Good leadership is about being yourself - Business Works
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Good leadership is about being yourself

Jo-Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory The tough economic conditions of the past few years have hit women particularly hard, with the glass ceiling remaining a very real phenomenon.

Jo-Ellen Grzyb, author, psychotherapist and founding director of Impact Factory, explains why women trying to be men in the workplace is a huge mistake and why women who embrace their female traits make the most successful managers.

Tough times

Women have had it tough in the workplace for many years. Pay equality is still some way off, and many sectors still have an out-dated view of women’s professional worth. This is not to say we are still in the dark era of the suffragettes’ struggle for women’s rights; things have moved on immensely since then.

The ‘glass ceiling’ is a term which many working women refer to and describes the phenomenon of reaching a certain level of seniority within an organisation but finding moving any higher unachievable.

Career breaks for maternity leave and childcare are often cited as reasons for women hitting the glass ceiling and many women feel they need to choose between a successful career or a family. In actuality, recent economic turn of events have meant it is even more challenging for women to ‘have it all’ than ever before.

There is still inequality in pay between the genders, with Britain having one of the worst pay gaps in Europe. In the UK, women’s salaries represent 79% of mens’ salaries, while the rest of Europe is ahead at 82%.

As a result, there are many women in the workplace who feel they need to be more bullish, thick skinned and stronger than their male counterparts and this is alienating their colleagues. There is a negative stereotype of women who reach high levels of success and seniority in their careers; that they are cold and career obsessed, often choosing not to have families and prioritising their professional progression; something which many men do, but for a woman to do is considered by some to be unnatural and somehow uncaring.

The fairer sex

In order for women to be successful, they need to perform well, perhaps even better than men, to prove their value to the employer and reassure them that despite the fact they may well take a career break at some point in order to have a family, they are talented and committed to their role. It is also important that talent and success is effectively shouted about. Women seem to be particularly poor at highlighting their strengths and successes in the workplace, instead modestly playing down what they have achieved; in direct contrast to the way men are often very happy to communicate their successes.

Women are all too frequently denying their ‘femaleness’ and attempting to override their natural tendencies to be nurturing and emotionally intuitive and are instead trying to match the bravado and tough-skinned manner of many of their male counterparts.

In my view, this is where so many women fall down and sabotage their own careers. Human beings are programmed to be themselves and attempting to mask natural feelings or tendencies cannot be sustained for an extensive period. Women who are not being true to their own behaviours will become unhappy and frustrated with their lives and stress will creep in affecting them further. If they aren’t true to themselves, they are undermining what they really are, which in turn makes them easy to undermine.

Steps to success

If a frustrating situation drives a woman to the brink of tears, she should show these emotions and rather than apologising for being ‘weak’ or ‘irrational’, highlight the tears as the level of passion she feels about the issue. Women should never fall into the trap of treating other women badly in the workplace which adds to the negative concept of women as leaders and managers.

Networking with other leaders and managers to explore the challenges they face, their methods for success and concerns is a great way for leaders to glean new skills and take reassurance in their own methods. Mixed groups can provide great inspiration rather than female-only groups, as men and women’s gender characteristics complement each other and working together in either a developed or real setting, will help them to enhance the way these characteristics bring out the best in each other.

By using humour and honesty to deflect negativity and being clear about what they want and what they want from others, women can thrive in the workplace in senior positions. Not only can they thrive, but they can thrive without becoming a cliché or undermining themselves.

To contact Jo-Ellen or for more information, please visit:

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