Raise your hand if you are a woman and in an attempt to give you a compliment, a well-meaning person has told you your actions possessed such super human strength or fortitude that it must mean you have a certain male organ.


Ever been there?


I was talking to a colleague of mine about this very thing this past week. She was telling me recently how she was orchestrating patient care with clear orders and direction to the health care team when a nursing colleague, giving her a compliment, said “Wow Dr. X I really admire how you handled that, you have b@lls of steel.”


My colleague described the incident to me, how she awkwardly said “Thanks…?” as the nurse went on to tell her how much she respected her. Later, as we discussed the exchange, my friend said “How odd is it, that in an attempt to tell me I was displaying leadership skills, she complimented me by inferring I had a male sex organ?”


We chuckled as we had the thought: can you imagine, complimenting one of our male colleagues for his leadership by telling him he had an iron uterus?


Go ahead, laugh.


It is kind of funny.


There have been several times in my career when, similar to my friend, I have been congratulated for my direct style of leadership, or some “brave” professional act, and the words that have been used to describe my actions have been “b@llsy”. I’ve even been told I “must have a large pair of b@lls” by several men who I believe made this statement out of respect for me. I think they were attempting to say “Wow! Good job! Way to be tough!” or something of a similar sentiment.


What they are essentially saying, however, is this: Way to be a man!


It is odd to me that essentially being a confident, capable, direct and decisive woman (as my female colleague was) is equated with being a man. There are several implications to this, one being that I never know how to respond to this statement. “Uh, thanks for calling me a dude?”


I can honestly tell you I am fairly certain if you talk to most women who lead teams and organizations, they probably didn’t grow up thinking “Someday I am going to be smart enough, tough enough and strong enough to be a man!” Most of us aspire to be who we are and lead with the qualities that God has given us and hard work has nurtured. Most women who lead, whether it is our children or our co-workers, find our biggest success in doing so by sticking with our authentic selves.


In other words, we lead as women. Because we are women.


How about we describe acts of professionalism, talent, strength or confidence as what they are - aspects of a good leader. Important attributes. Resilient attributes. Beneficial attributes.


Kindness, humility, intelligence, toughness, strength, vulnerability are equally important attributes. They can be found in men and women alike.


I have a colleague who I’ve worked with for quite a while now who sees me mostly in the trenches, doing my thing. I am an extrovert and I have a fairly direct leadership style. I have no problem giving orders if I think a patient’s life is in danger and I can hold my own in a debate. He sees me at times being a nurturer, and at times being a direct leader.

When my job requires me to take charge with direct communication, my colleague calls these ‘She-Ra” moments. He will say to me “Oh here comes She-Ra!”

At first his teasing annoyed me; however, now I actually have learned to take his recognition of me as a leader, however strange, as a compliment. If he sees me as drawing a sword and standing firm in my stance, well, so be it.


Bonus: at least She-Ra had some killer boots.


Someone overheard him once and said “Wow! I can’t believe he calls you that!” My response was this: “What would be more appropriate, for him to call me He Man????”


There is a reason that leadership qualities have always been described as masculine traits; most of our leaders are men. In fact, despite all efforts, the percentage of female CEOs, Board Members and women in the C-suite hasn’t changed significantly in 20 years.


Masculine characteristics have long been seen as leadership traits; and thus a woman who portrays these traits is seen as a cross-stereotype. I understand the background and have read a lot lately about the attributes of successful leaders and how gender plays a role.


It’s time for change.


If you see a person displaying a great act of leadership, or doing something that took grit or strength of character, how about affirming them for doing good, period? How about we recognize integrity, strength of character and leadership when we see it, regardless of gender?


If we want healthier organizations, we need inclusion. Period.


If we want inclusion, we must sponsor women and minorities into leadership roles.


That takes affirmation, acknowledgment, recognition, promotion and advancement.


When you see a She-Ra, don’t tell her she is doing great as He Man.


Let’s unshackle masculinity and leadership.


Let’s make strong leadership qualities equal opportunity employers.


As my friend Rick always tells me,  “Sasha, when I see a strong woman like you, I do the most for her by just getting out of her way.”


Let us lead. Trust us to lead. Partner with us to lead.


It is time.


#sheleadership #leadership #braveenough #womeninmedicine #womensupportingotherwomen #heforshe #empowerwomen