Can Women Be Good Family Leaders?

It was the early 60’s. JFK was president father knew best.

I, as a young girl, answered the stylish princess rotary telephone. The caller said, “May I speak with the man of the house?”

This was code. This early day telemarketer wanted to speak with the person who made the family’s buying decisions. His assumption about who “wore the pants in the family” was wrong. He lost a sale because my mother, not my father, made the purchasing choices about the services he was selling.

Every family has a leader. Sometimes it’s a man, sometimes it’s a woman and sometimes it’s the toddler.

As with elected officials, some leaders are more effective than others. And some leadership styles work better than others.

The most striking leadership style difference generally falls along gender lines, and here’s how I think of the difference.

When I was a surgeon, I had side-by-side exam rooms. When my son was born, I converted one of the exam rooms to a nursery. One day, while standing in the hall, I had a light bulb moment: it was as if I were two different people walking through these two doors.

When I went into the exam room on the left, I had a mission focus; I was there to arrive at a diagnosis and create a treatment plan. I was there to do something to cure my patients. I had a doing mindset.

When I went into the nursery to see my son, my job was to connect with him. I had a being mindset.

In general, men lead from a doing mindset and women lead from a being mindset.

The major strength of someone leading from a doing mindset is the clarity that allows them to make choices that align with the family’s core values and beliefs. They make unpopular choices– like taking away the car keys from an unruly teenager or an aging parent with failing vision–knowing that the long-term gain outweighs the short term pain.

The major strength of someone leading from the being mindset is the ability to make its members feel valued, included and loved. They create a family where each member belongs.

An effective family leader knows how to balance the being and doing mindsets.

A leader who embraces one mindset to the exclusion of the other is like a car that will only make right or left turns. You can get to where you want to go, but it it’s the long, dangerous way.

A divorcing woman leading from a being mindset wants to positively connect with her kids. However, when she buys her kids things instead of saying no is not moving towards her bigger parenting goal of raising successful adults who are gracious when they don’t get exactly what they want exactly when they want it.

The eldest son concerned about his aging parents’ safety who springs into decisive independent action should not be surprised if his siblings and his parents are angry about his failure to consult with them.

Successful family leaders know when to lead from the being mindset and when to lead from the doing mindset. The fix-connect spectrum has a point of balance. The wise leader of either gender knows when it’s time for doing and when it’s time for being.

Want more information about family leadership? Click here to get your free special report “Can Women Be Good Family Leaders?”

Dr. Rackner will be delivering the keynote address “The Head of House is WHO?” at the upcoming Divorcing Divas Event “Happily Ever After” on September 25, 2010 in Mpls MN.

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8 Responses to Can Women Be Good Family Leaders?

  1. Joyce says:

    Hi, my name is Joyce and I was married to an alcoholic for over 28 years prior to his death. I worked to improve my career, and held our family together. I learned about ALANON, and quickly realized that I am a counselor inately. I have worked in the addiction field for over 23 years. Since my husband’s passing 5 years ago, I have been the Matriarch, who my children, and my brother in law and grand children look up to.
    I believe women are the glue that hold families together, weather we do it with quite guidance or loud direction. We are the core of the family.

  2. Forrest Mozer says:

    Hi Vicki,

    As I read this, I thought about my grandparents. On both sides of my family my grandmother was the family leader and she made all the decisions. My grandfathers were earners and not much more in the family structure. That changed with my parents who shared the family leadership role. I think that this changing role over two generations may have been because my grandparents came from Eastern Europe where my mental image is that the women ran the house and the men were the wage earners. I wonder if this is more general than just my case.

    • vickirackner says:

      Hi, Forrest,
      Thanks for writing.

      Great point! How interesting to consider how prevailing culture shapes leadership.

      I’m reminded of the female warriors of the Amazon who even assumed the leadership role of providing physical protection. The name Amazon is a reference to the reports that they amputated one breast to make shooting a bow and arrow easier. This is still unproven.

  3. thanks for posting. Great article….education degree

  4. I think the best way to use both mindsets the most effectively is to weave between the two. Don’t get too attached to “doing” and don’t get too attached to “being.” Always stop and consider if you have spent too long in one camp or the other. Always consider the opposite and play devil’s advocate with yourself and the position that you currently occupy. State the valur of your opposite before expounding on the value of where you are. It will keep you balanced and will be to your advantage… good post. I blog on these topics at .Betty-Ann

    • vickirackner says:

      Thanks, Betty-Ann, for the great tip!

      Hey, everyone, Betty-Ann has a real gift with words, new perspectives and helpful ideas. Check out her blog and sign up for her newsletter.

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