Calling All Women Executives – Part 1: How to Win (Male) Friends and Influence Everyone

How to navigate male power and male egos.


  Sorry guys. Although it looks like Michele Bachmann’s Presidential bid may have stalled, women in leadership positions is an idea whose time has come and is here to stay.  All you need do is consider respected leaders like Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo, Ursula Burns at Xerox, Angela Braly at Wellpoint, Irene Rosenfeld at Kraft Foods, Michelle Gass at Starbucks, Beth Comstock at GE.  Add to that list Virginia Rometty at IBM.
The challenge is how when women arrive in those positions they can gain cooperation, collaboration and even affection.  Yes even more than men they may need to have people feel warmly towards them.  Men such as President Bill Clinton don’t have trouble showing a warmth which works for him, but women in power seem hesitant to use their feminine charm in a man’s world out of concern for appearing lightweight, manipulative or needing to use it to make up for something that is lacking.
One of the most important keys to getting through to anyone and then influencing them is to realize that inside everyone’s mind, they listen to someone or something.  It could be a person outside, such as an inner city child to their mother, or an athlete on an all star team listening to their all star coach.  Over time, that outside influencer becomes someone or something a person listens to inside their mind thereafter.
If during childhood you were fortunate to have a parent who drilled into you, “You can be anything you want to be if you try hard enough at it,” and then supported you in actions, that is something you take with you all your life.
Alternatively if during your childhood you had a parent who drilled into you, “You are stupid and will never amount to anything,” and then negated any triumph with, “you were just lucky,” that can spur you on to prove them wrong (which will usually tinge your ambition with anger) or more likely will break your spirits and push you to drugs, alcohol, bad eating and other habits to soothe your wounds.
Which brings me back to women who are put in a position of leadership and have the chance to be the rising tide that raises all other capable women to bring to those positions all the wonderful traits that women possess that men don’t.
To get through to men, you need to get “into their listening,” i.e. determine who and what they’re listening to and then adapt to that style.  This is not to be confused with fawning deference and telling them what they want to be told.  It’s about telling them how they want to be told.
Now for a little cross gender translation.
Two of the things that men do that drive most competent, capable and conscientious women to distraction and a facial expression that communicates it is first, they appear to b.s. and posture a great deal, especially at the beginning of meetings and before events that seem to waste company or organizational time. Second, although women may become “dramatic” in their tone of conversation (which seems more costly than a man sounding arrogant because men feel so powerless in dealing with an emotional woman), men appear to act out more on immoral and immature impulses.  I haven’t researched this, but I would imagine that far more many men on a business trip turn a “massage” into something much more than do women. Far more men brag and pontificate in the business world than women.  And in the extreme, far more men will literally start a war than will women.


Such behavior may cause many competent and capable women to view such behavior and think of such men as: “Arrogant, boorish, liars, cheaters, bullsh**ers, greedy and immoral.”

Now imagine if instead of internally judging men you women were to ask a composite/avatar male, “Why do you really do all those things?” Then imagine if they were to say this to you:


“One of the reasons I engage or allow the b.s. before any meeting or session, and I am aware that sometimes it goes on too long, is because it is a way to feel out and take a temperature on all the other people in the room.  It is often a way of revealing who is the most irritable, angry, agitated person and most likely to say or do something in the meeting that could be entirely disruptive and destructive.  It’s a way to know who those individuals are ahead of time and to inwardly prepare or steel myself to deal with them if it happens.



Women may not be aware of this, but built into the unconscious of most men is the belief that if you rub another male individual the wrong way and provoke them enough, they actually may come back and shoot you.  There is that primitive uncontrollable side to most men.  All you have to do is check the news on any given day to see examples of it being unleashed.


On a more personal side, I live in a world in which I feel much is expected and demanded of me from all sides and in a world in which I don’t trust anyone.  I don’t trust what they say and I don’t usually believe they will do what they say or do exactly what they say to the letter.  And when I ask them about it, I expect them to come up with an excuse for not doing what they said they would do.  Even in my marriage I no longer expect to be greeted with the warmth and understanding from my wife who I still love, but with whom we have drifted away from liking each other or being able to put a smile on each other’s face.


Furthermore, as a result of all this anticipatory disappointment and not having a way around it, I feel stress at any moment in time and look for ways to relieve it.  And some of those ways are not things I would want others, including my board, business partners, subordinates, wife, kids or my mother to find out about.  These activities can include, drinking too much, using cocaine and/or other drugs, paying for hookers, using pornography, expensing things I shouldn’t, not refusing to hear or putting an end to ‘inside’ information that can give me or my department/company an illegal leg up and the list goes on.



To make things worse, at any given point in time I am a little paranoid that any and all of these things I do to cope with stress or even worse that are just unethical or immoral with no excuses will be exposed and then it will escalate and destroy me.

Despite knowing this, I still continue to indulge myself in these, because the stress is nearly unbearable, they have become addictions or the adrenaline rush is too overpowering and I don’t know what else to do.  As you can see, there are many things I not only feel paranoid about, but deeply ashamed of.  And I would never trust anyone to forgive me for things I have trouble forgiving myself for when my internally justifying them falls short. I just don’t seem to be able to stop them.  Welcome to my world.”

What would be your response as that competent, capable woman?

My guess is you would be upset and even greatly disappointed, but not shocked or surprised. My guess is that you might even feel relieved at having the truth be told (as opposed to appear to be hiding something and having it all be left to your imagination) and then if you are the responsible and decent person you are, you would not guilt trip or scold, you would figure out what the best course of action for all concerned and point or guide or take that man towards it and also inform him of your responsibilities especially your legal and ethical ones upon discovering these matters.


Now let’s try some gender translation from the other direction.

Men, imagine a woman who seems direct, no-nonsense, humorless, impatient when you crack a joke, appears to think you are making a fool or a-hole of yourself and even if she doesn’t say it will have it appear on her face for everyone in the room to see (who actually may agree with her, but being other men participate in the “code of honor” among men to not call each other on b.s. or posturing).

In your mind what you think these women are saying to themselves: “What a jerk, a-hole, bunch of incompetent men who are busy stroking each other, bunch of nonsense, waste of company and my time and I have better things to do.”

Now imagine your asking a competent, composite/avatar women executive, “What’s behind your negative attitude?” and that she were to say this to you:



“Like you, at any given moment I feel I am expected by people both inside my career and in my personal life to be and do all kinds of things including: be respectful of my male counterparts and superiors when they act up as you have described, laugh at their jokes so as not to embarrass them, be a team player even if some of my male CEO counterparts are not, be tough and strong but not come off as bitchy or arrogant.  Now the list gets even more unmanageable… unless I totally have a house husband (which creates a whole other list of complications for my home life) I am also expected to be still on top of the details regarding my children, their school, my parents, even my husband’s parents and also the myriad of details that my husband is supposed to take care of but are just not in his skill set, and oh, yes, to never make my husband feel that I don’t respect and value and believe in him.  Plus if there needs to be any confrontations in any of these roles, I need to be the tough “b*tch” to stand up for it.


That means that at anytime, every role I play – CEO, Chairman, face of the company, multiple committee member, board member in community, mother, wife, daughter, sister – do not compete for importance.  This company is the most important company I work for, this board is the most important board I am Chairman of, my marriage is the most important marriage I have, my children are the most important children I have, etc.  They are all important, but all of them compete for time.  


One of the reasons I have a look of disdain or frustration on my face is not about what or how people are acting up or acting out, not to say I condone any behavior that is illegal, unethical or immoral, but about how it is taking up too much of my time when I need to get to the next role I need to play.



In fact as long as the behavior isn’t illegal, unethical or immoral, I am much less concerned about it than if the communication that is going on is pertinent and relevant and time efficient to all the specific tasks we are each responsible for and the shared goals we are working on.  Otherwise I am just eager to get back to work and my myriad of responsibilities.”


What would be your response as that occasionally, posturing guy?

My guess it might be, “Oh I thought she was judging and laughing at me.  I didn’t think about her having all those roles and responsibilities at any moment and that she just wants to find out what she needs to do or stop doing and then go out to focus on another of those roles. Hey I can understand that, because I am often in the same position of being pulled at by everyone and just wanting any conversation or meeting to get to the point so that I can get on with what I have to get done.”


God only knows we need a great role model as a leader who is more leader than they are male or female, who is more about their mission that serves everyone than about ego and personal ambition that only serves them.

May all current and future women executives take on that role, fulfill it and become the role model for a leader that both men an women and both sides of the aisle in Washington will want to emulate.

Stay Tuned: Calling All Women Executives: Part 2 – How to Not Take the Bait When Baited and Be Smart and Strong Without Coming Across as Aggressive or B*itchy.

Also Stay Tuned for “Women and Leadership Conference in Los Angeles” for Fortune 1000, C-suite women now being planned.

About the author

Mark Goulston, M.D. is the Co-Fonder of Heartfelt Leadership a global community whose Mission of Daring to Care it dedicated to identifying, celebrating, developing and supporting heartfelt leaders who are as committed to making a difference as they are to making a profit