The Curse of Leading

by Jacqueline Stoughton

Over the past year I’ve had experiences in my personal life that I never imagined I would find myself having to endure. Those experiences inspired me to try and become a more ‘positive thinker.’ Every genuinely happy person I know in my life always advises positive thinking; that one positive thought in the morning can make such an impact on your entire day if you start it out on a good note.

I gave positive thinking a solid effort. I downloaded all the positive affirmation memes and even changed my cell phone background to say “focus on the good.” I found that the people who surround you really have an influence on how well positive thinking works. Being around negative people has much more of an effect on your attitude and outlook than many may realize.

This year especially, my positive outlook was tested being in the position I am in. Being in the Editor-in-Chief position, I receive emails criticizing my writing, I have people who call me a “bitch” just for doing my job and I have people who work for me who don’t respect me as a leader because I’m also a peer of the same age and still a student – they don’t respect my position and the decisions I have to make daily.

As a woman, I hadn’t experienced the disrespect, and at times cruelty, that men extend to women in powerful leadership positions until I became Editor-in-Chief. Sadly, I expected to experience this at some point in my career and doubt this will be the last time. What was especially sad was I was experiencing this same treatment from women on my staff as well. Just because I do my job as expected, give direction and hold my editors to high standards shouldn’t be a legitimate reason to classify me as a “bitch.”

Especially as women, we should be building each other up instead of going out of our way to knock each other down with hateful language. Men and women in a field as competitive as journalism should be supporting and encouraging each other to set ambitious goals. Competition doesn’t give you an excuse to be a hateful, cruel and negative person to others.

As someone who spent the majority of my young life with the “shy girl” as my identifier, college was the new environment I needed to pull myself out of my shell and gave me the confidence to be myself – someone who isn’t shy.

It’s unfortunate for people like me, who built themselves up from being a shy and vulnerable person who people used to walk all over, to someone that’s confident, has opinions and is strong, assertive and knows how I want to lead, is then knocked down by people misinterpreting my strongest qualities as being bitchy, unapproachable, bossy and aggressive. If I were a man in the same position, I wouldn’t be treated the way I have been as a woman leader.

Cosmopolitan Magazine stated studies confirm women have a tendency to avoid leadership positions out of fear of being labeled as bossy. As more success comes to a woman climbing the corporate ladder, other men and women like her less. Their negative language towards her changes the perception everyone else has of her.

This is similar to what I’ve been experiencing. Just because some may be jealous of my success, they feel inclined to refer to me as a bitch to everyone else in the office, now establishing that as my office identifier. I definitely didn’t work tirelessly for three year to get this position, just to be mislabeled as a bitch.

Going out of my way to tear someone down and break their confidence never makes me feel better about myself, and it certainly doesn’t feel good being on the other end of that. We should all practice supporting other instead of using hurtful language to try and set them up for failure.

Not everyone you meet will like you, just as you won’t like everyone you meet either, and that’s okay. We all need to work on respecting those in leadership positions, men and women, regardless of what our personal feelings towards them may be. Words hurt, we need to be more aware of our word choices about others because you never know what kind of battle that person is fighting.

Women are just as capable of being leaders as men are; fueling the stereotype with degrading language choices isn’t solving any of our societal problems or perception of women leaders. Change can only be made when everyone realizes that even what they say behind others backs has an effect.

Hopefully this message comes across to those who have inflicted this negative treatment on me all year. This type of treatment isn’t going to get you anywhere in life once you leave the college environment. Starting now, we need to be more aware of the effect our words have and start appreciating and recognizing the hard work people like myself, in leadership positions go through daily, instead of doing whatever you can to bring that person down. Does inflicting such negativity on others really make you feel better about yourself? I’m guessing not so much.