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Female Leaders: Taking Charge and Taking Care

How Monica from Netflix’s Cheer teaches us women do both and lead well because of it.

There is this idea that as a woman you can only be one thing… You can be kind or you can be tough. You can be smart or you can be athletic. You can be aggressive or you can be sweet. You can be likable or you can be unlikable. You can be a winner or you can be a graceful loser. It hasn’t helped that a lot of the media representation of women, especially powerful women, has fed in to this by how we have been portrayed…how many movies about strong women show them as total a-holes who are softened by falling in love?…*cough* I am looking at you Hallmark AND I love a good romcom but this narrative needs to go! Or how often do we really explore the leadership style of women who are at the top of their game instead of just determining their likability?

They used to say women couldn’t be leaders because they were ‘too soft to lead’ and then they started to gain their voice and show more assertiveness and they said women became ‘too unlikable to lead’. Both narratives created, NOT by seeing successful women and how their complexities actually make them great leaders, but rather a narrative created by a world that doesn’t know how to handle the multifaceted aspects of women. Especially when that world has long been convinced that women could only be one thing or the other.

This is why I found Monica, the head coach on Cheer (Netflix), so damn refreshing. Monica is a winner, as in wins ALL the national cheerleading championships kind of winner. She holds a tough line with her athletes; she does not baby them, she expects them to work HARD, and she expects that they will bring their best every single day. But she also cares about her athletes; she will defend them, she will help them in their struggles, show them compassion, and is genuinely concerned for the people they will become when they leave her program. She is just as much a tough bitch as she is a compassionate woman.

That is the very kind of female leadership I am ready to see more of because it aligns a lot more with actual reality versus the narrative society tried to create. For too many years women have been taught they have to be like men when they get in to leadership positions, they have been told to hide diversity in the personality, and their leadership style, and they have definitely been encouraged to only be tough and lose the compassionate side of themselves. But the truth is that when women lead the way that comes naturally to them you will find a dichotomy, and a freaking brilliant one at that, someone who knows how to lead by being tough as nails and someone who also knows how to lead with compassion.

This isn’t an act put on for a documentary, in fact it falls in line with research on leadership. A Harvard Research study agreed that the “stereotype that women "take care" is true--women scored higher than men in building relationships, inspiring and motivating others, practicing self-development…it disagreed with the stereotype that men "take charge" as the two traits where women outscored men to the highest degree were--taking initiative and driving for results. In addition, women outperform men in emotional intelligence which is a core trait to leadership.” (Nina Angeloskva)

The world needs to see more female leadership, it needs to see more examples of our ability to balance being no nonsense with empathy. It needs people who can be assertive when they need to be but also see the humanity in people, all people, whether they are exactly like them or not. We lack so much good leadership right now because we are allowing people to believe that compassion is weakness. We believe that a multifaceted leader, especially a female one, can’t be likable when she shows all the sides of who she is. We are seeing too many egos and not any real leaders. We are seeing old ideas of good leadership still standing in a time when they are extremely outdated and ineffective.

Monica reminds us that the greatest leaders are not narcissistic, they are not one dimensional, and they are not in it only for the glory of self but they are also allowed to be unyielding at times, anticipate good outcomes and they don’t have to apologize for having high expectations. They are likable even when they hold a hard line and they are capable of being both tough and empathetic. They find a way to demand the best out of themselves and everyone around them while still seeing the humanity in each person and knowing that there will be failure from time to time.

For too long we have believed that being a woman wasn’t enough if we wanted to be a leader. The world convinced us that we had to lead like men, which meant turning against all the amazing attributes which makes us women and make us good leaders. And those very lies killed women’s confidence, they made us question our ability to effectively lead and likely held too many back from pursuing leadership positions. They also made too many incompetent leaders more confident in skills that aren’t actually effective in these roles.

Representation matters. When we see a woman embracing her personality and implementing that in to her leadership style we start to see why women actually make great leaders. Women are fully capable of leading with humility, competence, confidence, and resilience. Women are bold and empathetic, they are more diverse and capable that what we see portrayed or angled to us in the media, and it is time that we start showing what REAL female leadership looks like. It is time that successful women, like Monica, are portrayed more often so we can truly understand that women are more than the single box they have been put in. Women have this innate ability to lead, and lead well, it is time for the world to see more of that.

Salvation doesn’t lie in pursuing traditional male paths of ejaculatory self-elevation. In drawing on women’s wisdom without apology and pushing that wisdom forward into positions of power, we can soothe our world and, maybe, even save it. (Tina Brown)