4 ways women can become strong, confident leaders—without acting like men
Big Think co-founder and CEO Victoria Brown breaks down the process of transitioning from founder to boss in her new book, Digital Goddess.
- In her forthcoming book, Digital Goddess: The Unfiltered Lessons of a Female Entrepreneur, Big Think's founder and CEO, Victoria Montgomery Brown, discusses the challenges of transitioning from founder to boss.
- Part of the problem is that women may think they need to act like men in order to be successful.
- Brown offers four pieces of solid advice to not only survive but thrive on the way to becoming a CEO.
One of the hardest challenges in business might be transitioning from founder to CEO. This transition is especially difficult when you're a woman, writes Big Think's co-founder and CEO, Victoria Montgomery Brown, in her upcoming book, Digital Goddess: The Unfiltered Lessons of a Female Entrepreneur.
Women are categorized differently than men in nearly every facet of business and life. In the chapter, "Boss Not B*tch," Brown calls out the stark differences in perception. Entrepreneurs are considered creative, innovative, and pioneering, while CEOs are powerful, controlling, and established. These labels are often attributed to the same person, however. How do we find a fairer representation, especially when contemplating the role of a female CEO?
Part of the problem, Brown writes, is that women think they need to act like men in order to be successful.
"I think that when women are insecure about their own leadership capacities or are convinced that to lead, they need to act like men, they inadvertently become their own worst selves. I've certainly fallen into that trap."
Brown spends the rest of the chapter describing how not to fall into that trap. Below are four methods to implement on the road to success.
Credit: Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography / Getty Images
Nurture your business
As Brown writes, women tend to be nurturers—a positive attribute for growing a business. In fact, female-led private tech startups have a 35 percent higher return on investment than male-led companies. That fact could at least in part be due to a nurturing attitude.
Not that Brown always toed that line. She originally adopted a command and control attitude—the wrong approach. She thought it was what she was supposed to do. Modern businesses adopt a militarized language, one quite suited to the male competitive temperament.
Rising above competition doesn't require a slaughter. Some people are better at jiu jitsu than taekwondo; both have a place. Brown believes command and control might work in the short term, but she's not convinced it's a sustainable approach.
"A business is not an army, and the concept of 'controlling' them will not get the best out of people."
In nurturing Big Think, Brown hired employees who shared the values of the company. As Simon Sinek recommends, she started with why, then found workers dedicated to that why. In the process, she found the best means for growing people's talent, not sticking them into a box and hoping they succeed.
Communicate openly and effectively
"Creating silos will kill you."
Companies that separate departments end up with groups of self-interested individuals. Self-interested workers inevitably follow a punishment and reward system. This is the reality experienced at many modern companies.
Brown points to research published in Harvard Business Review that found 95 percent of a company's employees don't understand the company's strategy. If you don't know your company's why (or how they're going to accomplish it), your daily workload is going to feel hollow.
Lack of communication is the nail in the coffin of startups. As Brown writes:
"If individuals are being rewarded solely on their own performance, they are motivated to take or use as much of the resources as they can, possibly to the detriment of the entire organism."
Communication is everything. Language is the coordination technology that helped humans collaborate and rise to the top of the animal kingdom. Keeping communication lines open is the key to survival on the savannah and in the conference room.
Tethered to communication is location. We might be temporarily working from home right now, but humans are social creatures. We need to share space. Office design matters.
Big Think's original office was rented in a shared space. Everyone was scattered: a desk here, a table there. This workflow created a lot of miscommunication within groups and especially between departments.
When transitioning into their current offices, Big Think cofounders Brown and Peter Hopkins claimed the conference room, which was separated by glass doors from the rest of the crew. The team was united, but this single partition created its own problems.
"They were less likely to come and talk with us because it seemed more formal."
Employees also felt awkward asking to use the conference room for meetings given the fact that Brown and Hopkins were usually inside. While Brown was initially disturbed by the suggestion of joining the rest of the team, she realized it was the proper strategy.
"I've found that people, whether employees or partners, clients or our experts, respect the CEO or founder when they get down in the dirt."
Brown also realized that the concept of being "in charge" is stupid. She advises making yourself available for everyone in the organization. Don't be walled off and unapproachable. Even interns have a stake in your company. Understanding that is essential for long-term success.
"The better you relate, the better you will communicate, but if you are separate you cannot actually relate."
Flexibility is key
As PayPal cofounder Reid Hoffman details in Blitzscaling, the company had to change its "always free" model to "ACH always free." Credit card fees were eating up their bank account. PayPal famously iterated numerous times before finding success. If they hadn't, Hoffman admits the company wouldn't have lasted.
Brown had a similar experience with Big Think. The website originally relied on sponsorship and advertising. A few years in, they pivoted to creating products for the corporate and educational space. Then they pivoted again.
As she writes, a company's mission might not change, but the strategies for achieving it will.
"Repeating something that worked in the past will often lead to failure."
In life and business, flexibility is key. Kodak famously lost out on the digital camera market. Jeff Bezos asked Duracell to white label batteries for Amazon. When the battery giant scoffed at the notion, Bezos found another company to do it—and it now owns 98 percent of the market.
Thankfully, Big Think is still here. That's in large part thanks to Brown watching cultural and business trends and course correcting when necessary. She admits it's never easy. By staying involved with your team, getting dirty with them, and nurturing the talent around you, you're more likely to succeed.
Most importantly, you can do it on your own terms, not those predetermined by a male-dominated business world.
Video bonus: 8 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way So Other Entrepreneurs Don't Have To
Get an exclusive online course with Big Think founder Victoria Montgomery Brown, only when you preorder the new book Digital Goddess: The Unfiltered Lessons of a Female Entrepreneur.
New research suggests you can't fake your emotional state to improve your work life; you have to feel it.
What is deep acting?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ1NDk2OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTY5MzA0Nn0._s7aP25Es1CInq51pbzGrUj3GtOIRWBHZxCBFnbyXY8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=333%2C-1%2C333%2C-1&height=700" id="ddf09" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9dc42c4d6a8e372ad7b72907b46ecd3f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Arlie Russell Hochschild (pictured) laid out the concept of emotional labor in her 1983 book, The Managed Heart.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)<p>Deep and surface acting are the principal components of emotional labor, a buzz phrase you have likely seen flitting about the Twittersphere. Today, "<a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/5ea9f140-f722-4214-bb57-8b84f9418a7e" target="_blank">emotional labor</a>" has been adopted by groups as diverse as family counselors, academic feminists, corporate CEOs, and each has redefined it with a patented spin. But while the phrase has splintered into a smorgasbord of pop-psychological arguments, its initial usage was more specific.</p><p>First coined by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in her 1983 book, <a href="https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520272941/the-managed-heart" target="_blank"><em>The Managed Heart</em></a>, emotional labor describes the work we do to regulate our emotions on the job. Hochschild's go-to example is the flight attendant, who is tasked with being "nicer than natural" to enhance the customer experience. While at work, flight attendants are expected to smile and be exceedingly helpful even if they are wrestling with personal issues, the passengers are rude, and that one kid just upchucked down the center aisle. Hochschild's counterpart to the flight attendant is the bill collector, who must instead be "nastier than natural."</p><p>Such personas may serve an organization's mission or commercial interests, but if they cause emotional dissonance, they can potentially lead to high emotional costs for the employee—bringing us back to deep and surface acting.</p><p>Deep acting is the process by which people modify their emotions to match their expected role. Deep actors still encounter the negative emotions, but they devise ways to <a href="http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/perch/resources/what-is-emotion-regulationsinfo-brief.pdf" target="_blank">regulate those emotions</a> and return to the desired state. Flight attendants may modify their internal state by talking through harsh emotions (say, with a coworker), focusing on life's benefits (next stop Paris!), physically expressing their desired emotion (smiling and deep breaths), or recontextualizing an inauspicious situation (not the kid's fault he got sick).</p><p>Conversely, surface acting occurs when employees display ersatz emotions to match those expected by their role. These actors are the waiters who smile despite being crushed by the stress of a dinner rush. They are the CEOs who wear a confident swagger despite feelings of inauthenticity. And they are the bouncers who must maintain a steely edge despite humming show tunes in their heart of hearts.</p><p>As we'll see in the research, surface acting can degrade our mental well-being. This deterioration can be especially true of people who must contend with negative emotions or situations inside while displaying an elated mood outside. Hochschild argues such emotional labor can lead to exhaustion and self-estrangement—that is, surface actors erect a bulwark against anger, fear, and stress, but that disconnect estranges them from the emotions that allow them to connect with others and live fulfilling lives.</p>
Don't fake it till you make it<p>Most studies on emotional labor have focused on customer service for the obvious reason that such jobs prescribe emotional states—service with a smile or, if you're in the bouncing business, a scowl. But <a href="https://eller.arizona.edu/people/allison-s-gabriel" target="_blank">Allison Gabriel</a>, associate professor of management and organizations at the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management, wanted to explore how employees used emotional labor strategies in their intra-office interactions and which strategies proved most beneficial.</p><p>"What we wanted to know is whether people choose to engage in emotion regulation when interacting with their co-workers, why they choose to regulate their emotions if there is no formal rule requiring them to do so, and what benefits, if any, they get out of this effort," Gabriel said in <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200117162703.htm" target="_blank">a press release</a>.</p><p>Across three studies, she and her colleagues surveyed more than 2,500 full-time employees on their emotional regulation with coworkers. The survey asked participants to agree or disagree with statements such as "I try to experience the emotions that I show to my coworkers" or "I fake a good mood when interacting with my coworkers. Other statements gauged the outcomes of such strategies—for example, "I feel emotionally drained at work." Participants were drawn from industries as varied as education, engineering, and financial services.</p><p>The results, <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fapl0000473" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>published in the Journal of Applied Psychology</em></a>, revealed four different emotional strategies. "Deep actors" engaged in high levels of deep acting; "low actors" leaned more heavily on surface acting. Meanwhile, "non-actors" engaged in negligible amounts of emotional labor, while "regulators" switched between both. The survey also revealed two drivers for such strategies: prosocial and impression management motives. The former aimed to cultivate positive relationships, the latter to present a positive front.</p><p>The researchers found deep actors were driven by prosocial motives and enjoyed advantages from their strategy of choice. These actors reported lower levels of fatigue, fewer feelings of inauthenticity, improved coworker trust, and advanced progress toward career goals. </p><p>As Gabriel told <a href="https://www.psypost.org/2021/01/new-psychology-research-suggests-deep-acting-can-reduce-fatigue-and-improve-your-work-life-59081" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>PsyPost</em> in an interview</a>: "So, it's a win-win-win in terms of feeling good, performing well, and having positive coworker interactions."</p><p>Non-actors did not report the emotional exhaustion of their low-actor peers, but they also didn't enjoy the social gains of the deep actors. Finally, the regulators showed that the flip-flopping between surface and deep acting drained emotional reserves and strained office relationships.</p><p>"I think the 'fake it until you make it' idea suggests a survival tactic at work," Gabriel noted. "Maybe plastering on a smile to simply get out of an interaction is easier in the short run, but long term, it will undermine efforts to improve your health and the relationships you have at work. </p><p>"It all boils down to, 'Let's be nice to each other.' Not only will people feel better, but people's performance and social relationships can also improve."</p>
You'll be glad ya' decided to smile<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="88a0a6a8d1c1abfcf7b1aca8e71247c6"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QOSgpq9EGSw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>But as with any research that relies on self-reported data, there are confounders here to untangle. Even during anonymous studies, participants may select socially acceptable answers over honest ones. They may further interpret their goal progress and coworker interactions more favorably than is accurate. And certain work conditions may not produce the same effects, such as toxic work environments or those that require employees to project negative emotions.</p><p>There also remains the question of the causal mechanism. If surface acting—or switching between surface and deep acting—is more mentally taxing than genuinely feeling an emotion, then what physiological process causes this fatigue? <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2019.00151/full" target="_blank">One study published in the <em>Frontiers in Human Neuroscience</em></a><em> </em>measured hemoglobin density in participants' brains using an fNIRS while they expressed emotions facially. The researchers found no significant difference in energy consumed in the prefrontal cortex by those asked to deep act or surface act (though, this study too is limited by a lack of real-life task).<br></p><p>With that said, Gabriel's studies reinforce much of the current research on emotional labor. <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2041386611417746" target="_blank">A 2011 meta-analysis</a> found that "discordant emotional labor states" (read: surface acting) were associated with harmful effects on well-being and performance. The analysis found no such consequences for deep acting. <a href="https://doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0022876" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Another meta-analysis</a> found an association between surface acting and impaired well-being, job attitudes, and performance outcomes. Conversely, deep acting was associated with improved emotional performance.</p><p>So, although there's still much to learn on the emotional labor front, it seems Van Dyke's advice to a Leigh was half correct. We should put on a happy face, but it will <a href="https://bigthink.com/design-for-good/everything-you-should-know-about-happiness-in-one-infographic" target="_self">only help if we can feel it</a>.</p>
Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.
- Archaeologists find a cave painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old.
- The painting is the earliest known work of representational art.
- The discovery was made in a remote valley on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
Oldest Cave Art Found in Sulawesi<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a9734e306f0914bfdcbe79a1e317a7f0"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/b-wAYtBxn7E?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Persian polymath and philosopher of the Islamic Golden Age teaches us about self-awareness.
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