Be A Man!

No, wait . . . be a woman!
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the May 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When women first started running businesses, most employed a management style seen as traditionally "feminine," using such techniques as nurturing and trying to gain consensus. Others tried a traditionally "masculine" style, using highly focused, aggressive "my way or the highway" tactics.

In recent years, there's been a shift. According to Esther Wachs Book, author of Why the Best Man for the Job Is a Woman, women are heading $100 million companies like eBay with a management style that's neither feminine nor masculine, but a blend of the two.

According to Wachs Book, these blended talents include traditionally feminine attributes such as strong communication skills, a grass-roots rather than a top-down approach, a willingness to reinvent the rules and an obsession with customer preferences. These are combined with the traditionally masculine traits of a laser focus on achieving, an aptitude for turning challenges into opportunities, and the ability to stick to your guns and be decisive under pressure.

The 14 women Wachs Book interviewed for her book developed their blended style in various ways. Some adopted qualities they admired in other leaders, while others "felt the more feminine quality would not be beneficial because it made them look too unprofessional," Wachs Book says. "But they also didn't want to be too aggressive and bump into that 'bitch' thing."

Barbara Kavovit knows all about the blended style of management. This 33-year-old New Yorker founded her company six years ago in the overwhelmingly male construction industry. Today she's grown Anchor Construction into a $76 million business with 31 employees, 25 of whom are men.

"I'm like a chameleon. I deal with so many different people every day that I can't just have one management style," says Kavovit. "Men and women are so different-I can't say I act this way with a man and that way with a woman. It depends on who I'm dealing with and why I'm dealing with them."

For example, out on a construction site interacting with tradesmen, foremen and workers, Kavovit takes the more traditionally masculine environment into account. "I might unbutton my jacket and act more relaxed, not as corporate," she says. "I might let my guard down a bit and take off my hat to make it [seem] like I'm in the field, too-that I can relate." She even changes how she talks, saying "how ya doin'?" instead of "how are you?"

In the office, however, where the atmosphere isn't so overwhelmingly masculine, Kavovit acts ultra-professional and doesn't let her guard down.

While this blended management style originated with women, don't assume it's a "female" thing. With more management gurus pushing the concept, it's only a matter of time before it becomes mainstream. "In this decade, you're going to see it come to pass that not just women will have these qualities," says Wachs Book, "but men will have them as well."

The Men In Your Life
Deborah J. Swiss, author of The Male Mind at Work: A Woman's Guide to Working With Men, says to effectively manage men, you should avoid five major mistakes:

1. Acting like a "good old boy." Don't think you have to socialize like a man to succeed. Instead of going drinking or to the club, take men to breakfast or lunch.

2. Misunderstanding key elements of the male mind at work. Don't forget that: (a) many men view work as a game to protect their egos; (b) men are taught early to swagger and wear a mask of bravado; and (c) some men fear working with women or being beaten by a "girl." Don't let such attitudes shake your confidence.

3. Showing a lack of confidence. Act confident even when you may not be, and understand you sometimes have to make a decision when you're not 100 percent certain.

4. Ignoring the fact that double standards still exist. Keep in mind that the man who slams his fist down on the table is viewed as strong, but the woman who cries in the office is considered emotional. A man who gets drunk at a business function just had a wild night, but a woman who gets drunk is called a lush. Be on your best behavior to avoid being pigeonholed with these double standards.

5. Not taking the lead. Because some men aren't used to working with women leaders, they may be waiting for you to make the first move to establish a business alliance and serve as the standard-bearer for the relationship.

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