“On great teams—the kind where people trust each other, engage in open conflict, and then commit to decisions—team members have the courage and confidence to confront one another when they see something that isn’t serving the team.”
Sofia was floored when during a team meeting, her coworker stood up to present a project they’d been working on together. They hadn’t planned to share their results until next week. Using materials she’d helped to create, he described it as his project and announced his results. What should I do? Sofia thought frantically.
If one of your coworkers keeps reframing your ideas as his own at meetings, or if your colleague went so far as to present your strategy to your boss, you need to take action. Avoiding conflict in such scenarios would harm the whole team. Tread carefully, though, or you could end up accused of stealing credit from others.
If someone rephrases your ideas as his own…
If a coworker is continually restating points you have made at a meeting and framing them as his own, he might be doing it unconsciously. That doesn’t mean it’s okay, but it helps inform how you should respond.
- Before saying anything, calm down. Losing your temper could make you look irrational—fair or not. Plus, you won’t get your thoughts across clearly if you’re angry.
- Address the transgression tactfully but directly in the moment, if possible. For example, if a coworker restates your idea, say, “Yes, that’s exactly the point I was making. I’m glad you agree with the idea.”
- If it keeps happening, approach the person one-on-one and ask if you can talk with him. Remember, if someone is repeatedly claiming your ideas as their own, it’s probably a sign of insecurity—so be gentle, or you’ll put him on the defensive. Affirm that you fully believe it wasn’t intentional, and validate the person’s contributions so acknowledging his mistake won’t feel as hard. For instance, you might say: “I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but a couple of times during the meeting, I felt you were framing X idea as your own when I introduced it earlier on. I’m happy that this idea resonated with you, because I appreciate the expertise you bring and would love to get your insight on similar ideas in the future.”
- If the issue keeps occurring, mention it during a one-on-one meeting with your boss. Focus on your desire to strengthen working relationships, stick to the facts, and maintain a positive tone. “I think Coworker Y has many strengths, and I hope he’ll become secure enough in his own ideas that he doesn’t unconsciously lay claim to those of others,” you might say.
If someone presents your idea or success as her own…
Say you believe a coworker has stolen your idea outright, and presented it to your boss or team as her own. Or say your coworker took credit for your work on a big project. You don’t want to look like a pushover by letting it go, but you don’t want to obsess so much about the transgression that you look irrational or insecure.
- Again, calm yourself down before taking any action so you’re fully in control of your words.
- Try to find out if there’s any way it could have been unintentional. Maybe you were brainstorming together, and she inaccurately remembered the idea as being her own. Or maybe you worked on the project together, and she accidentally left out your contribution during a meeting out of nervousness. Talk with her one-on-one, and phrase your question in a non-accusatory way so you won’t be sabotaging a working relationship. Give her a chance to apologize, but if she doesn’t, push back, says Karen Dillon in HR Guide to Office Politics. Making it uncomfortable for her to continue the behavior will deter it from happening again.
- Get support from other team members, if others know for certain that the idea was yours. Ask them to acknowledge your contribution in the next meeting, or in a team email. If the coworker at fault sees you have support, she may back down.
- If the offense was truly egregious—for example, if a coworker took your name off a presentation you created and presented it as her own—meet with your boss to explain what happened, sharing evidence to support your case.
If someone repeatedly takes credit for your work…
- Keep a log showing details about what happened and when.
- Find out if colleagues have experienced the same behavior from this coworker. Gather your evidence of the transgressions.
- Talk to your boss about the situation, along with any other coworkers who have been affected. Stay collected and share evidence, if you have it. Rather than badmouthing the coworker at fault, focus on your desire to feel heard and to create a harmonious office dynamic.
- Help create a culture of sharing credit by always highlighting the contributions of others.
Preventing idea theft
Work to prevent theft of your ideas by documenting them well. If you share them, share them with more than one person so you don’t end up in a “he said/she said” scenario. Better yet, share them electronically, so there’s a record.
Remember, too, that one idea isn’t everything. You’ll have other great ideas, and you can be more conscientious about how to share them in the future. Don’t fixate so much on remedying this issue that it keeps you from shining in other ways, or makes you look petty. If you focus on the future, others will notice your stellar performance and give you plenty of credit for it!
Contact leadership coach Joel for more advice on promoting your work and building a strong reputation.
” Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”
~ Kofi Annan ~
Client Julia asks: I’ve tried to find a mentor in my company, but most of the higher-level managers are men, and the way they lead groups doesn’t come naturally to me. Am I just not leadership material?
Coach Joel answers: Julia, you just need to tap into your own strengths as a leader. Empirical research shows that women tend to have a range of strengths that make for a great leader. Women aren’t yet getting equal rewards for these strengths—according to Harvard Business Review, only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and just over 5% of executives in Fortune 500 companies are women. However, many qualities women leaders tend to possess are aspects of transformational leadership, which is fast becoming recognized as the most effective leadership style. Transformational leadership motivates employees by helping them find self-worth through the work they do.
That being said, many qualities associated more strongly with men can make for an effective leader as well. The best skills for the job always depend on the context. Both men and women should look at the range of qualities that can make for a great leader, and decide which ones to nurture in themselves, depending on their career goals and personal strengths.
1. Communication Styles
Women tend to have a more cooperative, participatory style of leading. Men tend to have a more “command and control style,” according to the American Psychological Association. They’re more task-oriented and directive, while women are more democratic. That’s often the starkest leadership difference between male and female bosses: Men provide direction for their employees, while women encourage employees to find their own direction. The cooperative style involves more conversation and listening, which often takes more time but leads employees to feel more valued. Both styles are valuable in different contexts. Being highly task-oriented can be highly beneficial where safety is concerned, for example.
2. Reward Systems
Women often motivate their employees by helping them find self-worth and satisfaction in their work, which serves as its own reward. This is a core part of the philosophy of transformational leadership: Help employees find their identity in the work that they do, so it’s more than just a job. Men are more likely to use the transactional leadership approach of providing incentives for succeeding and penalties for failing. Of course, either gender can learn to succeed in either of these leadership styles. Differences in leadership between male and female managers can work in tandem, too, as transactional leaders can ensure accountability while transformational leaders motivate and inspire.
Men tend to be good at branding themselves, meaning they let others know about their successes and strengths. Women are more likely to be modest or silent about their own accomplishments. To succeed as a leader, women should learn to brand themselves by sharing their achievements and skills with others. After all, it’s hard for a person to advance as a leader if people don’t notice what she’s capable of. Branding also brings a leader more respect in her current position. Volunteering for high-profile projects and finding a respected advocate are other great branding strategies that men are often more likely to use than women.
Again, it’s not that people of either gender make better leaders. The reality is that differences between male and female leadership styles can broaden a company’s pool of creativity and innovation. This enhances the success of any company when both men and women are promoted to high-level positions. Whichever gender you are, identify the distinct skills you bring and how to use them to get noticed by potential or current employers. The business of placing women in leadership needs to become a top priority.
Next time you’re in a meeting or talking one-on-one with someone you supervise, take note of which communication, reward systems, and branding styles you use. What comes naturally, and where could you improve? Email Joel for tips on which skills to hone for your career path.
Talkback: Do you feel that your leadership skills are related to your gender? Or do you use skills that aren’t typically associated with your gender? Share your experiences here.
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“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.”
~ Malcolm S. Forbes ~
Client Ellen Asks: I’m a woman in a leadership role, and I have a question about perceptions. It seems that women are judged differently than men for the exact same actions. Where a man might be seen as authoritative, a woman acting the same way might be seen as bossy. How do ensure that I am projecting the image I desire as a female business leader?
Coach Joel Answers: I’ve often written about the importance of proactively shaping the perceptions others have of you. This is a key strategy to standing out, getting credit for your work and, ultimately, getting ahead.
But what if you’re a woman?
Do any of these comments sound familiar?
- “I feel inferior to some of the men at my office, even though we have the same titles.”
- “Most of the meetings I go to have few women and I feel alone and intimidated.”
- “When I’m in meetings with men, what I say seems less important.”
- “When I speak up at the same time as a male colleague, my boss always wants to hear what he has to say first.”
- “When I bring up concerns about details, my male colleagues accuse me of ‘not seeing the big picture.’ So I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.”
I’ve heard these same concerns from a number of clients. These are smart, articulate, highly motivated women in leadership roles at blue chip companies. They feel their gender hinders their ability to shape their image. One woman summed up her frustration by telling me, “I feel like the deck is stacked against me. The rules for men are different. If a man speaks up or challenges someone, he viewed in positive terms as being aggressive or competitive. Yet if a woman does the same thing, she’s called a b—-.'”
Naturally, this isn’t the case with all women and work situations. But if you share some of these concerns or frustrations, here’s what I advise my clients:
Don’t feel guilty about being assertive.
There’s nothing disrespectful or “unfeminine” about being assertive and forcefully expressing your point of view. The best decisions are made when everyone contributes their ideas. You shortchange your company, your customers and yourself by remaining silent or intimidated by “what others will think.” Someone once said, “Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.” It’s time to stop apologizing.
What have you got to lose?
If you’re afraid to speak up, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best that can happen?” Chances are, you’ll find your fears or reservations aren’t justified and the rewards greatly outweigh the risks.
Is it a gender issue or a confidence issue?
When consulting with female clients in depth about this, we’ve often discovered that the real problem isn’t with “them,” it’s with “you.” They were using gender as an excuse. They tended not to speak up at all meetings, not just those with men. They realized they needed to develop a strategy to build their self-confidence. This might involve reading self-help books or attending an assertiveness training class.
Learn from successful role models or mentors.
Seek advice and inspiration from successful women in your organization. Watch them in action, use them as sounding boards, learn how they use or bend the so-called “rules” to get ahead.
Talk to your boss.
During your next performance review, tell him (or her) you want to work at being more assertive and more comfortable at speaking up in groups. Ask for his advice and seek out feedback following meetings: “How did I do?” “Did I come across as too aggressive or confrontational?” “What should I have done differently?”
But what if it really is a gender issue?
My advice is: you can’t change them (the men in your office), you can only change yourself. Pick your fights and avoid fueling their negative stereotypes. In other words, don’t be overly emotional, focus on facts and not personalities, etc. If you continue to be frustrated, look for work someplace else. “Don’t compromise yourself,” the legendary singer Janis Joplin once said. “You’re all you’ve got.”
Don’t let your gender be an excuse. Joel has successfully coached many women, and he can help you reach your full potential too. Click here to learn more about leadership coaching for women.
Talkback: Are you a woman in a leadership position? Have you found that you are perceived differently than the men in your company?
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“Nothing can be more absurd than the practice. . . of men and women not following the same pursuits with all their strengths and with one mind, for thus, the state instead of being whole is reduced to half.”
~ Plato ~
Client Mary Ann Asks: I’ve got a real dilemma on my hands. I’ve got two very talented managers who have been on my team for several years. Martin is a real go-getter, definitely somebody who gets the job done. Danielle is a great motivator, a real team player that brings out the best in her people. There’s one open position that would be a move up for both of them—but it’s only one position. Which one should I promote? Does gender make a difference? How do I figure out the different male and female leadership styles between the two of them?
Coach Joel Answers: Leadership styles are not gender-neutral. But when you’re looking at a promotion situation such as this one, I think you need to put gender aside for the moment and look at some key management characteristics. Ask yourself these three critical questions:
- What’s best for the job?
- What’s best for the staff?
- What’s best for the person?
Statistically speaking, there are clear differences in male and female leadership styles. A study conducted by McKinsey & Company shows that men and women use key leadership behaviors differently. The three behaviors most often used by women were people development, expectations and rewards, and role model. Women were also more likely to use inspiration and participative decision making. Men, on the other hand, utilized control and corrective action, as well as individual decision making with more frequency. There was virtually no difference in men and women when it came to intellectual stimulation and efficient communication.
So with that in mind, let’s consider those three questions.
1. What’s best for the job? Consider first what outcomes you are expecting for this position. If you are in a growth mode with lots of new initiatives and projects that need motivation and team building, you might lean toward Danielle. On the other hand, if this is a position that involves quick decision-making rather than consensus-building, or if that department is in need of some rebuilding, Martin might be a good choice.
2. What’s best for the staff? Think about the direct reports that this person will have. Will they thrive on a highly creative, free-flowing environment or do they need structure and stability? Think about assertiveness vs. empathy, encouragement vs. direction. Picture each person in the department and visualize him or her reporting to either Martin or Danielle. You’ll know instinctively which manager each person would thrive under. You might end up deciding on the individual who provides “the greatest good for the greatest number.”
3. What’s best for the person? You want to set the individual up for success. Think beyond your own immediate needs for the department and look to the future. Where do you see your department in five years? How does Martin fit that picture? How about Danielle? You also need to think about how you’ll utilize and continue to reward the individual who doesn’t get promoted.
None of the characteristics we’ve talked about are either good or bad—they just are. Your job is to decide which kind of leader is best for your department and your people at this particular time. The bottom line is that both male and female leadership styles have a lot to offer.
Are you faced with a tough promotion decision? Joel can talk you through it—contact him today.
Talkback: How do you think gender differences affect leadership styles? Share your experience here.
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“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”
~ Rosalynn Carter ~
Client Melanie Asks:
I’m having a real challenge understanding what’s next for me at my company. I’ve been a department manager for five years. I get impeccable performance reviews and consistent kudos from my boss, my peers and my subordinates. I know I’m a good leader. But every manager above me is male. I feel I’ve gone as far as I can go here. Is the glass ceiling for real? Is male leadership ability really superior to female?
Coach Joel Answers:
Your question is certainly a legitimate one. Dozens of leading business publications, including Forbes, Psychology Today, and The Harvard Business Review have done recent studies and articles on male vs. female leadership ability. Here’s what they’ve all concluded: in the top 16 leadership competencies, women outscore men in all but one. In two of the top characteristics (takes initiative, and drives for results), women outrank men by the highest degree of any factor tested—and these particular characteristics have long been thought of as male strengths.
According to the HBR study, a major reason women aren’t moving up as far and as fast as they should is that they don’t self-promote. So here’s a three-point action plan that I would recommend you put in place immediately.
- Establish your brand. You may think you’re well known in the company and that your skills and accomplishments are recognized. But you need more than that. You need to be memorable. This may mean taking on a cause or a project that is languishing and turning it into a winner. It could mean coming up with a high-impact promotional campaign or a can’t-lose money saving strategy.
- Increase your visibility. You can do this in a number of ways. Start by speaking up in meetings, not only to discuss your own projects and ideas but also to acknowledge your team’s efforts or ideas presented by your peers. Volunteer to make presentations or speak at company meetings where top executives will be present. Network at business events, both inside and outside the company, as often as you can.
- Develop advocates. You need people who will speak on your behalf. Look for unexpected sources rather than relying on your immediate boss to do this. Speak to clients, customers, and vendors about your work. Look for allies in other departments or business units. If a client or customer compliments your work, say “Would you mind dropping my CEO an email about that?”
Will you get the promotion you feel you deserve? Will you break through into top management? Another factor revealed in the HBR study is that men in senior management positions still tend to hire other men. While that may be true, choose to focus instead on the fact, supported by scientific data, that when it comes to male vs. female leadership ability, women are the true leaders. Your leadership skills may be rewarded in your current company and they may not. But they will be rewarded—count on it!
If your head is bumping up against a glass ceiling in your company, contact Joel for some glass-shattering ideas.
Talkback: What’s your opinion about male vs. female leadership abilities? Share your ideas here.
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