Be the boss you wish you had (W-Tech, Suzanne Doyle-Morris)

book cover Beyond the Boys' ClubSpeaker: Suzanne Doyle-Morris, ‘executive coach with a passion for helping female executives succeed’ and author of Beyond the Boys’ Club: Strategies for Achieving Career Success as a Woman Working in a Male-dominated Field.

The session was run as an interactive workshop, so the laptop stayed firmly in its bag for this hour, but I promised a quick write-up of all the sessions I attended, so here goes!

Suzanne was an incredibly bright and lively presenter and clearly had a wealth of insight to share, so the session was too short by far. Her Cambridge University PhD involved investigating the experiences of successful business women working in male-dominated fields, and her book, soon to be available on Amazon, covers a similar subject area. On the basis of this session, I’m ordering it, despite my usual prejudice against business / self-help books and enthusiastic Americans! It’s also worth noting that while the workshop was focussed on women seeking to move into leadership roles, I felt the advice was good for anyone of either gender.

With plenty of slots for paired/tripletted discussion followed by feedback to the full group, the workshop was a great window onto other women’s working experiences. It’s difficult to capture this kind of thing in writing –  the atmosphere in the room was a large part of the success of this particular hour – but here are a few of the things that particularly struck me:


Women often move to other companies to gain promotion, in preference to being promoted in their own company where they’d have to become a boss to their peers. We seem to find it harder to accept that kind of change in dynamic. Work on dealing with this if you recognise it within yourself – it is easier to move up within an organisation that knows your track record.

Don’t think in terms of ‘us and them’ – if you accept an us and them mindset where the boss is ‘them’, you’ll be limiting your chances of attaining leadership roles as you won’t even see it as a possibility.

Bad bosses we have known – one participant from somewhere in the Square Mile gave a particularly horrendous set of examples of ‘the bad boss’ – including revenge and sabotage – leaving the rest of us exceptionally grateful we didn’t work in her company!

Learn from the anti-mentor – so you’ve got a bad boss. Fine – you can still learn from them about what not to do! Examples from the group: leadership by fear; passing the buck; claiming credit for others’ work; superiority complex coupled with refusal to listen to or acknowledge the skills of their team member. All things not to do.

Qualities of an ideal boss (from group discussion) – consistency and fairness; respecting and playing to the strengths of their team; inspirational; fun to work with; gives positive feedback, not just negative; has “the guts to have the hard conversations”; is an advocate for their employees; fosters an atmosphere of trust.

Diverse teams are often more creative, according to research.

Gender differences in responding to the feedback sandwich – you know that one good thing, one bad thing, one good thing approach to appraisals? Anecdotally, bosses have often reported that female employees will focus far too much on the negative, finding it demoralising even when delivered in this way. Male employees, on the other hand, will often fail to hear the message that they need to improve in some areas if it’s wedged in the middle of a ‘whole lot of “You’re great!” ‘ So there’s probably a need to find a different technique in both cases!

How to successfully make the move from peer to boss – in advance of that promotion, start aligning yourself not just with your peers, but with those in the rank above. Ask to go for a coffee or lunch with them. And go shopping! You need to dress for the job you want in order to project the right air of professionalism. Then, once you get the job, accept that while it may be difficult, you need to disengage socially from your former peers at least to some extent. Some of the ways you previously used to mix and mingle may no longer be appropriate. But you can help smooth the path by being prepared to act as an advocate for them and their skills once you’re in your new role.

How to deal with challenges from your staff – “Frankly, it’s the boss’s job to understand what will get their staff’s buy in!” So, work to understand your team member’s motivations – whether that’s status, interest, travel, etc – and try to show them the benefits to themselves of doing what you want them to do.

Final tip: “Look first to see what your staff want before you go in with your request [and align the two] – that’s what being a good boss is all about!”


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Pink alert! Ah yes, a pink butterfly is the perfect thing to indicate this book might be useful for career women…