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Opinion: Women Shouldn't Be Wasting Time on a 'Nice vs. Mean' Debate

Oct 21, 2012
Wendy Clark

Wendy Clark is senior vice president, integrated marketing communications and capabilities, at The Coca-Cola Company.

It's highly unlikely that any men are having a discussion about being a gent or jerk in business.

Ad Age — Reading the opinion piece, "Should Women Be Nice or Not to Get Ahead?", I was struck that, as a gender, we're having the wrong conversation. 

The two options — being nice or being a bitch — set up a false construct of what it takes to succeed in business. In fact, neither approach, exclusive of other traits, will lead to business success. 

Instead, we must refocus the discussion on what it takes to be great leaders. 

At the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in early October, Ginni Rometty (CEO of IBM), Ursula Burns (CEO of Xerox), Irene Rosenfeld (CEO of Mondelez International), Mindy Grossman (CEO of HSN) and many others spoke about leadership, lessons learned and succeeding in business. 

Their remarks were honest and useful. Ginni spoke about the need to constantly reinvent, to watch out for the perils of loving something so much that you can't let it go and, in turn, preventing the progression of what your company needs next.

Ursula spoke about learning as the CEO, the need to "say I" — taking ownership for direction and decisions. On our way to the top, we are celebrated for saying "we." However, leaders must give clear direction — "I want you to do this."

Mindy spoke about the remarkable transformation of HSN and cautioned, "As leaders, you must get rid of the blockers. They are toxic to your organization."

Indeed, these were all great lessons from strong, female leaders. But at no time did any of these women talk about whether they were nice or not. They likely use a blend of both, depending on the situation and circumstances.

And finally, let's consider that it is highly unlikely that any group of men, large or small, are having a discussion about being a gent or being a jerk in business.

So instead, let's focus on what it takes to succeed holistically in business. 

There are plenty of celebrated methodologies and approaches on great leadership. Perhaps one of the more time-tested philosophies is from ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu. He said simply that great leaders are brave, caring, disciplined, smart and trustworthy.

Whether it's this leadership philosophy or another, let's move beyond a no-win construct and instead pursue one that will enable more successful female leaders now and in the future.


Wendy Clark is the senior vice president, integrated marketing communications and capabilities, at The Coca-Cola Company.