I was at dinner the other night with someone who I had only just met; sharing a goat curry with vegetables when I got asked a question that at first irked me, then however intrigued me and in my usual diplomatic style I managed to hide what I felt that to get to the bottom of what he meant.
The question was “do you use your sexuality and sensuality in the workplace to get what you want”?Interesting question isn’t it? Firstly I wonder how many male leaders get asked that same question. I would take a bet and say perhaps zero. Here was a man who by all accounts is smart, articulate, works well with women yet he felt the need to ask such a question.
My initial response was to lash out with the usual rhetoric about why do men feel the need to sexualise women however I held back on this and remained charming and calm as I wanted to get to the bottom of why he would ask such a question.He is in a senior management role and someone who works closely with women and has as I understand female bosses.
His answer ,on why he thought I would, was based on the following; I work in a male dominated industry, I am strong, smart, quick witted and these would be qualities a number of men would find attractive and that apparently I come across as very sexual.Clearly I nearly choked on my goat at the last comment. Interestingly he had never seen me in a work environment and yes perhaps over dinner, with a male, a woman can come across as sensual and sexual.
My rather calm response was that no, I do not use my sexuality or sensuality in the work place to get what I want. It doesn’t work that way in leadership. No matter how good you look if people don’t buy into your message or the journey you want to take the business on then they will not follow you or go on the journey with you.Rather perhaps what I have learnt and am learning is that to lead a business you have to do so with heart and passion. That you need to bring yourself to the business; people need to connect with who you are and you are able to show vulnerability.
You must truly believe that you can make a difference to the businesses, the people and the industry; I explained to him that I know people connect with my energy, my passion, I can communicate at various levels, that I paint a picture and take people on a journey.I can get people to commit to projects like Random Acts of McGrath, Free Hugs and Walk a Mile as these are acts that come from the heart.
That my work in Fiji over the last 13 years proves that I truly believe I can make a difference at many levels and my passion and commitment to causes.Ultimately however I love what I do and I love the industry I work in and the people I work with.
I am reading a fabulous book called The Radical Leap Re-energised by Steve Farber and in it he writes that extreme leadership is what is required right now and he challenges leaders to live up to the following ideal:Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do
He also writes that there are four words that describe extreme leadership.These are love, energy, audacity and proof.
I believe I can make a difference, the work I do in Fiji is driven by this, the coaching I do with agents is driven by this, the work I do with other women in and outside of real estate is driven by this belief.
So I think or hope I answered his question, no most women in leadership do not use their sexuality and sensuality in business to achieve what they want, however if their love, passion, energy and audacity for what they do is seen as such then perhaps we (women) have two choices.
We need to accept this and keep doing what we do because to change the behaviour would not be seen as extreme leadership.
Or we spend a lot of our time defining,reviewing and assessing our behaviour and language and run the risk of becoming poor leaders who people will not follow, or want to be lead by.
Many women in leadership roles who are strong, confident women often run the risk of being seen as pushy, bossy, ballsy, selfish, vain and god help us sexual.
Check out the latest Pantene ad re this very issue. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOjNcZvwjxI
However my question is that if women can bring extreme leadership to their businesses based on love, energy, audacity and proof it will be a wonderful mix of heart, passion, confidence and results.
What will we be labelled then I wonder?