Try as I might, sometimes my experience, expertise, wit, charm and warmth just doesn’t cut it.
I usually find that being a woman in this line of work is quite an advantage, for several reasons. My strong and dominate male leaders often find it hard to discuss more personal issues with fellow men, perhaps as a result of years of competing with and leading other men. Women are often (but not always) seen as less threatening and sometimes as less likely to judge or challenge – or so my clients have told me. My female clients often share that they like talking to someone who can relate to the gender issues that they often face in the workforce. And, across the board, clients have alluded to the importance of a ‘nurturing’ style, which again, is often associated with women.
However, there are times, when I need to recognize that the skills that have served me well are just not the right set of skills for a particular situation and herein lies my challenge. I spent part of my recent holidays interviewing male family therapists and process specialists for help on several different projects. I specifically looked for men because the particular clients I am working with have identified this as important to them. But this admission didn’t come easily. It was only after I sensed that on some level, we were not making the progress that we needed to make. I was missing something. I wanted to be the ‘right’ person for the job. I hate to ‘fail’. I like to be needed and to be effective. It took a lot for me to both admit to myself that I may not be the right person for the job, and to bring it into the conversation with my clients.
As advisors – this is the tricky part. It is rare for a client to share that ‘this just isn’t working’. Why? Because they like you. The reality is that my clients like me. They don’t want to hurt my feelings and sometimes they don’t even know why they are not making progress. So, it is up to me to see the warning signs and to bring up the possibility of introducing a new expert. I have to do this in a way that makes it easy and safe for the client to entertain this new idea. I will usually talk about how sometimes a different style of communication or a different skill set might really help the client to move forward. I will talk about my wonderful network of skilled professionals and how I trust them and feel confident about making introductions. I will sometimes, if it seems appropriate, talk about how I’ll still be here, helping in other ways, but that I may not be the primary contact.
In my most recent experiences, my clients sighed with relief that I ‘got’ it… that I was willing to suggest bringing in a male counterpart that might relate to some of the male family members in a more effective way. I am also relieved because I know that experts I am recommending can do a wonderful job.
So, to all of you men out there that are finding our growing number of women advisors a bit daunting, let me assure you – we need you. We need more men in specialist fields of family therapy, leadership coaching, mentoring, cultural change and conflict resolution. As our reputation grows with small family businesses everywhere, we will continue to need to add expertise, and we hope that 2016 brings even more talent and more opportunities to our national network!