A few weeks ago I was talking to someone on Twitter, a writer. We were both lamenting the need to think about hiring others to do some of the more mundane things we have to do, being self employed, that could possibly leave us more time to work on our craft.

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I said that one of my goals was to get to the point where I could hire someone to clean my house once a week. She said that she couldn’t imagine anyone else cleaning her house and that if she actually did hire someone she’d feel compelled to clean the house first so that whoever showed up didn’t think bad about her house being messy.

I thought that was pretty funny because that’s exactly the same type of thing my wife says all the time. The one time she allowed someone to come to the house to help clean was when we were going to throw a large holiday party the day after I spent the night in a sleep lab, and she felt she needed some help with last minute cleaning. Even then, the areas she asked the person to clean were areas that she’d cleaned days before so that those areas wouldn’t be what she considered “nasty” to have someone else working on.

I have no such qualms. Many years ago when I was single I had someone come in to clean my apartment every couple of weeks. I’m not super messy but I do tend to accumulate a lot of clutter. I also felt overwhelmed because I was driving an hour each way to work, sometimes coming home late and every once in a while going back into the office on the weekend. Add in that I was in two bowling leagues a week and, when I wasn’t working late, bowled 2 other nights if someone called needing a substitute.

I’ve never met a single male who’s had any worries about having someone come into their space to clean up, and some of those guys were pretty nasty; just sayin’… Yet, I’ve met a lot of women, way more than 70%, who couldn’t conceive of someone coming into the house to clean, no matter how much stress it would relieve, let alone the reality that they could afford it.

Suffice it to say that, in general, men and women think and act differently about a lot of things. The same type of thing applies to leadership as well. Over the years, I’ve worked mainly with women employees. I’ve had maybe 6 or 7 men who’ve worked for me over the course of 30 years as compared to at least 250 or so women. I’m not going to say I’m an expert in working with women, but I can easily say that once I found my groove I was certainly skilled enough to know how to work well with women and enjoyed it immensely.

When it came to leadership positions I’d have to say the ratio was around 65-35% men to women. They were mainly peers, but I did have occasion to report to female leaders. What I’ve encountered has almost always been different than working with men; I’m not saying better, just different.

I’m not an idiot, so the last thing I’m going to do is try to illuminate the differences in women and men as leaders. Instead, I’m going to relate how, because of working with so many women, I communicated differently with women leaders and how they communicated with me. I tend to believe that the way I communicate is what’s actually shaped me into the person I am now, falling into a place I don’t believe I’d have ever reached if I’d only interacted with men or mainly men. Let’s take a look at it.

Raquel & Me

First, I’m not as direct with women leaders as I can be with men. That’s because I’ve never had a woman leader think that I might be weak in the way I’m talking to her. I’ve had some men here and there who made the mistake of thinking that kindness is weakness.

Second, I’ve learned to have a lot more specifics ready to address when working with women leaders as opposed to working with men. The reason is that women are generally more apt to want to understand an issue than many men are. I’m only talking about leaders here and not all employees. Many times I’ve found that male leaders will either stay quiet and walk out of a meeting not understanding what’s going on or act like they know what’s going on and put their foot in their mouths. Every once in a while that happens with women leaders, but not as often.

Third, I’ve found that my own behavior allows me into the inner circle than it does most men when it comes to the sorority of women leaders. I’ve had more business lunches with women than men, and it’s not because I’m hitting on them or condescending to them. It has more to do with talking to women as equals, which I don’t see as often with other male leaders. I like to think I’ve been able to inspire a level of trust with women that doesn’t happen as often with men at work. This is a small thing, but I can tell a woman leader if she’s got something hanging off something she’s wearing without her thinking that I’m being lascivious in any way whatsoever.

Fourth, I’ve learned to listen better and to be prepared for a lengthy story. In a way, it’s reminiscent of learning the listening skills of the Navajo, who have a roundabout way of getting to a point by telling a story. The conversations can be nuanced such that something could be missed if I’m not listening properly. Trust me, I’ve made that mistake enough times to know better because often questions need to be asked to get the information that’s really needed to push forward.

Women leaders don’t get to the point as often as men do, and often that’s a good thing because if one listens, you’ll get almost everything you need in more ways than one, which helps to alter the solutions because of the different layers. It gives me a chance to get it right the first time instead of having to go through lots of starts and stops.

As I said earlier, I treat men and women leaders and peers the same; for that matter, I treat all employees the same. Because of the lessons I learned from working with so many women, I’ve been able to use skills I’ve developed to better use when working with all leaders. I do recognize that my skills are better suited to working with women leaders though, at least initially.

With men, I’m either given carte blanche or having to give information on a more regular schedule that impedes the work I’m trying to do. Frankly, I love the carte blanche thing much more; who wouldn’t? But the other end… ugh.

Like I said, different, not better or worse. This is based on what I’ve seen and observed; what are your thoughts and realities on this subject?
 

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