Recently there’s been chatter on how women often become leaders during crises. A number of examples come to mind: Carly Fiorina (Hewlett-Packard); Mary Barra (GM); Marissa Mayer (Google, Yahoo); Margaret Thatcher (UK Prime Minister) and Theresa May (UK Prime Minister). All these women attained high leadership positions during major upheavals in companies or countries.
Why do crises and women leaders go together? Two reasons stick out: (1) the men screwed things up and don’t want to touch the problem with a ten-foot pole; (2) groups cast about for a fresh perspective, saying, “Let’s see what a woman can do with this situation.”
Of course, sometimes men on the outside are simply waiting for the problem to overwhelm the woman so they can claim, “See? She can’t do it! But we can!” and winch themselves back into power.
Thus women candidates for leadership may want to think twice before gambling on a position that could turn out to be a sucker bet.
It brings to mind an old joke: “Why do ducks have webbed feet?” … “To stamp out forest fires.” … “And why do elephants have flat feet?” … “To stamp out flaming ducks.” You don’t want to become a pile of ignited feathers squished by an elephant of a crisis.
Two approaches to this dilemma are likely to be popular:
1. Complain that “men are no damn good” and they only use women in blazing emergencies and then toss them under the fire truck when the going gets smoky.
2. Learn how to put out fires.
Number 1, above, may be partly true and therefore useful to know. But complaining does not a leader make.
Number 2 is where the money is. A crisis is a woman’s chance to demonstrate calm capability. To that end, prepare for the opportunity:
• Learn how to handle budget emergencies
• Learn how to cut red tape
• Learn how to lay off employees, especially men who will try to intimidate you when you hand them a pink slip
• Learn how to cut spending, especially pet projects that are squirting money like severed arteries
• Learn how to meditate (or anything else that keeps you calm and unflappable)
With hard work, smarts, and a bit of luck, a woman can save the day, convert a trap into a triumph, and rise from patsy to hero. At that point, she should make sure her future compensation reflects her excellent performance — and/or be ready to field offers from other companies desperate for a turn-around artist.
So, ladies: prepare for the job as if it’ll be a series of emergencies … assemble your fire equipment … and go put out some fires.