Remember high school?
Yes, I really do not enjoy revisiting those memories either. For those who came of age in the late 80’s and early 90’s, like me, high school was especially tragic: “Mall Hair” meets “Grunge Flannel”. I have hidden away all photographic evidence of those especially horrid fashion eras.
Besides questionable apparel choices, thinking of high school probably triggers thoughts of Friday night football games. In particular, two venerable students – the Football Captain and the Homecoming Queen.
No matter which high school clique you belonged to, you likely spent a lot of time observing those two people from afar. Your Homecoming Queen was likely beautiful and universally well liked. After all, she gained that title via a popularity contest. The Football Captain may also be handsome (this is high school after all). But his job was to lead the team to victory, so while generally liked he sometimes could rub a few of the players the wrong way.
So why this walk down memory lane?
Because I recently read that women are more likely to be criticized on their personality on annual reviews.
And because I also recently read that authoritative women are less “likeable” than similarly authoritative men.
Is this really true? To find out, I did my own pseudo case study by reflecting through my past reviews. I considered reviews from a long time ago and from more recently, from a variety of employers and those given by both men and women. Guess what? There were a lot of comments, both positive and negative, about personality.
But the realization that came next was what truly startled me. I thought back to my responses to all those reviews. In every single case, I dwelled disproportionally on the negative feedback, all but ignoring the many positive comments. And, even worse, I laser-focused on the negative comments related to my personality.
Every single time, my personal action plan boiled down to: “What can I do in the coming year to make people like me more?”
Once I stopped reeling from that revelation, I took my case study in a new direction. I looked at the reviews I gave other women. And I was appalled. The reviews I had written were riddled with too many comments about personality (“She’s easy to work with”, “I find her very pleasant”, “She can sometimes be difficult”) and not enough about performance.
In my very limited experiment, the articles’ assertions that women’s personalities are overly critiqued certainly rang true. And, sadly, I was one of the perpetrators of personality over-emphasis.
I know I can make improvements to my management and communication style. And the women I reviewed could too. But when is it enough? Are we chasing unrealistic, and unhealthy, standards for likeability? Are we trying too hard to be voted Homecoming Queen Of The Office when we really should be trying to be the Football Captain Of The Project Team?
I do not know any of these answers. And I am not sure anyone does. The issues are much more broad and complex than any one person’s thoughts.
But I know what I can do right now:
- Continue to hone my management and communication style. But with an understanding that my goal is better leadership and not more likeability. Tangible action plan: Solicit more feedback and read more about effective communication.
- Come to terms that the best leaders are popular more because of their productivity and less because of their likeable personalities. (See: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Sheryl Sandberg) Tangible action plan: Study the communication styles of effective leaders, both celebrity CEOS and managers I admire much closer to home.
- Emphasize performance over personality on annual reviews. This goes for everyone I review, but especially for the women. Tangible action plan: Write the reviews. Then rewrite. And rewrite again. I may even have a neutral third party review again for any unconscious bias I missed.
- Support other women ensuring that I am not perpetuating the “female leaders = less likeable” bias. Tangible action plan: Give encouraging feedback to at least one woman every day. Bonus points for feedback specific to leadership and performance. Points deduction for personality compliments.
Women, let’s stop worrying about being likeable. Let’s stop trying to be Homecoming Queens. Instead, let’s support each other in becoming effective leaders who head winning teams.