Thursday, November 17, 2011

Can A Woman Be A Great Leader Of Men?

If we are going to have an intelligent discussion about women in leadership positions firstly we must accept that women and men do not, and should not lead in the same fashion. Women think differently than men and their natural tendencies are driven by different motives than men. In short, women and men are different!

Women who want to be great leaders should not devalue their femininity by emulating the leadership traits of men. They should instead, celebrate their femaleness by bringing all of the amazing female qualities that they have at their disposal to their leadership positions. They should think like women, act like women and look like women at all times. Women who change their inherent style to become more like men when they move into leadership positions are fooling no one. We all know they are women and we become uncomfortable when they appear to be moving away from their natural female roles.

Women make up fifty percent of the population. Because of the plethora of ladies around us, men understand what makes the fairer sex tick. Most men have undying love and respect for their mothers and would do almost anything to support and protect them. They will step in front of a hurtling freight train to save their wives from harm and would fight a grizzly bear with a small stick to defend their daughters. Men are hard-wired to treat women well and to do everything they can to make their lives better.

Despite the natural tendency of men to protect women from harm, bullying and sexual harassment are not uncommon in the workplace.

When the testosterone-driven positions of power that men hold dear are threatened by the scent of female hormones, they tend to drop their naturally protective instincts and go into fight-mode. If a woman in a superior position takes on an aggressive, demanding stance, many men will see her as the enemy and will do any number of unspeakable things to engineer her demise. Even women will see a dominant, masculine leadership style from another woman as foreign and unpalatable.

The best way for me to illustrate a good female leadership style is to provide an example of a great female leader that I have actually worked with...I will call her Debbie for the purposes of this story.

Debbie was known to be intelligent, knowledgeable and conscientious. For decades she performed well in important project management and product development positions. She was a great resource for a large number of employees, managers, and executive leaders. She was well regarded, well liked and highly valued for her work. The day she was promoted to Vice President of Sales however, marked a change in the way almost everyone in the company viewed her and in the general expectations everyone had of her. It is very important to note that this was a position that had only been occupied by men in the past. Debbie was given responsibility not only for the overall sales of her division, but for the day-to-day sales activities of a large number of aggressive, mature, crusty salesmen who were set in their ways. They had never been lead by a woman and they had no idea what to expect.

Debbie had a big choice to make.

She could continue to be the intelligent, kind, nurturing female she had always been or she could morph into a hard, demanding, command and control leader. If she had betrayed her natural tendencies to care for and nurture her direct reports, she might have failed. However, she had enough faith in herself to avoid becoming something she was not and instead led her division with kindness, caring and a nurturing spirit. She held her direct report accountable but instead of making demands and finding fault, she offered support and encouragement. When things went badly, she proactively offered her help and rather than criticizing, lecturing or disciplining, she coached, counselled and assisted. When things went well, she provided acknowledgement, praise and celebration. At all times, she exuded pride in her team and she fought for them like a mother bear. Her devotion to her work-family was obvious to all and it was rewarded with true loyalty and almost universal respect.

In fairness, it is safe to say that Debbie had to work harder and put in more effort than any man in the position before her in order to win over the men who reported to her.

However, within a year she had gained their respect and admiration. Once she had made her mark as a serious leader, it was not uncommon to hear her male reports singing her praises and making it clear that she was the best sales manager they had ever worked with. They knew that she cared about them and that she was there for them no matter what happened. She also became an icon for female employees who admired her and considered her a role model for all other women in business.

She thought like a woman; she acted like a woman; she looked like a woman...and she succeeded like a man!

Can a woman be a great leader of men? Yes she can but only if she remembers to always be a woman!

All the Best

Wayne Kehl

Friday, November 11, 2011

Are Willing to Risk Your Life?

On Remembrance Day and Veteran’s Day it is important for us all to reflect on the sacrifice and devotion to duty shown by so many of our brave men and women all over the world. But, what does the observation of past and present wars mean to you?

November 11th is not about poppies, wreaths or cenotaphs. Those are only symbols to remind us of our brave military men and women. What November 11 is really about is courage and raw, unshakeable allegiance to a country. Veterans of all wars offered something that most of us have never and will never have to consider as an option. They offered their lives. They offered their countries the right to use them as corporeal weapons of war. When they made that offer to their Governments, they knew full well that they might never return from whatever theatre of war they would ultimately enter. They knew the enemy forces they would encounter would show them no mercy and that they too might have to make the definitive, irrevocable decision to end another person’s life.

Because it is neither natural or normal for human beings to deliberately end the lives of other human beings, our Veterans made another sacrifice. They put their integrity, their morals, and their spirituality on the line along with their bodies. They chose to overlook their natural predisposition to saving the lives of others in favour of protecting their fellow countryman from enemy forces. As much as killing did not come easily to them, they did it for the love of their homeland and the people back home they so desperately wanted to protect. Most importantly, they did these incredible things while asking nothing in return.

Members of all branches of the military were (and still are) asked to fight in unbelievably unpleasant and dangerous conditions, thousands of miles from their homes and families. They ate bad food and were paid very little for doing the most dangerous and important jobs on earth. And yet they fought selflessly until the war was over. Each time a war began, our Veterans finished it. Some came home...some did not. Some came back unharmed...others came back broken, torn, shell-shocked, and emotionally distressed. All had offered up the ultimate price...their personal right to life.

“Lest We Forget” has two meanings for me:

Firstly, we the non-Veterans of the world must never forget the sacrifices our Veterans made for us.

Secondly, we must all accept that our veterans will never forget what they were forced to do in service of their country. Veterans never forget the places they fought, the weapons they fired, or the enemy soldiers they killed and wounded. How could they? No human being could possibly forget the horrors of combat.

Our Veterans gave all they had physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.

Wars are started by politicians but they are fought by fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends and family members. We must always remember that our fighting men and women must be honoured for their service and that honour must never be tarnished by politics or protest. Veterans are heroes who do their duty at their own behest and for the most excellent of reasons. They are the best part of war and the best part of our humanity.

My dad fought in World War II and still carries a piece of German Shrapnel in his back to this very day. He is 88 years old now and he has never forgotten his service to his country. In fact he speaks of the war years with more clarity than perhaps anything else in his life. Unlike my father, I have never had to offer my life for virtually anything. Because my dad and millions of other Veterans fought for my freedom I have lived a very comfortable and secure life. At age 59, I find myself wondering what I would do if I was in their position and what my life would have been like if I was forced to experience what my dad experienced.

I offer my heartfelt gratitude to my dad and to every other man and woman who ever risked his or her life for their country. They represent the best of us!

Are you willing to risk your life?


Wayne Kehl

That is my dad, Dave Kehl with his head sticking out of the hatch as he drives his Sherman tank in Normandy France 1944.