Questions for media

Q: Your book is entitled, The Velvet Hammer. So what is a velvet hammer?

A: A Velvet Hammer is a woman who can lead with grace and eloquence. She has given up trying to see what works for her male counterparts and seeks methods that work for her.

Q: How do women lead differently than men?

Disclaimer: The items noted, are broad generalizations. Not every man or every woman behaves as noted below. For example you often hear that everyone bows in Japan, but when I traveled there, not everyone bowed.

A: A few examples I mention in the book are;

Men are amazing at focus and vision. Women are amazing multi-taskers.

Women use inclusivity and collaboration… and have a preference towards the team approach. When women communicate, they prefer face to face conversations; men do better with activities where they don't face each other - like golf and fishing when they have discussions. Women would rather do lunch. They'll want "to talk" it over, and they typically use more words per day than men.

When men are under stress they produce more adrenaline (the flight or fight hormone), and women they've recently discovered…. produce more oxytocin, (the hormone the female body produces when a woman gives birth or is breast feeding and provides the need to nurture, friend and befriend). When a crisis hits in the workplace, a man will want to fix it or leave it alone, a woman may want to call a meeting.

There are many more examples in the book.

It is good to note here; neither way is better, it is just different. When we learn to celebrate and embrace these differences, we can stop coding the behaviors of one another as wrong, and enjoy stronger more effective organizations.

Q: To what do you attribute these differences?

Science suggests that brains, hormones and cultural expectations all play a role here. Woman won't lead like men, they are not hard-wired the same.

Q: How can a woman assess her own leadership strengths and weaknesses?

A: The book contains several evaluations, assessments, worksheets and checklists that the reader can use to assess their current abilities or prepare for difficult management situations (and if they choose, there is an assessment for their employees, staff or volunteers to give anonymous feedback).

Q: How can a woman use her tendencies to lead in a "female" way in male-dominated situations?

A: After 18 years of training and speaking at Women's Conferences and countless surveys done in my research, I realized that there were several situations that women found difficult. I worked the first four years of my career with only men in the prison system. I realized I had not worked directly with another woman (they just wouldn't put us together and for good reason), so I had to come up with my own way on how to fit in. I learned how to push back without alienating myself and when to just leave it alone, by trial and error. My life often depended on it.

Situations such as; men making lewd comments, men huddling in a circle talking and not inviting the woman in as she stood on the outside and many more are discussed in the book. I offer several ways to handle these situations; all depending on the circumstances.

Women should not fear men and male dominated situations. Most men actually want women to succeed, just ask a father or husband (many who are buying the book). Their intention is not usually malicious (unless it is pure harassment - then that is another story and another book).

Q: What are 3 ways a woman can lead with grace and eloquence?

1) Don't gossip. Remember oxytocin may be at play here…often women will want to go to the water cooler and "talk it out"…this does not work for a leader, manager or supervisor, especially if it is someone on the team who may be deemed causing an issue. Call your Mother or call a friend outside of the arena, if you need to talk it over.

2) Never attack. Avoid using the word "You" when giving criticism. Focus on the issue, point out the impact of the conduct or behaviour and teach them what it would look like if it was corrected. Men can be commanding; women might be deemed a ______ (I'll let you fill in the blank).

3) Never argue publicly. When someone takes you out in front of others, stand your ground, don't come to the fight. If it is not an emergency situation (life or death), delay it until you can deal with it privately. Try saying; "I see you are upset, (or try…I see you find this challenging), we can discuss this after the meeting or let's set up some time to discuss this. You still have to deal with the issue, just at a more appropriate time.

Q: You describe your technique for handling conflict. Tell us about that.

A: I think this is one of the greatest skills a strong leader demonstrates themselves and when managing teams. When handling conflict, I teach leaders, that it doesn't matter if you are right, it only matters if you can find a 3rd way. There is only one thing that causes conflict - what you wanted or expected is different than the other person. Leaders (and especially women who have a tendency toward inclusivity and peace keeping), can be more readily accepting of other options. Fighting for a point of view doesn't always work well for a leader, and it often takes countless hours trying to prove they're right. In leadership, it only matters if you can move forward and resolve the conflict. This is not always easy.

Q: In your book, you list 25 Velvet Hammer techniques. What will those techniques help women accomplish?

The VH techniques work amazingly well for women and often for men too, depending on the situation. I've attempted to capture methods that I've known to work through personal experience, and distinctly for the woman leader. They help women handle leadership situations with grace and eloquence, composure and confidence, so that more gets done and they don't alienate the very team they need.

Q: One of your techniques is: "There are no stupid people, just people with skill gaps. Turn into the teacher." What do you mean by that?

A: A leader needs to demonstrate compassion, even when things don't go as planned, or someone "doesn't get it". I believe "it doesn't matter what is said, it only matters what is heard". Often we get frustrated because we've told someone something three times and they don't remember it or get it. We start to believe they are lazy, don't care about what you need or want - or are just stupid!

Communication is tricky, for example people have different listening abilities;
a) Sometimes we don't have time to truly read our email or hear what the person is truly saying (or understand the context)
b) the information was given when we were distracted
c) the information may have been given in a manner that is not our preferred learning style (some people are auditory - try following help instructions for computer software on the phone or in the manual, some are visual - need charts, and some have to just figure it out and do it themselves)
d) the information is new - they truly didn't know or knew you really meant it (we often feel - "well isn't it common sense")?

As a professional communicator, speaker and trainer…every time I'm frustrated with someone who is not getting it, I try to figure out, how did I say it…that they didn't get it? I then turn into the teacher, instead of getting angry and try explaining it another way. People will only hear you if they have the capacity and willingness to listen.

Q: You started out as a correctional officer and also worked as a flight attendant before becoming a leadership consultant. How did those experiences color your views of leadership?

A: Don't be intimidated by situations. As I'd only worked with men for the first four years of my career, I hadn't noticed that I'd picked up a few techniques that worked well for women until I was in a boardroom full of men trying to raise $5 million dollars in capital for a technology firm. We were around an opulent teak table being served coffee and cookies by the female secretary. I wanted to jump up and help. While presenting, I realized I didn't feel intimated by these older financial gurus who definitely knew more than I did (at the time), in starched white shirts. I thought; what could they do to me besides say no?

A woman said to me as I left the meeting, "did you get eaten alive in there? Are you sure wearing a skirt was the right thing"?

It was then I realized I'd been training women for years how to act like men (don't tilt your head or nod to say your listening etc.) and it wasn't working. I couldn't have acted like a man in the prison or when I managed 1400 flight attendants. Any time I did, I got put back in line. Women leaders need more access to female mentorship and learn what works for them and we also need to educate both genders that these differences are a blessing. This is what the book was written to accomplish.

When we finally celebrate and embrace the differences in how men and women can and do lead, we'll have stronger organizations in both our corporations and politics. I believe as we blend more women and men into leadership roles, it will be North America's secret weapon in the global economy. Is it different? Of course it is!

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