A few weeks ago, I was at happy hour with a group of junior executives of our company. Happy hour being my much preferred format for mentoring. A discussion ensued in which a couple of our higher potential female executives bemoaned the fact their male subordinates treated them with less respect than they showed to male superiors, including not doing their work in as timely a manner, reacting badly to constructive feedback, and not prioritizing their work assignments. I asked what seemed to me to be a fairly logical follow-up question: "Why do you let them get away with it? If you repeatedly let them treat you with disrespect, don't you share some of the blame for letting that power dynamic fester?" An awkward silence followed. So I pressed forward a bit, pointing out that it isn't like they don't have tools at their disposal to slap someone down if they are ignoring orders, not responding quickly, etc. Pull them into your office for a stern lecture, don't put them on key projects, give them a lousy annual review, etc. If these guys weren't showing appropriate respect to female superiors, then why weren't those superiors making them pay a price for it? After another uncomfortable silence, one of them offered up a very honest answer: "Because they will see me as a bitch and call me one when I'm not around." To which I answered, "So?" Another awkward silence, and a bewildered look on the collective faces around the table. "Seriously," I said, "do you think that a male superior would put up with that shit? And, after that male superior slaps a subordinate down, do you think that subordinate doesn't call him a dick, or an asshole, or some similar derogatory word behind his back?" They continued to insist it just isn't the same thing, and I continued to ask why, without getting much more than, "It just is." It was one of those discussions where the perspectives of the people on opposing sides of the conversation were just so different that there plainly wasn't enough common ground for us to really get anywhere. So, we dropped it and went back to talking about whatever.
So, the topic for this week is largely directed at our Disciplinary Wives, though the husbands can always jump in to the extent they know their wives' feelings on this: Is the prospect of being seen as a "bitch" or being overly assertive an impediment to you taking on a DD or FLR leadership role? Do you hold back in ordering discipline or in making decisions in your relationship because you are, deep down inside, concerned about being seen as "bitchy" or overly aggressive? Do you have those feelings even where he has told you he wants you to be more stern and strict? I wonder about this from time to time, because I think it does have an impact on my own DD relationship. Angela is candid that she does enjoy exercising power over me, yet she can't ever quite adopt it as her daily approach to me, even though I've told her that I too want her to be the one in control and want her to feel more free to exercise that power and control as she sees fit. I really do think we are both on the same page about what we want, but I also think that deep inside, she lacks a certain comfort level with being perceived as strong and commanding.
I hope people find this one fun and that it triggers an honest exchange of views on things that can be done to help foster the kind of power exchange that many of us are looking for in these DD and FLR relationships.
By the way, you may note that for the first time in these posts, I gave my wife an actual name. It's not her real name, but it just feels too distant and vague for me to always refer to her as a generic "my wife." For whatever reason, the name Angela has always seemed like a power name to me. So, for purposes of this blog, Angela she will be.
Have a great weekend!