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3 ways women can overcome the leadership double bind with storytelling

Female leaders are held to a higher standard for competency yet often reap smaller rewards than men. Women cannot take charge without being seen as aggressive. The same take-charge attitude in a man would be seen as proactive. It's the double bind.
3 ways women can overcome the leadership double bind with storytelling
Photo by Brooke Lark / Unsplash

Happy International Woman's Day! As women, we face unique challenges and today is a good day to talk about how we can do our part to overcome these challenges. Today we honor the women in our lives. Help a woman out by forwarding this post to your sister, daughter or female co-worker.


Female leaders are held to a higher standard for competency yet often reap smaller rewards than men.

Women cannot take charge without being seen as aggressive. The same take-charge attitude in a man would be seen as proactive. It's the double bind.

If women act "like men,” their leadership and ability will be overshadowed by seeming unlikeable.

Every action that a female leader makes either erodes their likableness, or erodes other leadership attributes like competence, boldness, and assertiveness. She can’t win. It’s the double bind.
Source: Catalyst.org

One study by Professor Brescoll of Yale University found that men who spoke more in meetings were rated by their peers to be 10 percent more competent than men who did not, whereas women who spoke frequently were rated 14 percent lower than those who did not.

But there’s hope.

If you’re a female leader or would-be leader, knowing about the double bind helps you. You have  control over how you are perceived.

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🤼‍♀️ How do female leaders escape the double bind?

🎤
Storytelling helps female leaders escape the double bind.

A study conducted by the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that women who were able to switch between assertiveness and a more passive demeanor, depending on the circumstance, were ultimately more successful than other women and men. Being aware of your environment, and remaining sensitive to how others are responding to you, can help you to subtly adapt your demeanor in strategic ways.

The last sentence is important.

Being aware of your environment, and remaining sensitive to how others are responding to you, can help you to subtly adapt your demeanor in strategic ways. That’s Storytelling.

Storytelling is actually less about telling and more about listening. In our 6 week Storytelling class for leaders we talk about the 6 different stories that you can tell for every point that you’re trying to make. This means you have options.

By listening to your audience properly and choosing your response, you can be perceived as likable and competent.

I’m going to talk about 3 storytelling approaches that I’ve seen women leaders use well.

  1. The “We” approach
  2. The “5 to 1 Positivity” approach
  3. The “You’re the hero” approach

🤗 The “We” approach

This is the story about us. Whatever point you’re trying to make here, tell the story in “we” terms. Why?

A team of researchers, Ewa Kacewicz, James W. Pennebaker, Matthew Davis, Moongee Jeon, and Arthur C. Graesser, studied the use of pronouns by individuals in a variety of contexts. Their work shows that pronoun choice, whether you use “I”, “my”, or “we”, “us”, cues the individual’s status inside a group and possibly their likelihood of attaining higher status.

The use of singular self-centered pronouns such as “I,” “my,” or “me” signifies an inward focus. In the study, when people were cued to feel insecure, self-aware, or diminished, they were more likely to choose these pronouns.

Use of other-centered pronouns such as “we,” “us,” or “you” signifies an outward focus. Computerized text analyses across the five studies shows that people with higher status consistently used fewer “I”, and more “we” and “you” pronouns. A higher rank is linked with other-focus.

This means you will be seen as more of a leader if you use the “we” approach in your storytelling.

How do you do it?

Instead of

“I found out that the conversion rate is impacted in June due to recent negative PR.”

Say

We, <credit your peers who helped you with this research>, found out that our conversion rate was impacted in June due to recent negative PR we received.”

You will notice that the “I” version presented data. Whereas the “we” version opens the door for collaboration. It turns the problem into one that we need to solve together.

➕ The “5 to 1 positivity” approach

According to HBR, the highest performing teams have a feedback ratio that is positive to negative feedback at 5.6 to 1.  This plays out in 1:1 relationships as well. Relationship researcher John Gottman discovered that the magic ratio is also 5 to 1 among strong couples.

What does this mean?

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