Women and Leadership: 3 Ways We Need to ‘Show the Love’

May 13, 2015

This post was originally written by Jennifer and published on Education Week’s opinion blog, Finding Common Ground.

After the posting of the last blog I wrote on “Women in Leadership: Gender Bias and the ‘Confidence Gap’,” John Bennett replied. “May I suggest that leaders, regardless of gender, owe it to themselves to facilitate confidence building – their results will show the positive impact!

I completely agree with John and I am grateful for his response.

What is confidence building?

Over the last number of weeks I have spent quite a bit of time with educators who, at the end of the school year, are getting understandably weary, cranky even, as they work with colleagues who, as I phrase it, need some ‘love.’ Confidence building is a long term project and it needs to be done even more intentionally and mindfully in the most stressful of times.

I say that at our most irritating and whiny is when we most need someone to build our confidence and as I am known for saying, be shown ‘some love.’ (Barry White voice required!)

3 demonstrations of ‘showing some love’ in the last month that I hope, for these female leaders, continued to close the confidence gap…

  1. Fill in the Blanks – A female department chair took me out to dinner to ‘pick my brain.’ In this dinner conversation, as with many others, there was a tentative introduction of the ‘dream.’ “I want to start my own (fill in the blank)” and “I was considering applying for (fill in the blank),” and “What do you think about (fill in the blank)?” I listened, martini in hand, and then showed ‘some love.’ “Yes. We need you to do (fill in the blank). Go for it.” Stunned silence, a gulp, a thank you and a toast to the future.
  2. Show Some Love – After working with an elementary school administration team for a year, we were doing a Google chat. With a few minutes to go I asked them what else I could do for them, and the response from one of the female administrators was, “Give us some love.” Facetiously and a little shy and not. “I see you. You are on the right track. You have been on the right track. Here’s how.” Laughter. Smiles. Shoulders went down. Don’t forget to show the love. We don’t take enough time to do that.
  3. Decompress – A Director of Special Education and I had a conversation about her intimate relationship with the imposter syndrome. Imposter Syndrome? It’s when a person is on the job and feels as though, when their insecurities get the best of them, they have no idea what they are doing. No one is vulnerable enough in the office to admit that they have those insecurities too. I close the door behind us, we do the Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ and take a deep breath. Decompressing is important, even if it means being silly with a trusted friend behind closed doors.

We often think adults should not need ‘some love.’ (Remember Barry!) Especially those in leadership positions. A leader should buoy herself up. Not true. We need to admit we need ‘some love.’ We need to be intentional and purposeful in our interactions with one another to facilitate confidence building in others, women in particular.

What I am talking about here isn’t new. Confidence building is featured in many books, each one with its own spin on the topic. Some go more ‘global.’ Liz Wiseman wrote The Multiplier Effect. And, Andy Hargreaves has Uplifting Leadership. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman added the gender filter and wrote The Confidence Code. And the CEO of confidence building for women, Sheryl Sandberg wrote Lean In.

So what I am talking about here isn’t new. It also isn’t ‘touchy-feely’ or too ‘woo-woo’ or only for ‘those emotional types.’ It is essential. Especially for women. And the more voices that share the message, the better.

Consider me all in.