Female Leadership: The Expectations, Challenges & How To Stay True To Your Authentic Leadership Style

Women are spending unnecessary hours and efforts to not fall under the category of “too assertive” or “difficult” and yet perform as a leader. They are expected to bring the right amount of feminine qualities of nurturing and yet are often dismissed for being too soft when they lead by nurturing. To add further woes, they see their male counterparts who are not judged and criticized as harshly for showing the exact same leadership traits.

Let us start with some real life experiences of women who are rising rapidly in their careers and businesses and the dilemma they face.

Challenge ONE

‘As a leader I am expected to be fair and courageous in my decision making. Yet when I demonstrate these leadership traits, I am considered too tough and expected to bring a female caring and nurturing style. However, when I lead by nurturing, I am dismissed as soft and not fit enough to be a trusted and bold leader.’

Challenge TWO

‘When I state a clear and direct observation without bothering to sandwich it between small talk then I am often asked if I am angry.’ 

Challenge THREE

‘Sharing honest feedback is an integral part of a leader’s job but I am expected to always make the extra effort to sugar coat it and present it with lots of motivational talk or else I am labeled as ‘too tough.’

Today, we want to dive deep in this dilemma and how it affects women, and also how they may stay true to their authentic leadership styles. We have two extraordinary leadership coaches as my contributing experts who bring decades of experience and share their valuable tips and advice.

Jennifer Tsang

An ICF Leadership Coach, she partners with executives, leaders & aspiring leaders to build more consciousness into how they lead their teams and most importantly, themselves. Jennifer believes that leadership is an inside out approach.

As someone who has worked on her own personal development and self-leadership for over 15 years, she started her coaching practice helping others discover how to lead themselves and grow professionally and personally.  Jennifer has over 20 years of experience working with executives and leaders in a large fortune 100 company in the Silicon Valley.

Nathalie Gregg 

Nathalie is an Executive Business consultant, Motivational Speaker, & Adjunct Professor.  Her mission is to be the accelerant for women who dare to lead with their authentic power and become fearless and bold in their choices and voice.

She leads and hosts one of the most popular leadership chats on Twitter under the hashtag #LeadLoudly! #LeadLoudly is the battle cry for women to be #bold #confident & #fearless! Join the conversation at the #LeadLoudly hashtag on Twitter! 

Question 1

As women rise in leadership and decision making roles, they often feel they are judged more harshly than men for the same degree of assertiveness. However, when they opt for a softer style then they are not considered effective and competent leaders. What practical advice would you give to women on navigating this situation?

Nathalie Gregg:

We must realize that men have been in the workplace considerably longer than women. This mindset and behavior is directly linked to sex segregated play.  Young girls play with dolls, usually in isolation and young boys play football and other team related sports. Fast forward into the marketplace and we are expected to lead and participate in teams, while our earlier socialization can give us a disadvantage.

The advice I would give women in this situation is to focus on your brand and leadership style. Become crystal clear on your value, voice, and visibility. And last but not least, create a strong network of mentors, sponsors, and allies.

Nathalie Gregg’s recommendations for discovering your authentic leadership style:

– Take a leadership assessment such as Myers-Briggs, DiSC, Strengths Assessment, or the Fascinate Advantage

·  Make a list of your top three tasks that you enjoy the most. Is it speaking, creating content, researching trends, data mining, etc.

·  Make a working plan from the assessment and your top three skills that include your goals and a timeline.

·  Decide what areas you would like to strengthen or expand.

·  Work with a mentor or coach who is very savvy in those areas and develop a mutual plan for execution. They are extremely helpful in accelerating your growth and mitigating the challenges of being a female leader. They create a safe environment to have courageous discussions around aggression and assertiveness so that you are confident and prepared when the challenges arise.

·  Evaluate your plan often!

·  Ask for continuous feedback!

Jennifer Tsang:

I have come across this numerous times in my 20-year career at a large high-tech company. Either you’re being too aggressive or you’re being too meek. For women especially, it feels like a no win battle no matter what you do, it’s never good enough. My advice to anyone looking to grow into leadership is to be your authentic self. I often coach leaders around the 4 C’s of leadership: Consciousness, Consistency, Commitment & Curiosity & how to bring these skills into their authentic leadership style which drives results, builds deeper connections with their staff and stretches them to look at things in a new way.

I think there’s a misconception that assertiveness is a “bad” thing and can tarnish your reputation. I challenge that assumption because when we are standing in our truth, conscious, consistent, committed, and curious; we can be a powerful force. If you find yourself running up against feedback that you’re too assertive, I suggest you use that as an opportunity to get curious with yourself.

Start by asking yourself these questions:

– “Can I control how someone else feels?”

– “Are my actions genuine and authentic?”

– “How can I approach this person/situation, so that the outcome is different?”

Really getting curious with yourself is a great way to understand if the feedback you are receiving is a result of someone’s perception of you, or if it is something you are doing that might require some minor tweaks? Developing a practice of noticing with intention in those moments by noticing how you’re feeling, what you’re saying and what the outcome was will help you feel more confident in moments where others might perceive you as “assertive.”

Question 2

At times women professionals give their power away without even realizing or do not know how to use it well. How can women professionals learn and train to stay in their power and be true to their beliefs?

Nathalie Gregg:

Most women give their power away by thinking that they do not have the power. We  pause to raise our hands, sit at the table, and ask for the promotion. As women we must always keep our values and beliefs in front of us. Practice saying them and communicating from them daily. Please continue to challenge  yourself daily to make sure that you are taking actions that are always aligned with these Power Tips!

Claim Your Power Tips:

· Know Your Values! Determine what is not negotiable!

· Operate from your values consistently!

· Find three topics that you absolutely love! Mine are women’s leadership & empowerment, networking, and collaborations! Find articles, read them, and share your favorite takeaways.

· Manage your nervousness by deep breathing and focusing on your message!

· Follow other female role models on social media and ask them for suggestions.

· Develop daily affirmations and mantras that make you feel unstoppable!

· Remember that standing in your power is a continuous inside job! You must do the work daily!

Jennifer Tsang:

Some subtle ways that professionals can give their power away is by not speaking up.

 If you have something important to say or want to feel heard, say it. I know there are many times throughout my career I wish I would have spoken up and spoken out for things that really mattered to me. I wish I could have had the courage to do it in such a way that brought people together and preserved my own sense of worth.

Another way I observe women giving away power in the workplace is by apologizing for things that don ot require an apology.

 I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a group meeting and someone spoke over a woman and the woman apologized for it. Never apologize for your voice, your presence, or your ideas. They all matter and are all valued. Developing the practice of noticing with intention will help you regain that power.

Question 3

Please share three top tips for women entrepreneurs and professionals to develop their authentic leadership style and own that style.

Nathalie Gregg:

In developing and expanding your  authentic leadership styles women must become their own economic engines by continuing to leverage their value, voice, and visibility.

1. Know Your Value

· Take a leadership style assessment.

·  Find the style that aligns with your style.

· Research the strengths and the challenges of that style.

·         Also begin to implement how that style adds value.

· Compile a list of the challenges and success. Write statements on how you transformed them into a successful outcome.

2. Communicate Your Voice

· As a leader, you are constantly communicating.

· Choose your social media platform that aligns with you and your audience.

· Choose your delivery method, written, oral, or a combination.

3. Be Intentional About Your Visibility

· “Visibility is Power!” Roshanda Pratt, Visibility Coach

· You must show up consistently.

· People do business with those who they know, like, and trust.

· Visibility is the first step in that process!

Jennifer Tsang:

My three top tips for developing authentic leadership are to know yourself completely, cultivate your power to connect with others and develop a practice of noticing.

Notice all the parts of you, what gets activated and how that impacts the way you interact with others. We all have unique experiences that have wonderful, beautiful gifts to be brought into leadership. When we focus on leading ourselvesfirst, we have a much better chance at being a great leader because we would have deeply cultivated our own sense of self that can connect, engage and build other great leaders.

Author: Anu Bhatagnar


A thought leadership and strategic business advisor and woman leader committed to eliminate manels; and bring equal representation of women at every table. An active change leader dedicated to building health equity ecosystem in the ME and Asia regions. Anu is writing on topics of sustainable success, heart led leadership and purpose driven brands.