Speaking Up is Harder to Do than it Sounds

My recent LinkedIn post featuring Madeline Albright’s interview with TIME resonated strongly with people.

Albright spoke about the “fear of speaking up and being seen as stupid— only to have a man say the same thing to praise from participants”. Many women leaders are plagued by the same insecurity Albright articulated. As a result, they either consciously or sub-consciously “repress” the opportunity to speak up in meetings – and for good reason. http://fortune.com/2017/09/07/madeleine-albright-speaking-up-in-meetings/

No difference in effectiveness

Situational factors clearly influence our “effectiveness” as leaders. Analysis by Professor Brian Connelly from the University of Toronto shows the pattern of correlations between leadership effectiveness and the personality profiles of men and women are essentially identical. Brian employed the LMAP 360 database to conduct his analysis (The LMAP 360 leadership assessment tool is employed in Exec Ed programs at Harvard and Yale as well as a range of blue-chip companies). Brian found no evidence of differences in leadership effectiveness between men and women based on their native personalities.

Women are more self-aware then men

However, Brian’s analysis revealed women’s self-assessments are more highly correlated to their peer assessments then men’s. In effect, women are more self-aware then men about their leadership behavioural strengths such as conscientiousness and sociability. This is a particularly noteworthy as self-awareness has been rated by the Stanford GSB Advisory Council as the single most important trait leaders need to develop.

Unconscious Bias and the Glass Ceiling

Personality alone can’t explain the gender bias around speaking up. Therefore, this issue is mainly a social phenomenon, driven by different perceptions and expectations about roles and sensitivity to others. Some of the bias may simply be unconscious due to a lack of awareness. On the other hand, a“boys club” mentality exists in many organisations and is also responsible for women not speaking up.

Consciously Speaking up – and Shutting up

One quick case study to close this blog. The issue of men speaking over the top of women is a major challenge in hospitals. When faced with this issue 5 years ago, we introduced the LMAP 360 process in order to build awareness amongst a new cancer hospital’s executive leadership team. The effect was immediate and beneficial. One female team member actually stopped a more senior male team member mid-sentence as her goal was to be more assertive and his goal was to stop talking over the top of others.

Being more effective leaders requires both women being encouraged to speak up and men being politely told to shut up. Now how hard is that?

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