The Confidence Factor for Women: Am I “Bossy”​?​

[partial letter]

Dear Carol,

I finally took my seat at the table. I was offered my dream management position in my company. I work in new home sales for a national home builder and I finally worked my way up to overseeing my territory. There are several superb advantages and I negotiated a competitive compensation agreement through my attorney, which I have heard you mention on numerous occasions.

On the flip side, I oversee a group of men, many who are older and have been dedicated to the company for a number of years. With every new decision I have made since accepting the position 8 months ago, I feel my career is being sabotaged by my staff. Many have filed complaints against my decisions with upper management and another has filed a complaint through HR stating that he does not like “my temperament,” which is strange since we do not work in the same office.

The gentleman who was in my position before my promotion was harsh, often shrew with his words, but he was well respected. We all were cordial prior to my promotion but now it is extremely tense. My job is not in jeopardy at this time, but I am always tense and waiting for the next “issue.” My question has a few layers: Should I soften my tone to win the approval of my team and avoid the internal conflicts? Should I ask to step down and go back to middle management for now? Or should I stay knowing that my staff does not care for my decisions, good or bad?

My Best,

Simply Confused

Image courtesy of Unsplash

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Dear Simply Confused,

First, let me congratulate you on your success. To be chosen to take your seat at the table is a commendable accomplishment. Take a moment to celebrate your victories daily. However, I completely understand your concern and truly hope you reconsider demoting yourself as an option.

Women have been criticized harshly for our tone. If you are “too nice,” it is not a marketable leadership skill. However, if you are direct or abrupt, your are “bossy” (or another 5-letter B-word). There is actually no middle ground between nice and bossy.

I believe the broader issue that you are experiencing is the “boys club” mindset and communication. Your staff was probably expecting the vacancy to be filled with one of the more senior members of their team, and your appointment is a shock. Age and gender are contributing factors as well.

As a leader, you may not gain the approval of everyone, but if you have the respect of a few, you will create a more productive environment to advocate for your new policies. One of the best methods I use with my team are weekly early morning meetings, where I am very transparent about who I am as a leader, I highlight my faults so I can ensure there are no surprises, and I ask for their feedback to gain insight on how much they can handle. Just a shift in communication will allow your staff to feel included, instead of subordinate. In addition, you will gain their respect, even those who are older and have a different idea of gender roles.

Softening up your tone will only be a temporary solution. As women, we must stop settling for being “liked” instead of respected. You worked hard for the promotion, now it is time to communicate your expectations from your team to ensure your success. Once you clarify your expectations, and it may take a few morning meetings to get the collective on board, I believe your staff will understand your expectations and recognize the meaning of your tone and your passion for your work.

Do not change who you are, change how you communicate and let your team understand who you are so gender is no longer relative to your success.

Good Luck!

— Carol

Carol Sankar is a high level business consultant and the founder of The Confidence Factor for Women in Leadership, which is a global executive leadership firm focused on diversity and inclusion initiatives for high level women. Carol has been featured at TEDx, Forbes, The Steve Harvey Show, Bounce TV, Inroads, The Society for Diversity, SHRM, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Working Mother Magazine and more. For more details, visit www.carolsankar.com.

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