Earlier this year, my partner and I interviewed 28 women leaders about their styles of influence and how those styles work – or don’t – in organizational life. (You can request a copy of our findings in the right hand column.) One of the primary questions we wanted to answer was whether organizations relate differently to women leaders, based on their ‘grit’ or ‘grace’ style.

Our finding? Do they ever.

50% of our sample identified their influence style as predominantly ‘grace’-based, while 50% identified their stylistic preference as predominantly ‘grit’-based. Two of the questions we asked were:

“Have you ever received feedback that your style was either ‘too hard’ or ‘too soft?’ and
“If so, how was that actually communicated to you?”

We found that grit-based leaders catch a lot more flak for their style than their grace-based counterparts – even though both styles, when out of balance, can create equal amounts of organizational havoc.

Collectively, the grace-based leaders we interviewed mentioned only 3 criticisms that had been levied against them:

  • too nice
  • too slow
  • too inclusive

This feedback is probably too vague to be helpful. But while it’s not very effective input, at least it’s not cruel.

On the other hand, the same number of ‘grit’ interviewees reported 21 different criticisms. Not only were the criticisms more plentiful, but the language used was also far more specific and emotionally laden:

  • impatient
  • demonstrating a lack of respect
  • not being giving enough
  • not asking for help
  • not caring
  • working people to death
  • defensive
  • rigid
  • not inclusive enough
  • set expectations that were too high
  • high maintenance
  • too hard
  • too serious
  • too frank and direct
  • bitch
  • pushy and insensitive
  • too detail oriented
  • need to ‘step back’
  • need to get my priorities straight
  • angry black woman
  • arrogant

Um, wow.

The strength of this language may, in part, reflect the intense impact that a grit-gone-growl leader can have to his or her environment. Yet, we also know that many organizations continue to be ‘allergic’ to assertive behavior in women, the same behavior generally applauded in men. What shocked us, though, was the harsh and harmful way in which this organizational allergy gets expressed. We think this list is a wake-up call for all managers to give more objective, balanced and helpful feedback to grit-based women.

In the meantime, if you’re a woman with a fast-paced, assertive style, you know this: it’s (still) not easy being grit.

What about you?

If you are a grit-based leader, have you experienced this kind of feedback?

What do you make of it?

What impact do those kinds of messages have…

…on how you feel about yourself?
…on how you feel about leading in your organization?
…on how you navigate decisions”
…on how/when to express your strength?
What advice do you have for other grit-based leaders who receive feedback like this?

And if you MANAGE a woman with a grit-based style… How do you give stylistic feedback that’s accurate, objective and useful? How do you keep feedback freer of your own biases, discomforts and assumptions?