In BLOOMBERG BUSINESS WEEK, Venessa Wong reports on a study done by linguist Judith Baxter from Aston University in the UK. In her analysis of 14 large companies she found that being funny is a leadership tool for men but a negative for women. Tina Fey aside, the world is not made for funny ladies. Sarah Palin captured national attention at the Republic National Convention by framing issues in a witty manner. She was not engaging in comedy. Hillary Clinton wears the look of great gravitas which tends to be interpreted as confidence.
The leadership tool which women can use to gain an advantage is warmth. We can broadcast we care. That starts with our ability to listen. For example, whether a superior or a client or a prospect comes into our office, instead of defining the situation through taking the lead in the conversation, we give them the floor and listen. That listening stance can be reinforced by taking notes.
Other ways of demonstrating that we are feeling human beings who care? Here are some tips:
- Ask questions, even simple ones as how was it getting through the traffic
- Remember details and bring them up
- Maintain eye contact and lean-into body language
- Outline solutions which have worked in other situations, which reassures that their problem can be resolved
- Frame everything in a positive fashion since human beings grew up having to assume mum had all the answers
- Ask for suggestions
- Never leverage the power tool of seeming in a rush.
Even away from the workplace, humor doesn't often work for females. Males seem from primitive times to need to command the situation. In social contexts they often do that through being funny, especially recounting humorous incidents. Last week, outside on the sidewalk after a meeting of a church group, a male held me hostage with amusing gossip about another member. This week, it was in the grapevine about what a great conversationalist I am. I didn't say a word. This head of a trade association is someone we all want on our network.