The Next-Generation of Female Leaders Will Emerge At A Faster Pace When Women Stop Trying to 'Act Like Men'

Why women leaders should stop acting like men.

Jan. 29, 2012— -- Men don't push eight pound human beings out of deeply personal places. Men don't undergo hormonal changes every month. Men don't have to be constantly reminded of what sexy looks like via a higher percentage of sexual images of themselves displayed across magazines, billboards, TV commercials, etc.

Yet we hear women cautioned to "act like a man." What does that mean exactly?

"Maybe there's a set of rules, you know, a memo that went around that we've missed," my female friend says jokingly when we meet for coffee (right before her flight to Europe, where she gets to represent her company at a leadership conference).

Like, does a man: use a lot of expletives? Walk around with his legs and chest spread wide? Talk on the phone with his feet up on a table? Go for the frequent evening beer with the guys? Sit around the office talking about women and their body parts? Sleep with his co-workers? Yell, bang his fists on the table, and demand to be heard?

Does acting like a man mean that I have to give up my high heels, pencil skirts, makeup and jewelry? Should I trash my dresses and take to wearing tuxedos at formal events, refuse to have a gentleman open a door for me, or refuse to attend any event that supports women empowerment? (I had a female tell me this and I felt bad that I scoffed at the ridiculousness of her statement, but I wanted her to know that some men actually love attending female empowerment events. Get it?)

I don't mean to make light of the subject but I guess I'm still somewhat confused. No one has really explained what "acting like a man" means in the general scheme of things.

I mean, women do use curse words. Oh dear, shut the front door! Whaaat? Yes. Women do demand. Women do negotiate. Women do lead. Women do yell and scream. Women do go out for beer (or martinis). Oh and women do sleep with their co-workers. Oh no, heavens to Mergatroyd! Oh yes.

But that's not really the point is it? The point is, we know that a group of guys at your office don't represent the entire male species. Neither does that group of women. Yet we continue to place people - particularly women - within a box. In order to be a woman leader, you have to "act like a man," some say.

Somebody find that rule book will you?! Who came up with these rules and where are they listed?

Were they implying that Hilary Clinton should "act like a man" when a union boss at one of Clinton's campaign rallies, insinuated that fortitude only comes with testicles?  "We need testicular fortitude," he said. "I do think I have fortitude, women can have it as well as men," Clinton was forced to respond.

Let's discuss the facts: we have less women leaders than we do men. Men have led for decades, making it "a man's world." Women have had to fight their way to the top, kicking at obstacles and glass ceilings.

We know all these things to be true.

But this is what I, the next-generation thirty-year-old female that I am, would like to know: by denouncing femininity within the workplace - in lieu of simply encouraging leadership skills - are we making things more difficult for the next generation of female leaders who are comfortable within their own skin?

Can women be themselves and become leaders?

To understand this is to first understand the male vs. female brain.

Scientists have found that the male brain is larger than the female brain by 9 percent. But don't be fooled, this doesn't mean that women have less mental capacity than men, says Dr. Louann Brizendine, Founder of The Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic at the University of California. Women and men have the same number of brain cells; the cells are just packed more densely in women.

In comparing the male and female brains, Brizendine found that the hippocampus - the principal hub of emotion and memory function - is larger in the female brain, making women better at expressing emotions and remembering details. She also states in her book, The Female Brain, that the brain circuitry for language and observing emotions, is also larger in the female brain.

Men on the other hand, have larger processors in the most primitive area of the brain, which registers fear and triggers aggression.  Also, men have two and a half times the brain space devoted to sexual drive.

What does this mean? Well it could start off by explaining the biological reasons for why men and women respond or ?act? differently in the first place.

Yet the crucial takeaway point is one that Professor Paula Nicolson makes after a thorough study done on the subject:

"Instead of fighting their natural instincts, women should embrace them because displaying emotional intelligence is the key to being a better leader."

In other words:

Women don't need a lesson on how to "act like men," they need leadership skills.

Leadership expert, Dr. John C. Maxwell, lists the qualities of a charismatic leader:

1. They love life.
2. They value the potential in people.
3. They  give hope.
4. They share themselves.

These traits are not gender-specific.

Women have great management styles when they make relationships more personal, and let their employees know they care, social psychology professor Dr. Alice Eagly stated in an interview.

But "being a perfect imitator of the male style doesn't work," she argues. Instead, she advices women to  strive for leadership qualities (like being authoritative) while keeping their feminine qualities that make most women democratic and collaborative leaders - as opposed to the top-down, directive leadership style of most of their male counterparts.

Women need to be empowered, we don't (all) need to be men.

Equal opportunity and human rights for women are important issues that affect families, communities and most importantly, the next generation being groomed by women. Large numbers of women continue to be mistreated and abused worldwide.

In her book, For You Mom, Finally, Ruth Reichl describes her mother's generation during the Depression. Women were educated but not allowed to work; working women would only make their men look less capable. She describes depressed women - some highly educated - sitting at home lost, without any support system or encouragement.

Women have come a long way since then, precisely because of the women empowerment movement that started in America and has stretched across oceans; becoming a global movement.

So the second a woman thinks that in order to "act like a man," she can't be a source of empowerment, that she can't find herself being associated with "those stupid women empowerment bogus events," well, she should stop and do some research on why such a movement still exists, how a piece of such a movement might have already been sewn into the fabric of her life. Then she should consider that some men are also advocates of women empowerment.

Women cannot be afraid to address the issues that make them unique. Now we don?t need to all cry and bond over tea, and discuss diapers and teething (like this woman tells me happened at a business event for women. Wow.) We can save that for social gatherings. We need women who are comfortable with leading from a place of  authenticity.

All great leaders have personalities worth discussing. Understandably, women still have a lot to overcome in that area; with strong women leaders still being referred to as "iron lady," and other not-so-nice words. Yet women may never get past the name-calling and labels if we continue to shy away from ourselves. Instead, we might make things harder for the next woman to take the torch.

Intelligence trumps personality when it comes to leadership. Or does it? I'd like to hear your views.

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Cheryl is a writer, start-up junkie and global business fanatic; with a passion for women studies and global children?s issues. Find her on Twitter:@startupbiztalk or via her blog:Making Business Personal

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