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If Nice Guys Finish Last, What Place Do Nice Girls Finish?

A Journey of Female Leadership from a Los Angeles Entrepreneur 

Image: © Dima Sidelnikov/Shutterstock

All my life I felt, from whatever conscious or subconscious societal forces, that being nice was the most important thing for a girl to be. Be nice, be kind, and always smile. Sure, it may have been my rural-ish upbringing, but I find that even my female peers today (especially those in their 20’s and 30’s) still find choosing to be assertive over being nice in their life is a huge challenge, and therefore a barrier to their mental health, relationships, and career success. 

The reason for writing about this particular topic now, in the middle of the insane year that is 2020, is because I feel that this is a year where many of us are looking in, and contemplating our role in this life. 

And for me, that role is becoming increasingly more clear: I’m here to re-teach young women that being nice isn’t the most important thing about their lives – the most important thing in their lives is becoming good leaders for themselves and their home, work, and social communities. 

If Nice Guys Finish Last, What Place Do Nice Girls Finish?

Before we dive into what “becoming a good leader” may mean, let’s talk about nice guys. The old adage “nice guys finish last” isn’t just for guys, it’s for girls too. Though nice girls may grow up to be well-liked women, maintaining a high likability status from everyone is a mentally and emotionally exhausting road to travel especially for women in business and entrepreneurship. On the flip side, women who mimic male-like assertiveness are often deemed “bossy,” “bitchy,” or “unlikeable” – so where’s the middle ground?

The middle ground, or at least in my experience, is an assertive leadership style. Assertive leaders stand up for themselves and their people, communicate their needs in a non-confrontational manner, and gain respect for themselves and the respect of others in doing so. It’s a win-win situation.

So why is it so hard for naturally “nice guys” or “nice girls,” to become assertive leaders? Well for one, leadership has been considered a “soft skill” and therefore isn’t a typical field of study. Not only is it hard to define, leadership isn’t easy to teach either. Additionally, leadership isn’t something that is practiced in a vacuum. Leadership is how you conduct your thoughts, your words, and your actions everyday with everyone. Leadership isn’t just for your professional life, it’s for every aspect of your life – for yourself, your family, your community, and how you lead your life is an opportunity to create your legacy. 

What Does Becoming a “Good” Leader Look Like for Young Women?

As I delve into answering this question, I’m going to share what I’ve personally experienced as a young woman while recognizing that this may not be the case for all women. 

In my experience, women and men tend to have different strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, leadership styles for women may look different than their male counterparts. Women may benefit from leaning into their ability to understand or navigate the emotions of others better, or their ability to verbally communicate problems and solutions with others. For young women, it’s key that realizing your “niceness,” your empathetic nature, or any other feminine-leaning traits are an asset, not a liability when it comes to building up your leadership skills. These qualities can help you build on principles of leadership like inspiring others, and encouraging the heart. 

“Good” leadership for women is also learning to lead in all parts of their lives – their personal and home lives, their work lives, and their social lives. Whatever sub-community you’re a part of is an opportunity to lead. And by lead, I’m mostly referring to having thoughts and actions that align with what experts say leadership is. Although there are many ways of defining “good leadership” or just “leadership,” my personal preference for explaining what leadership looks like is to look at Kouzes and Posner’s Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® from their book, The Leadership Challenge. These five practice are:

  1. Model the Way – “Leaders create standards of excellence and set an example for others to follow…Leaders create opportunities for victory”
  1. Inspire a Shared Vision – “[Leaders] breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.”
  1. Challenge the Process –  “Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo…Effective leaders unravel bureaucracy when it impedes action.”
  1. Enable Other to Act – “Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams…They strengthen others, making each person feel capable and powerful.”
  1. Encourage the Heart – “[Leaders] make people feel like heroes.”

Source: The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, 6th Edition by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. Copyright (c) 2017 by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner.

Women who are managing families, businesses, communities, or other organizations, no matter how big or small, have an opportunity to lead by implementing the practices listed here. 

However, it’s my experience and belief that there are a large number of women out there who put “niceness” and “being liked” in front of these practices because we have been taught that that is the way we’ll get ahead. The important takeaway I’d like to emphasize here is that you can still be nice and implement leadership practices in your life, but make sure that being nice is not coming at the expense of being a good leader. Although it may feel like the harder road at times, being a good leader in your life will do a lot more for you, and those around you than any amount of people-pleasing will. Being a good leader will help you develop a legacy to be proud of, and will help the future generations of women be their best selves. 

My Experience in Leadership as a Female Entrepreneur 

As a natural people pleaser, it’s been a huge challenge for me throughout my life to overcome the need to be liked at the expense of implementing good leadership practices. It took years of getting walked on and making tons of mistakes to realize that I needed to make a more concerted effort in prioritizing leadership in my day-to-day life, even if it meant I may not be liked by everyone all the time. But boy, do I wish another female would have jumped in to give me that advice earlier in my career. 

I’ve been lucky enough to have many people who throughout my life, encouraged and challenged me academically and professionally. However, most of them were men. I still believe that there is a huge deficit in the number of female mentors in entrepreneurship in almost every industry. We could theorize on why this is, but instead, I’d like to make the following proposal: 

If you’re a female, no matter what age, no matter what you do – whether you’re a full time mom, or a full-time CEO (or both), do something daily to make sure you’re supporting other younger females one-on-one. Reach out for support, answer their emails, follow their social media pages, share their content…whatever it is, just do it. 

Nice girls don’t have to finish last, they just have to learn early to lead in their lives with confidence. And it’s our job to teach them how.

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