Every book on leadership includes a chapter on morality and values. Very rarely do they tap into the nuance. “Do the right thing,” seems so simple when surrounded by advice, data, and case studies where everything goes right.
As a woman, doing the “right thing” comes with more standards - that we’ll be polite, kind, giving, and considerate. There’s an expectation we will sacrifice our joy to elevate others and that if we’re not doing for others, we’re doing nothing of value. When strong women break that mold, we’re called names to critique us into submission. We’re fed lies to convince us that we should step back and stop standing up for ourselves.
If it’s happening to a U.S. representative on the steps of the nation’s Capital, imagine what’s happening behind the scenes.
I’ve experienced this personally in recent weeks. I wasn’t sure if I should post this story. However, as someone who always says, “I just wish someone had told me,” it’s only fair that I share. Plus, it taught me an unforgettable leadership lesson.
A few weeks ago, I found out someone was selling my content without my permission. I handled this behind the scenes with a cease and desist letter, hoping it would be the end of the property theft and conversation.
It wasn’t. 24 hours later, a man I’ve never met threatened me saying he would post “the truth” tomorrow if I didn’t share a retraction. I was telling the truth. There was nothing to retract.
At 5 am the next morning, I woke up to a 1,000+-word post on LinkedIn. They used words like “passive-aggressive” and “angry woman” - phrases reserved only for women who won’t back down. The post crossed the line. It was a personal attack aimed at me because I took issue with how my IP was used without my consent.
I commented and thanked them for proving me right - for showing how women who stand up for themselves, their work, and their peers - are treated in this industry when they call out their male counterparts who lack the professionalism to treat us with the respect we deserve.
But then, to my surprise, other women ganged up against me. I know better than to fall into an argument on social media, so I dismissed it. I disconnected from the women involved. I was happy to see that the post and author were removed from LinkedIn a day later.
Then, I saw an apology from one of those commenters. After hearing more details about everyone involved, she wanted to make amends. “I can barely sleep. I understand if you can’t forgive me,” she said.
While some parts of me felt vindicated, I mostly felt sad. I still haven’t received an apology from either of the men involved, but this woman is up sick at night? She has spent more time upset about this than they have. She didn’t have to contact me. It’s improbable we’ll ever meet in real life or run into each other. But she is the definition of leadership.
She reminded me that leadership is not a personality trait to turn off and on. Leadership is what happens instinctually and quietly. It’s empathy, consideration, and compassion.
Sometimes leadership is getting it all wrong and apologizing.
But there’s no poster or template for that. No annual award for the leader who will admit they were wrong. No chapters in the leadership books. Just incredible strangers we meet along the way who help reinstill our values and remind us that doing the right thing isn’t always easy and bravery matters.
So if you’re reading this, thank you.
There’s no template for this kind of leadership, but there are templates for recruiting outreach - and they don’t have to suck. I shared my favorite in my blog this week.
Take care of yourself and wear a mask -