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Can women leaders be likable AND respected?

By August 19, 2020December 9th, 2020No Comments

Anytime a woman ascends to a new leadership position (think Marissa Meyer at Yahoo!, Kamala Harris being nominated for VP), there’s a lot of buzz around why more women haven’t risen in the leadership ranks. The conversation always turns to women leaders not being likable and being too assertive. Sigh.

“I’m either a bitch or a bimbo.”

-Carly Fiorina, former CEO of HP

Positive stereotypical traits linked to women are: warm, likable, and collaborative.  Positive leadership traits are: assertive, confident, and decisive.  When women leaders display atypical characteristics, people of all gender identities become uncomfortable. 

Likable and respected? Yes, be authentic.

People, including many women, often come to the conclusion that female leaders can be LIKABLE or RESPECTED but not both. But that’s just not true. women leadership

You can successfully exhibit both traits if you commit to being self-aware and authentic, but you have to know that your company culture and the environment will often demand that you tip the scales towards one or the other.  

Find the company with a culture that matches your style. Or start your own. 

If you are more comfortable being “likable,” then find a company where being nice and compassionate are more important than driven.  And if you don’t want to play politics, then don’t expect to have influence… period.  This doesn’t change whether you work for a Fortune 100 or small non-profit company.  

I worked for big companies and startups and hated playing politics. I tried all kinds of companies and knew the game playing was not for me.  So I started my own company in which I try to keep politics to a minimum.  

Success in running an agency is more black and white than an in-house position which suited my style and personality.  You either do a great job and word spreads or you fail and close shop.  You either close the deal or you don’t. Twenty years later Clarity Quest is still here so I guess I made the right call.  

Don’t try to lessen yourself for the world; let the world catch up to you. 


Want to read more on the double-gender bind? 

Recommended reads are:

The Fix by Michelle P. King

How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back From Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job by Sally Helgessen and Marshall Goldsmith

The contents of this post were taken from the webinar Walking the Tightrope: Mastering the Balance between Likability and Respect led by the wonderful Kim Meninger

Chris Slocumb

Author Chris Slocumb

Chris is the founder of Clarity Quest Marketing and Chief Growth Officer of Supreme Group. To learn more about Chris' experiences and qualifications, visit our leadership team page.

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