Leadership Tangles Blog

Leaders--Time to Dress Up So You Won't be Dressed Down?

Posted by Marcia Ruben, PhD, PCC on Tue, May 22, 2012

Silk Suits resized 600Recent research suggests that what we wear impacts how we feel and how we perform. As an executive leadership coach who often works with leaders to enchance their executive presence, this is really helpful information. I often coach women leaders to observe how other senior women, who they perceive as competent and powerful, are dressing. Often the differences, i.e., in accessories, shoes, etc. are subtle, yet worth noting. I sometimes advise clients to change and/or upgrade their wardrobe. I have also advised male clients to make sure that their shoes were polished (I learned this from my grandfather who always said you could tell a lot about a man by the appearance of his shoes.) My clothing advice was based on my own experience in the corporate world and observation. Now, with the power of this research, and recent articles, I feel even more confident in strongly arguing that clothes do make the man and woman!

Further, in difficult, tangled, emotionally charged situations, our perceptions of ourselves and others do influence how we behave. In research I conducted, those who felt powerful and competent, yet viewed others as not, took actions that made the situation more tense and more tangled. Those who felt powerless and viewed others as more powerful and less competent also took actions that added more tension and limited productivity.

I don't believe that the problems of the world will be solved by upgrading our wardrobes. I do believe that understanding the symbolic meaning of what we are wearing, and making conscious choices to wear something that makes us feel our best is a very good place to start. And I have worked with leaders who needed to stifle their urge to dress down those junior to them in the organization. In discussions with them, they dressed down some but not all. Perhaps those who wore their power clothing were not targeted. It is certainly food for thought! 

Topics: power, competence, executive leadership coach

Executive Women Leaders--Talk Less to Gain Power?

Posted by Marcia Ruben, PhD, PCC on Wed, May 16, 2012

Quiet (1) resized 600I was astounded to read about the results of a recent study by a Yale university professor. Apparently, women who speak more are perceived as less competent. On the other hand, men who speak more are viewed as more competent. Professor Jennifer Brescoll suggests that how much we talk has implications for how powerful others perceive us to be. The frightening thing about this study is that women may interpret the results to mean that if they talk to much, they will experience a backlash. 

I find this fascinating, because there is also research that suggests that women who speak up less in meetings, slowly over time, are seen as less competent and are not promoted as quickly as their male counterparts.   We all know stories about women who express a good idea early in a meeting, only to have it ignored. A male counterpart raises the same exact idea later in the meeting and is hailed as brilliant. I have had this happen to me and have seen it happen to others. 

So how do we make sense of this and what does this mean to ambitious women who want to move up the corporate ladder in to senior leadership positions? Does it mean that we have to completely muzzle ourselves? Why do we ascribe more power to men who take up more air space than to women who do the same? 

It may be that our social conditioning and hardwiring have predisposed us to expect that women will listen more, be more nurturing, and talk less. These traits are certainly in alignment with emotional intelligence. Knowing how to read others and what to say when surely must trump pure testosterone! In fact, in Brescoll's study quiet women were perceived as more competent than quiet males and almost as competent as talkative males!

I would like to hear from some of you. What do you make of these findings? In your experience, do women need to talk less to rise to the top of their companies? 

Topics: emotional intelligence, power, competence

What Leaders Can Learn from Twitter, Facebook, and #Iran Election?

Posted by Marcia Ruben, PhD, PCC on Mon, Jun 22, 2009

For the past ten days, I have been glued to the media and social networking sites, especially Twitter. I am not alone.  I have been awed by the level of interest, caring, and actions taken by so many after the June 12 election. As I sat in my office, watching my computer screen, I felt empowered to take a small step, to lend my voice of support to a situation unfolding half-way around the globe. I followed #Iran election, with thousands joining the conversation every millisecond. I retweeted (RT) messages that provided helpful information, and posted my own thoughts. I watched as Facebook friends joined in the discussion and became a fan of sites allegedly providing credible information. I didn’t know if I was making any difference at all, but felt I was a part of something historical, important, and much bigger than me.  

I began making connections between my work with organizational leaders and as a researcher, and my concept of tangles. I am fascinated by how people make sense of complexity. I believe that we are all interconnected in a web of relationships. According to complexity theorists, organizational systems self-organize in new structures and patterns as individuals within the system interact with each other. It just takes a few simple rules to create order in a chaotic system. With twitter, one just needs to create a post with 140 characters, retweet posts by acknowledging the source with @Name of Follower, and use the hash mark (#) to create or be part of a trending conversation.

That certainly is what was happening moment by moment as the cascade of tweets grew on Twitter. And slowly, I sensed a pattern of tremendous support, caring, and then danger and fear. It was clear that those within Iran posting video footage and eyewitness reports were in danger.  While social media opened a window to events we could never have witnesses, it also poses threats.

This morning’s Wall Street Journal featured two articles on how governments are intervening to monitor the flow of communication both within their countries and to the outside world. Christopher Rhoads and Loretta Chao reported that the Iranian government has the ability to control and censor information on the internet. In what seems like a scene out of the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) on the television show 24, the Iranian government can trace the sources of information and locate those sending messages. One strand of tweets encouraged everyone to change their location and timezone to Iran’s. Another encouraged all of us to not share the “handles” of those sending messages from Iran.

In an opinion piece in the same edition of the Wall Street Journal, Gordon Crovitz writes that beginning July 1, 2009, the Chinese government may have even greater powers in censoring sites that citizens visit, blocking content sent via email, and locating and punishing those who express their opinions online.  While the promise of technology is to empower everyone, those in power have the ability to disempower their citizens.

How is this related to organizational tangles? And what can leaders learn from all of this? Gratefully, we have freedom of speech here in the United States. However, I have witnessed cultural norms in various companies that discourage speaking truth to power or speaking up. My research found that true collaboration and higher productivity and profits more likely emerge in conditions when corporate employees feel they have power and are competent. When they are able to freely speak up about emerging trends that could cause problems or processes and practices that are snarling the system, order emerges. The system is not fragmented, but works together as a whole.

I have facilitated scores of offsites within a myriad of companies. I am often surprised when I hear employees complain that speaking up is a career limiting move. By the same token, the leadership team claims to encourage a free flow of information. What is going on here?  What I have observed is that those who encourage and open up communication seem to have what Mike Lombardo and Bob Eichinger describe as the approachability competency. They put others at ease and are nonjudgmental listeners. Just as I can feel powerful and competent when posting a tweet, leaders who facilitate open environments create conditions in which others can own their power and competence.

Are you a leader who encourages competence and personal power? Contact info@rubenconsulting.com if you would like a complimentary 15 minute consultation. Follow me on Twitter: @TangleDoctor.

Topics: Twitter, power, competence, collaboration

Marcia Ruben, RCG

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

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