The Winnipeg Free Press
Careers, Saturday, March 11, 2006, p. g1
By Kristin Goff
ELAINE Allison, author of a new book about leadership strategies for women, was literally shocked into thinking of new ways to manage when she started work as the only female prison guard at a men's prison.
Her male mentor had warned her about the importance of counting the spoons -- potential weapons -- when she went to supervise her first breakfast on Day 3 of her job at the Toronto East Detention Centre. But he never faced the challenge she did.
"When I went in, they all walked out naked," she said. "It was all a big joke. They started to do a little dance, a little shimmy."
She didn't quit, although she was tempted to. Instead, she came back the next day with what has become the first of 25 techniques described in her new self-help book of strategies for female leaders.
"I went in the next morning and I kicked on each cell and said 'if you want breakfast, get up and get dressed.' They did and they never came naked again," Allison said in an interview.
The B.C.-based speaker and management consultant was only 19 when she learned her first management strategy under fire. She has since wrapped those and more than 20 years of experience as a union and business executive, and entrepreneur into a book, The Velvet Hammer: PowHERful Leadership Lessons for Women Who Don't Golf.
Her cross-country book tour purposely coincided with the United Nations International Women's Day Wednesday and the week of events that surround it.
While the book isn't intended to be anti-male, Allison said she thinks women need to look for a "new model" in how to lead, one that takes into account some of the biological and cultural differences in how men and women work and react.
For example, when men are under stress, they produce more adrenalin -- the fight-or-flight hormone. Research suggests women in the same situation produce more oxytocin -- a hormone women produce when they are giving birth or breastfeeding and which produces the need to nurture and befriend, she said.
"When a crisis hits the workplace, a man will want to fix it or leave it alone," Allison said. "A woman may want to call a meeting" to discuss the issue and try to talk it through.
Neither approach is right or wrong, but they are different and with most of the leadership training material written by men, it is difficult for women to find techniques that work for them, she said.
"I'm just saying, let's stop coding the behaviours of a woman as incorrect in leadership because of where we got our expectations from," she said.
Her book, which she published herself after being turned down by 38 publishers, draws its Velvet Hammer title from the difficult line a female leader must walk to avoid being characterized as a shrew for being too aggressive or as a weakling for being too soft.
In past years, Allison said she followed the tradition by training women to use a firm handshake, push further into personal space and be sensitive to other male traits so they would fit in.
Now she thinks the time is right to start playing to women's strengths and developing a new role model of leadership.
Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's aggressive style worked in the past, but now we want a model that's more like talk-show star Oprah Winfrey, she said.
"That's what we want. Someone who is forthright in their cause but they don't alienate people as they push for it," she said.
-- CanWest News Service
© 2006 Winnipeg Free Press. All rights reserved.
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