What Happens to Women Leaders When They Tell The Truth?

Women leaders
Women leaders by Melanie Humble

Summary: There is always a risk to telling the truth. Is it more difficult for women to speak up? Most research says “yes.” Here is a way to be clear, heard, and respected. 

Dear Dr. Sylvia, 

As a leader, I know I must give difficult feedback to my team. However, I have not mastered “the way” to offer unpleasant comments and still be liked. 

Then, I think, do I have to be liked? And I say to myself, “I don’t care!”  

However, truth be told, I do care.  

For instance, I want to be appreciated, heard, and respected. 

Does being heard mean speaking louder? 

Therefore, I often say things too softly and am frustrated that what I need to get handled is ignored. 

One of my male colleagues often tells folks they are failing. That scares the crap out of them. It tends to make people stop hearing what he is saying. 

The word failure is a trigger word for most individuals. 

Then when they offer a response to defend themselves, he says, “That is simply not acceptable.”  

The conversation ends. He responded to what he thought was correct and felt reasonable and in control.  

Learn if your way of telling the truth is beneficial. 

His team, however, feels discounted and depressed. They talk about him behind his back but would never challenge him. 

To be clear, he is not “loved’ yet he is respected.  

I need some help in finding the best way/s to be heard. 


Caught in the middle 

Dear Caught, 

Did you ever think about the impossibilities put in front of you as a woman leader?  

Is it possible to be strong and soft at the same time? 

Your question is a universal one for women leaders to ponder. 

It is also crucial for men to consider the demands on women as leadership becomes more balanced. 

Are women put into a double bind more than men? Is their ability questioned? What happens when you hear the truth?   

There is a scene in the new series “Gaslit” where actress Julia Roberts, portraying Martha Mitchell, wife of Nixon confident John Mitchell, played by Sean Penn, is called controversial.  

Her response is, “I didn’t realize that being honest is so controversial.” 

Women leaders have been called nasty names for speaking out. 

It seems that Martha Mitchell ended up in a double bind. She was to be supportive of her husband, yet she knew truths were not told about what was going on behind closed doors. 

First, let’s define a “double bind.” That is when you are in a situation where you will lose no matter what you do. 

Speak out or stay silent is the dilemma of truth tellers. 

Here are some  double binds that can drive us nuts.  

  • Be assertive but don’t make waves. 
  • Take risks yet yield to what others want and need. 
  • Be strong and stay soft.
  • Be independent and always be loyal.  
  • Tell the truth yet never hurt anyone. 

Hoping to satisfy complex expectations is nearly impossible.  

Did you ever meet someone who gave the message “hug me but never touch me” or “help me solve problems but don’t give me suggestions?” 

The way out of these “knotted” situations is to learn the art and craft of truth-telling in its most basic form. Here are some ways to practice truth and untie the knots that often keep us from the next level of success at work and home. 

The key to truth-telling is to remember the importance of speaking up and not putting upset on the back burner. 

Telling the truth is NOT spilling your guts. 

Truth-telling is a discipline that takes practice. First, begin by taking an “I Stand.” That means giving information about how you feel before you tackle other points of view. 

State what is bothering you first. Then give an example of how you tend to react and what you want to do differently.  

And then the most crucial point of all. Give the other person room to respond and be accountable for their side of the situation. 

Here is the outline to follow: 

                           When you…………  

                           I feel…………………. 

                           And then I…………….. 

                           What I’m willing to do is……………. 

                           What I’m not ready to do is …………. 

                           And now I’d like to hear from you. 

When you say, “And now I’d like to hear from you, “zip it!” You must be quiet and give the other individual the time to say what they need. 

For example, you have an employee who is always late on Zoom calls and turns in projects after the requested period. It is disrupting timeline completion and project success.  

Be careful not to talk about too many things at one time. 

Here is a way to use the communication method I described above. 

“When you always come to work late, I feel frustrated. And then I ignore you and give better projects to others even though you are capable. I’m willing to see if we can come to a new agreement about your schedule so this does not continue to happen. What I’m not willing to do is brush this behavior under the rug and ignore it. And now I’d like to hear from you.” 

Do not; please do not keep adding in every past situation that has bothered you. Just one issue will work fine.   

Then wait for an answer. 

Many of us tend to make internal lists of what bothers us and wait until the proverbial last straw sets our teeth on edge, and we spill out the entire cadre of hurts and disappointments. Waiting too long to speak up is and has been one of the sticking points in most relationships.  

GUTSY women leaders change with the times to claim power. 

Our GUTSY WOMEN LEAD online program delves into the behavior patterns handed to women from generation to generation, and they no longer serve anyone.  

We are now in the most critical leadership time in a world that needs our compassion and ability to consider others. We also need to be concise in our communications so that we engage in dialogue that is both emotionally balanced and logically clear.  

Here’s to your success, 


P.S. Here is a brief bio and books I think you will find informative. 

Dr. Sylvia Lafair is President and CEO of Creative Energy Options, Inc.; a global consulting company focused on optimizing workplace relationships through extraordinary leadership. With a doctorate in clinical psychology, Dr. Lafair, formerly a practicing family therapist, took her skills into the work world and revolutionized how teams cooperate, relate, and innovate. Her award-winning books Don’t Bring It to Work and GUTSY: How Women Leaders Make Change and Invisible Stress: It’s NOT What YOU Think are available on Amazon. 

Creative Energy Options

Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options