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Monthly Reflections Blog: Women leaders and ruthlessness.

Monthly Reflections Blog: Women leaders and ruthlessness.

Why is it that there are still not enough women in senior leadership positions? It’s clearly highly complex and I am offering just one perspective on it.

To be a successful senior leader there is a requirement to be able to be highly versatile and to be able to switch gears in response to what is emerging around you. Leadership flexibility and leadership performance are for me completely joined up.

Women I think have the capacity to be highly versatile in their style and approach. But I have observed over the years that there is one so called “Meta energy” that as a general rule they can struggle to find the right relationship with. That is the Meta energy of ruthlessness. The dictionary definition of ruthlessness is “Having no compassion or pity; merciless; ruthless cruelty”.

Forget your preconceptions about the word. This is on occasions an essential energy for any leader. It is the energy that allows leaders to do the really tough things: close businesses down; fire people; say no in difficult situations. If you start from the place of compassion, you will struggle to access ruthlessness because it is the opposite of compassion. It is a single minded unemotional place. It is a place of objectivity and facts.

For women there is paradoxically a real opportunity here to shine as a leader. If they can move beyond entangling the two in an unhelpful way, and “hold” compassion lightly whilst acting from an energy of ruthlessness, the result will be that however tough the message, others will not be left feeling diminished or depleted. Men in my experience can find this combination elusive.

As a coach you also have to be able to access the energy of ruthlessness. Reflecting back to a senior leader or team some tough messages requires an unemotional objective mercilessness. But it is vital to leave the individual or team feeling as adequate as they know they are. In this state, learning and progress can happen. When people are diminished and humiliated, no learning is possible because they withdraw.

For more information, please contact Judith Nicol.

Posted by Judith Nicol on


Judith Nicol

Judith Nicol

Director, Leadership Services

Judith joined Warren Partners recently and heads up the leadership coaching practice, which works exclusively with boards, board directors and senior leaders.

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