Ice Queen Syndrome – How Faux Confidence Can Hurt Women in Leadership

Queen Bee, the Ice Queen. We’ve all met one or worse yet, worked for one. I recently came across a slew of articles analyzing the role of the these characteristics in the office ecosystem. It’s a topic I’ve discussed at great length both in my book, Leading Gracefully and at speaking engagements across the US and abroad. So, why did these articles in particular catch my eye? They weren’t about the problems associated with being pegged as the Ice Queen, they were about embracing her!

Needless to say, I was shocked. Women have been forced into these stereotypes for decades because of discriminatory work environments, and that’s not a tradition I think we should embrace. As I began reading the arguments posed by pro-Ice Queen authors, I realized that the core of the argument in favor of being the most unapproachable person in the office was about exuding confidence.

Let’s get one thing straight: Women should not have to trade likeability for confidence.

I developed the Feminine Leadership Model based on leading with the ideal balance of our masculine and feminine traits, but confidence is neither. Women can embrace feminine qualities that make them kinder, more caring, and more empathetic – all the while carrying themselves with the kind of confidence that will get them the respect they deserve. And let’s be real, being icy and bitter only exudes faux confidence, at best. I teach my female clients that showing empathy, leveraging your vulnerability, and letting your colleagues know you care are all real ways to become a more effective leader. These methods are all antithetical to being the office Ice Queen, and lead to a healthier and more successful team dynamic.

Discriminatory and male-dominated work environments may be to blame for the existence of the Ice Queen stereotype but, by and large, the victims of the aggressive and bossy female leader are other women. And in fact, one of the top complaints I hear from my clients are stories of how their female bosses actively working to sabotage their career. Typically these are stories of female bosses who micro-manage which makes it difficult to gain the skills necessary to advance or don’t advocate on their behalf, limiting their visibility which hurts their chances for promotions. This practice hurts the overall cause for those of us who are interested in closing the gender leadership gap.

I believe it is vital for women to strengthen their professional relationships with each other in order to close this gender gap. Here’s a passage I include in Leading Gracefully: “When we become less judgemental, and more forgiving of women who may be slightly different than us, it can lead us to work better together – and give women the boost that they need to face the myriad other challenges they have to face in the workplace.”

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