Elaine, what prompted you to write The Velvet
So many reasons, this is a long one. (There
was also just as many reasons not to write the book, so read on).
I knew first hand, men and women had to lead differently
I learned this early as I worked in an all-male
maximum security prison at the age of 19 as one of Canada's first female prison guards, back in the seventies (part of affirmative
action) I realized quickly, that women had to lead differently than men. My life depended on it. I shared these
stories and examples for years, then put my experiences good or bad into a book to teach others.
Women kept telling me - that will work for me?
While speaking and training across North America,
I had many women come up to me after the session and say "That technique will work perfectly for women - you should put it
into a book". When I mentioned they were just leadership skills that both genders could use, many of them retorted by
saying no, “That way you taught us - is just kind enough, or just forthright enough without going overboard or backing
98% of the books on leadership, were written by
When I went to the bookstore to find books written
by women for women on the topic of leadership, 98% were written by men offering tactics that may not always work for women…
or they were written in a tone that didn't always resonate with me (I wondered if other women reading the books felt the same
way). I asked, was there something missing in the marketplace? Was there a need for a mentoring “skills
based” book for women, written by a woman, so more women would be encouraged to step in to leadership, or step up into
more prominent leadership roles? I believed this to be true.
There is still a huge gap
There is still a huge gap between female middle
managers (50.3% according to www.catalystwomen.org) and female management at the top. In almost all industries including politics, sport,
religion, corporate, law, medicine and government, I found this to be true. I studied the reasons why for almost two
years, and came up with my own conclusions and opinions on the topic.
We get better results when we blend and celebrate
how men and women lead.
It has been proven that when we blend and celebrate
the differences in how men and women lead the majority of organizations can be more efficient and profitable. According to
The Tyson Report, it notes "That in one American study that companies with the highest representation of women on their top
management teams they performed much better financially than those without - a 35% higher return on equity and a 34% higher
total return to shareholders". It just makes sense for more women to step in and make the contribution they can. So
my book and my speaking mission is to help more women step into leadership. That is why the graphic of the woman stepping
forward on the front cover was perfect.
Your book is about helping women succeed
in leadership roles. What do you see as the major challenges in women being promoted to those leadership roles?
We often code women's leadership behaviors as wrong
Both men and women often code "women's leadership
behaviors" as wrong. It has been cemented into most of our subconscious minds’ that certain behaviors are not becoming
of a strong leader - and most of our role models that have inherently taught us what is expected throughout our history, have
been male. If a woman exhibits a their inherent nurturing trait - she can be deemed weak. If she exhibits behavior
that is deemed too pushy or strong (for a woman) she is called a "b". Can a woman win? Are we not a confused nation
in what we want in a female leader? Does Hilary stand a chance if or when she runs? Is America ready? If
she smiles too much - we'll say she is flighty, if she doesn't smile enough we'll say she is not warm. There are just
so many examples I see all the time.
In fact, Canada and the US don't even rank in the
top 12 countries for most women in the legislature; Rwanda is number one, followed by the next 3 spots being in Europe.
I don't think anyone is intentionally holding women down, I thing culturally we are confused and we’ve got a lot of
training to do to change societies view.
A lot of women don't have access to a strong female
What I have seen (and this is why the book is for
women who don't golf), is that men have enjoyed a prime location to get access to mentorship. Golf! On the course
they can ask more senior role models, how did you handle that or what is the best way you've seen....? It is like getting
access to free consulting. Like many women, I was encouraged to take up golf if I wanted to get ahead. So, I took up
golf. What I found as a busy professional woman and a often responsible for running a busy household, I didn't truly
have the time to golf frequently enough to get good at it. I was a frustration to my male counterparts (and often the
entertainment value). Secondly, when I did ask for advice, I tried the tactic and it often back fired for me - as what
worked for a man, didn't always come across the same way for a woman. Women need more access to successful female mentors
who have figured out tactics that work exceptionally well for them.
Could you tell our readers the way men and
women differ in leadership styles?
Brains, hormones and as mentioned earlier - cultural
Science suggests that brains, hormones and cultural
expectations all play a role here. Woman won't lead like men, they are not hard-wired the same.
Disclaimer: The items noted, are broad generalizations.
Not every man or every woman behaves as noted below.
MRI and PET scans have shown that when men are tasking
one hemisphere lights up, in women, both hemispheres light up. One can summarize this is why men seem amazing at focus
and vision whereas, women are amazing multi-taskers. In most leadership books written by men the ability for "Vision and Focus"
is the heralded skill. Women often use a more holistic or multi-dimensional approach when leading.
It may also explain why women typically prefer a
more inclusive and collaborative way of dealing with things (holistic)… and appear to have a stronger preference towards
the team approach. When women communicate, they prefer face to face conversations; men do better with activities where they
don't face each other - like golf and fishing when they have discussions. Women would often rather do lunch. The female brain
seems to have a need "to talk" it over, and they typically use more words per day than men. According to book, The Female
Brain – 20,000 words per day vs. 7,000. We are hard wired differently and brain research has proven this, why would
we not lead differently?
Women have more emotional centers in the brain,
and from time to time – will cry in the boardroom or in public. It is not a sign of weakness, but that something matters.
It is how she demonstrates that they were passionate about a task, project or concept. Any woman who has worked hard
at something and watch it fall apart can easily have this reaction. Men will typically slam their fist or display anger.
Due to the hard wiring of the brain, the tears will often come – it is like trying to hold back a sneeze. It’s
coming whether you like it or not. However, if a woman is crying frequently, they may need to seek further
support, but the one time that this happens, women or others on the team, should not beat them up for this behavior.
Recent research has shown, when men are under stress
they produce more adrenaline (the flight or fight hormone), and women they've recently discovered…. produce more oxytocin,
(the hormone the female body produces when a woman gives birth or is breast feeding and provides the need to nurture, friend
and befriend). When a crisis hits in the workplace, a man will want to fix it or leave it alone, a woman may want to call
a meeting or discuss the issue. (This can sometimes cause gossip or "mean girl syndrome" in office environments, especially
if one is managing large groups of women). It is not that women want to speak untoward about others, it could just be
a hormonal response; women may just need to be supported differently than men during times of stress.
Your book has several personal stories about
your own leadership challenges. Would you tell the readers one of your favorite stories from the book?
Probably the first story is one of my favorites.
It illustrates a key point.
It began on my third day on the job. All the
inmates walked out naked when I had to go inside the unit for the first time - to serve breakfast. I had not even seen a "real
live one yet" (if you know what I mean). I was mortified. It was at that moment that I knew women had to lead differently
than men. They had not done this to my male counterpart who had been training me for the last couple of days, but they
were doing it to me. My male colleague could have easily stated "Get back into your cells and get your pants on - that
is a direct order"! If I had done that, they would have done it, but snickered under their breath (thinking oh good
- how can we get her tomorrow).
In the moment, I didn't know what to do (I was 19),
so, I ignored it, looked at the ceiling or at a wall, (out of now knowing where to look). I was going to resign from
my great paying job that night - despite, having gone to college for a correctional worker program that my parents had paid
for (my original goal was to work with children in trouble with the law - more about why that didn't happen - is talked about
in the book).
In the morning, I decided I just needed another
tactic. So with as much confidence in my voice, I kicked on each cell door (like a knock on the door), and said "If
you want breakfast - get up and get dressed". By the time I came around to the first cell again, they were all dressed
- and they never came out naked in front of me again. The first Velvet Hammer technique in the book is "Set expectations
up front", without anger or contempt (even if someone has behaved badly), just tell people what you need.
Can men benefit at all from The Velvet Hammer,
or is this a book for women only?
A lot of men have ordered the book off the website
directly. When I followed up with several, they commented, I needed the book for my wife or daughter who is struggling,
or I just wanted to learn what the differences were. Yes, men who are seeking a softer approach are finding the techniques
can and do work for them (some find the tactics too wishy-washy). The skills noted in the book are still at the end
of the day, required leadership skills (just from a woman's voice). The book reads like a "seminar in a book" complete
with checklists, assessments and worksheets. They are also offered as free downloads at www.thevelvethammer.com site. It is an easy book to read as I realized women didn't have a lot of time.
Did you have any formal training in writing
before beginning your book? If so, what was it? And if not, what gave you the confidence to write a book?
No, in fact I didn't write for years as I lacked
the confidence. When I went back to university for English literature, I realized I still couldn't form a sentence and
the red ink marked all over my papers, was excruciatingly painful to my ego. I'm a speaker, not necessarily a writer.
Finally someone said to me, well –“just write it down and hire an editor”. It was like the old light
bulb going off in my head.
I got turned down by 38 publishers who stated I
didn't have a PhD, nor had I run a major corporation, so therefore, I didn't have much credibility. I was not writing
for the academic market, or the female executive, but for the front line to middle management female leader and for men who
wanted to know what the differences were. (The 80% of the bell curve), so I didn't understand why they felt I needed
this. So I did it anyway and self published. I did however make sure I designed the book, so it did not have a self-published
look and feel.
Although I did not get any formal training, I studied
the publishing industry through a variety of avenues such as; books, workshops and conferences. Plus I had a few mentors
and excellent book coaches. Sam Horn, who helped me with the structure and creative side of the book (author of POP)
www.samhorn.com, and Dan Poynter, the self publishing guru (author of The Self Publishing Manual) www.parapublishing.com were instrumental to the process. In addition, I joined the eWomen Publishing
Network who assists women authors realize their dream of writing and publishing their first book. www.ewomenpublishingnetwork.com (they are encouraged and supported to explore both traditional publishing and
Do you have any advice for other writers
who want to author non-fiction books about their own challenges and successes?
As Dan Poynter said, "Don't die with a book inside
you". This was scrolled across my screen saver for two years. My Mother died on my 45th birthday. She knew
my dream was to write a book since I was ten years old. I just didn't know it was going to be a business book.
She never got to see it. Two weeks after she passed away, I got diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), so I didn't know how
long I'd be able to get on an airplane and keep flying around to teach. I needed another vehicle to keep teaching. These
two major life events stopped the procrastination. My advice, don’t wait for the right moment… just
start writing your book and worry about the details later.