When it comes to being a female leader, sometimes it feels like you can’t win for losing. If you’re too accommodating or timid, you’re told to be tough. Be too tough and you’re told to be less harsh, more approachable. If you’re in a leadership role to begin with, you probably have some perfectionist tendencies, and this behavioral tightrope walking can become an exercise in accepting imperfection.
But no one ever said it would be easy. And why should it be? The business of management by definition means you have control over things that affect other people’s livelihood and, in turn, their lives. So it’s healthy to take that responsibility with gravitas, but you also need some tried and true tools you can call on to keep yourself sane when the situation seems impossible.
Here is one of my favorite tools is good in crises and times of relative calm; it works with introverts and extroverts, peers and direct reports. It’s very elegant and bafflingly simple:
Ask two questions before you share your opinion.
It doesn’t matter that much what the questions are, as long as they are genuine and not patronizing. (By the way, I didn’t invent this approach – it’s a tip that the amazing Sarah Hartong of SNP Communications shared with me, and she has tested it far and wide.)
A team member asks for a raise that you think is unwarranted.
Instead of shooting down the request, you challenge yourself to ask two questions; perhaps:
1. “Why do you think your performance warrants a raise?”
2. “What’s more important to you: base compensation or performance incentive upside?”
Maybe you won’t get any useful information out of her answers. Even in that case, you bought yourself some time to better frame your denying the request.
But maybe you do learn something useful. Maybe there’s a project or responsibility your team member took on that you didn’t know about. Maybe you find out that it’s not really about the compensation but an underlying desire to feel recognized and appreciated.
Perhaps you receive difficult feedback from your manager about how you handled an interaction, and your first instinct is defend your behavior. Instead of jumping right to the defense, you might force yourself to ask two questions first:
1. “What do you think I could do better next time?”
2. “Do you think this is something that’s easily resolvable if I adjust my behavior in the future?”
Again, maybe those answers won’t be helpful, or maybe they’ll even make you more frustrated, but if that’s the case, at least you’ll better understand what your manager is asking for and how serious she believes the offense to be. And at the very least, you’ll have bought yourself a minute to cool down before issuing a response that might have come across as heated or less than constructive.
There’s no magic wand to making management easy, but there are tricks you can access to make the stressful moments less daunting. I hope this is one you can add to your own toolkit and call on in the future.