’s often described as too cold, too calculating, too inauthentic, too aggressive, or too something. Clinton’s personality is never quite ‘right.’
The former Secretary of State is logical, systematic, and detail-oriented. But, our culture still equates these personality traits with men, not women. Men are supposed to be the engineers, scientists, lawyers, and analytical policymakers in our society. Clinton defies this illusory norm and takes criticism for it.
Clinton’s experience is exasperating and raises a tough question for women in leadership: Should you alter your personality to better deal with misogyny?
I say no. Although U.S. culture has double standards that put women through undeserved scrutiny, pretending to be someone else will only exacerbate the problem. On the contrary, I recommend that you embrace your personality style when you face adversity.
As an expert in the DISC model, I train leaders to understand and use their personality styles. I symbolize the four DISC personality styles with birds because they are easier to remember than letters:
· Dominant Eagles are decisive, daring, ambitious, and direct.
· Interactive Parrots are imaginative, inspirational, persuasive, and social.
· Supportive Doves are sympathetic, faithful, compassionate, and sensitive.
· Conscientious Owls are critical, systematic, logical, and cautious.
We tend to link Eagles and Owls with men but Parrots and Doves with women. In reality, the personality styles are distributed equally among both genders. And while you might assume that leaders have to be Eagles, that isn’t so. Consider that Madeleine Albright (Eagle), Oprah Winfrey (Parrot), Diane Sawyer (Owl), and Princess Diana (Dove) have each practiced their own form of leadership.
Now back to you: regardless of which style is yours, opponents will attack your personality. To feel energetic, confident, and authentic, you must stand strongly in your personality style. To overcome adversity, I recommend the following:
1.Don’t prove anything
Do not feel like you are singlehandedly responsible for showing that women are effective leaders. That’s a game your detractors want you to play. Just commit to being the most effective leader that you can be. You are not a referendum on female leadership. Neither were Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, and Indira Gandhi.
2.Learn your style
First, determine whether you are an Eagle, Parrot, Dove, or Owl. Second, capitalize on your strengths and understand your potential pitfalls. Eagles, for instance, love getting in heated debates, but that can alienate the other styles, which have different ways of handling disputes. Doves, on the other hand, struggle to say “no.” As a Dove, recognize that you can disagree with people without hurting your relationships.
3. Lead like a chameleon
Although you should always be yourself, use knowledge of the other personality styles to achieve your goals. A Chameleon treats others the way they wish to be treated. For instance, if you are an Eagle, telling an Owl, “Just get it done! I don’t care how!” will stress out the Owl and produce poor results. Instead, be patient. Answer the Owl’s questions, provide as much information as possible, and give the Owl time to deliberate and hatch a strategy. That is Chameleon leadership.
4. Don’t go overboard
So, you’re an articulate Parrot with contagious enthusiasm; you’re usually the life of the party. That doesn’t mean you should try to be the center of attention in every circumstance. Indeed, if you take over every conversation, you’ll stifle open discussion and give prejudiced critics ammo. When overused, the strengths of your personality become weaknesses.
5. Build acceptance into your culture
If you face prejudice at work, others do too. There may be male Doves or female Eagles who feel stifled and misunderstood. Take responsibility for creating a culture that accepts people for who they are. Overcome your struggles by helping others to do the same.
Female leaders face prejudices, double standards, and challenges that have resisted cultural change. Through education, policy, media, and other mediums, we can reshape these norms, but that will be long and arduous process. In the meantime, stand in the power of your personality style and face adversity authentically. Self-knowledge will give you an edge against detractors.