We all remember Meryl Streep and her award-winning role in ‘The Devil wears Prada’ in which she was portrayed as the monster woman boss. This manager figure actually exists but unfortunately it does not flourish very well; and if it does, it is most unlikely to happen in our culture! Why? Because this is primarily a ‘man-driven’ culture in which women have entered into professional corporate roles just few years back. Regardless of the reason why this happened, but this trend is changing dramatically in the mid and long term. Egyptian women are currently taking the spotlight by being the first in their classes, the best at their sports and the leaders of their teams. If the trend is changing and society is not doing a very good job of coping with this change, how could a woman in charge maintain a balance between her professionalism as a leader and her character as a woman?
I personally don’t believe in the shout-outs for ‘act like a man, think like a woman’. What is THAT? Act like a woman and think like a woman. It is your call to pick which ‘woman’ you will be but I definitely urge you to be successful, outspoken, straightforward, ambitious and ethical. Being a woman in a professional world dominated by men is no walk in the park, I learned this the hard way! If you are a woman in a leading position you are likely to be managing a team that embraces both sexes. How uncomfortable it is for a man to be managed by a woman? To have his important career decisions taken by a woman? To accept a female authority figure who is not his mother? There are very few leading women figures in history and they definitely did not get as much attention as Caesar, Alexander the Great, Washington or Gandhi!
There is some advice that I would like to share with you: win your people! It is all about creating credibility and trust with your team. Do not make them feel that you are the upper hand and they are the lower hand. If you are their friend while keeping a line of respect that they cannot trespass then you are on the right track. The scary manager who keeps the door of her office all day closed and yells on the phone does not do a very good job of retaining her subordinates and they will be more likely to transfer to another department or manager. Do not and I say DO NOT act like their mother! This is not a way to create a professional team that is glued together by trust and synergy; this is a way to create a needy and immature workforce. It is alright for your subordinated to come and consult with in personal matters occasionally but make sure you pick what you decide to share with them in return. To make them feel that the trust goes both ways, you can tell them stories about how funny your son or daughter is. You may also tell them about the dish that you cook best or the last good movies that you have seen. These small pieces of information might appear personal but they are generic and you might as well use them to make small talk in a social gathering as an ice breaker with people you do not know. Make sure you do not share any details about your relationship with your spouse or partner, your financial status or your personal opinion of other team members.
Winning your team goes beyond the limits of the office. To create an engaged workforce that believes in your ability and stands next to you in times in which the workload is increasing and becoming more demanding, extend your effort outside the office. It is never a bad idea to take your team out on occasional dinners to celebrate your success on a project or meeting a deadline. If you have guys on your team, make sure you do not take the team to a girlie restaurant that is known to be a chick spot. Ask them where they want to go, make them feel that they are taking part in the decision making of when and where they can be entertained. The amount of engagement that you will get in the short term based on this ongoing effort will be more than you can imagine.
One last tip is to personalize your rewards. If you are traveling on a business trip and you walk into the duty free to get some presents for your team,do not get them all the same fridge magnet! Get them different things and bring this big bag into your office and invite them to choose. The guys will particularly dig that because they don’t get as many gifts as the average girl does. Actually, most guys don’t even get birthday gifts from their friends! Don’t ever be reluctant to show them that you care as long as you do not portray yourself as their mother substitute at work.
Finally, we all love our high heels. Wear whatever makes you comfortable as long as it is business appropriate. You can think like a woman all you want and enjoy your femininity. You can put photos of your best times with friends and family on your desk. You can put your favorite air fresher in your office and use the desktop screensaver that boosts your energy as long as it is not a Betty Boop! Do not change who you are, just learn to manage which part of your feminine personality shows up to the office and which part stays at home. Act like the boss.