I’ve just come across a recent Stanford article entitled “Can women be strong leaders without being labeled “bossy”? The article describes the research of @Larissa Tiedens of Stanford and @Melissa Williams at Emory, which is focused on how women can increase their effectiveness as senior leaders. They’ve mapped out ways that women can successfully express power, show strength and be dominant, without experiencing backlash. Their article, to be published soon in the prestigious Psychological Bulletin, has this title: The Subtle Suspension of Backlash: A Meta-Analysis of Penalties for Women’s Implicit and Explicit Dominance Behavior.

I’m concerned that the news story that shares their research includes the word bossy. Particularly when the publication is Stanford’s own. And the title Tiedens and Williams gave their own article, while a bit on the academic side, is a forthright description of their work.

The article’s title highlights how complicated it remains to talk about women and dominance. We struggle to allow this connection. Tiedens and Williams’ article is welcome in that it provides a map for women to successfully negotiate this difficult terrain. And as the authors say, at some point these strategies won’t be necessary and women will be able to be themselves and express their own styles without needing “to engage in corporate jujitsu in order to succeed as strong leaders”.

Tiedens and Williams show through their research that women can be more effective when they use ‘implicit’ forms of dominance, quite similar to power posing, which I referred to in an earlier blog. Blatant expressions of power, such as direct commands or finger wagging generally backfire for women, but power posing/implicit dominance, does not.

Simple forms of implicit dominance include expansive postures, eg standing taller, sitting with your arm draped over the back of a chair and increasing the volume of your voice.

Photo credit: French Finance Minister and G20 chair Christine Lagarde makes a statement at the G-20 Press Conference at the 2011 IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings at International Monetary Fund Headquarters (IMF), April 15, 2011 in Washington, D.C. IMF Staff Photographer/Michael Spilotro