GenX Women Founders: Confronting Imposter Syndrome in Gen X Women's Leadership

authenticity compassion emotional intelligence empathy feminine leadership gen x imposter syndrome leadership masculine energy women entrepreneurs Dec 11, 2023


In our 3rd installment of Kris Plachy’s GenX Female Founder Series of "Leadership is Feminine," host Kris addresses the unique challenges and experiences of Gen X female entrepreneurs, with a special emphasis on imposter syndrome.  Specifically why so many of us experience it and how developing our understanding of it can help us overcome it… For good. 

Kris shares her journey and insights, tracing the evolution of women's roles in leadership from the early '90s to the present day. She discusses the initial need for women to emulate masculine traits in the workplace and the shift towards more empathetic and emotionally intelligent leadership.

Through personal anecdotes and reflective questions, Kris explores the deep-seated issue of imposter syndrome, particularly prevalent among women leaders aged 45 to 60. She urges listeners to rethink their approach to leadership, advocating for a balanced integration of both masculine and feminine energies.

Why Gen X Female Founders Must Listen:

This episode is a must-listen for Gen X female founders as it offers a resonant perspective on the unique challenges they face, particularly in reconciling traditional leadership norms with their authentic selves. Kris's insights into overcoming imposter syndrome are invaluable, providing practical guidance and empowerment. Her experience and advice are not just relatable but also instrumental in helping Gen X women leaders embrace their strengths, reject self-doubt, and lead with confidence and authenticity in their entrepreneurial journeys.

But you can be a loving, kind, empathic, empathetic leader. And I'm willing to bet that if you walk on the street and ask who were the best leaders people worked with and for, you would not hear them say, the powerful, domineering, aggressive, cruel person. – Kris Plachy

What You’ll Learn

  • Evolution of Women's Leadership Styles: Reflections on how women's leadership styles have transitioned from emulating masculine traits to embracing more balanced, empathetic approaches.
  • Imposter Syndrome in Female Leadership: Insights into the prevalence of imposter syndrome among Gen X female leaders and strategies to overcome it.
  • The Importance of Emotional Intelligence: Discussion on the critical role of emotional intelligence in modern leadership and its often undervalued importance in traditional, masculine-centric leadership models.
  • The Shift to Empathetic Leadership: Emphasis on the power and necessity of compassion, empathy, and listening in leadership, moving away from the outdated notion of authoritative and domineering leadership styles.
  • Embracing Authentic Leadership: Encouragement for female entrepreneurs to lead authentically, aligning their leadership style with their true selves, rather than conforming to pre-established norms.

Connect with Kris Plachy 

  • LEAD FOR WOMEN: LEAD FOR WOMEN is THE curated Leadership Development, Training AND Advisement program for Elite Visionary Women, including C-Suite Women, seeking to upgrade their skills leading, managing, communicating with, and inspiring the people you pay to achieve results in your business.
  • Private Subscriber List: Get on the list today!

Work with Kris and Her Team:

Email: [email protected] 






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Welcome back to my Gen X female entrepreneur, who are we series. Let's continue. And last episode, we've kind of talked about you, and your life, and your relationship with your body, and your awareness, and even your children and parenting and how that might be affecting how we lead. 

Soon actually, I'm going to be doing a in-person training. I do two day live sessions every quarter with my Sage CEOs Think Tank program. And this time around, we're going to be working on developing leaders. Because most of my clients run multi million dollar businesses, and they now really need the leadership of that business to be able to step in. 

So this is also part of a huge realization that I've had. So the name of this podcast is Leadership is Feminine. And when I started, as many of you who are listening, you know, I got my first job job in 1993. I had jobs before that, but my first job job was 1993. I wore suits, what amounted to a suit in the 80s when those, you know, when a working girl - remember working girl with Melanie Griffith? All the movies that were out. 

So women used to dress like women at work because most women were secretaries. But then when women wanted to have more opportunity at work, we started to look more like men at work, right? We started to wear suits and little weird ties and ruffly shirt and shoulder pads. I will say I miss the shoulder pads. I'm not going to lie. I would like those back. I loved my shoulder pads. For girls with a bigger waist, shoulder pad is everything. And then the pumps. The tedious pumps, the nylons, the everything. So we turned into this boxy person that would go to work with very simple hairstyles, or tied in a bun. 

So you remember, I want to give you that picture, right? Because we had to assimilate in order to be promoted. We couldn't be too womanly. We had to be lots of many. And that is why, I know when I was a young woman, I struggled with the way that many leaders led. And honestly, a lot of ways women led women were some of the meanest, most aggressive, mean, mean spirited, cruel bosses I had.  

But even the culture of working in a business was completely masculine, right? Even the way it looks. Like, think about what offices look like. They're sterile. They're brown. They're wood. They're heavy. There's nothing feminine about these offices. Now, today that's different, but I want you to go back. You got to remember what it used to look like. It was clean. It was, in those days, modern or whatever, but it wasn't, there wasn't a lot of femininity in there.  

And so for those of us who grew through that, what we were taught about leadership was that in order to be effective as a leader, and in order to be strong and to be respected, you had to possess a lot of masculine energy. That doesn't make that bad. So I'm not here to say masculine energy is bad and feminine energy is good. I am not saying that. But what I do think is true is that imbalance is bad, but we didn't know that, right?  

So what we knew at the time was coming out of the seventies where women fought for the opportunity to have the opportunity. And then, we now realize the opportunity. We just followed along. We just were happy to be in the building making money, let alone, not the same amount of money. Because we also know that's true. That's still going on. But we were just happy to be-  

So then we had to conform to structures and philosophies and practices that men had used for centuries to lead. Because men have been in charge for centuries. The only leadership experts that existed on the planet up until probably 20 years ago were men. All the forefathers of leadership are men. So when I was a young woman, I just always felt so awkward because I could not be like that.  

So I made a very early decision as a young woman that I never wanted to be in charge, even though I had always been in charge. Everywhere I went, prior to my life at work, I became in charge. I think a lot of you would say the same. But then I got into this corporate space and I was like, "Oh, heavens. No, I don't want to be like that."  

And I think I've shared this with you before, it was a very poignant moment for me. One year I had to fire a woman who wasn't performing. And she was considerably older than I. Because when I was a young manager, I was 29, 30 years old, 28 even. And she had a young son. She was lovely. She was a good person, but I had to fire her. She wasn't doing her job and I cried. I was so upset. I just thought, "This is terrible for her." I didn't take responsibility. I didn't feel guilty. I just felt terribly like, "This is terrible." 

And I remember my boss, who was a woman at the time, came in and really read me the riot act and told me I need to get over myself and I can't be so soft. And I looked at her and I said, "You know, I kind of agree with you that I shouldn't cry when I fire someone. But I don't ever want to lose who that is in me, because that's part of who I am. And I actually think it's important care." and she looked at me and I think I, she didn't know what to say to that. So I really struggled.  

And so now that we're all leaders, the reason that Leadership is Feminine really came out of me in a way that I feel like was very authentic is, as we were growing up in leadership, we were taught that leadership looked like a man. If you weren't like that, strong, powerful, domineering, demanding, direct, you weren't leading. And you weren't a strong leader. And so a lot of women adapted and adopted those behaviors in order to succeed, in order to prove they could run a company, they could run a team.  

And then in the late 70s ish, some researchers got together and did some, proved out that there's this other element of leadership called EQ. Ever heard of it? Emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, I think, was one of the guys who wrote a book that was the most sort of, got a lot of attention about emotional intelligence. The soft skills of leadership. Which, I laugh hysterically, given how many men I've had to try and coach to be more empathetic.  

There is nothing harder then learning a soft skill. Learning how to express your emotions is impossible for some people. It's so hard. So that is just an oxymoron. But we got there. I remember when I used to do leadership development in a big company, we got to do EQ training and I was just so excited because I was like, "Yes, we're going to do this. Finally. We're going to validate like the importance of all of these parts of who we are compassion and empathy and humility and listening skills and communication skills and collaboration and all of that." I was so excited. But it was still couched as soft and not as important as, well, hard, masculine, feminine. 

And so when I started my coaching work, that's when I really started to just go all in on absolutely not. Like, I do not believe we need to teach leaders to be like that. I do believe that we have to understand what we're doing. We have to have clear expectations. We have to be very communicative and make sure people understand those. We need clear measures. The better that the more things are in facts, the easier it is. But you can be a loving, kind, empathic, empathetic leader.  

And I'm willing to bet that if you walk on the street and ask who were the best leaders people worked with and for, you would not hear them say the powerful, domineering, aggressive, cruel person. You would say, "The one who listened to me." You would hear, "The one who mentored me. Who cared about me. Who gave me feedback. To pick me up when I was down." 

But we're the generation that got smushed in the middle of that. And so now you all are leading, because the majority of my clients who are in Gen X, had different jobs before they started their company. They did something else. They worked in sales. They did something else. A lot of them have bought the company that they own now. Like, you were out there in that world. I know you know what I'm talking about.  

And so now as a leader, it's confusing because you want to lead with this voice of yours, this way of being that feels authentic to you, but you learned this. And so it's metaphorically wrong for you. It doesn't feel right. It feels awkward. We feel like we're trying to wear clothes that don't fit. But we have to, because that's the only way you know how, because that's what you watched and saw. But that's why Leadership is Feminine is so critical to me. 

Because the pendulum, like I said, I don't think either/or is better. I think what we have to think about is, using the analogy of a pendulum or a seesaw, that when a pendulum is pulled too far in one direction, what does it do? Flies in the other way. It doesn't stop in the middle.  

And if you're on a seesaw, it's the most fun when everybody kind of has a good ride. But if you are on the bottom, and you shove your legs so that you go up super fast, what happens to the person on the other side? They hit the ground so damn hard. Do you remember that feeling of hitting the ground? I don't think they have seesaws anymore. Probably because some helicopter parent didn't want it on the playground. 

But remember that feeling of hitting the ground on a seesaw so hard because the other person pushed too hard. It's because there was no balance. It was always fun in a seesaw when we went up back and forth, right? That's what we need. We need the back and forth. We need both. We need masculine and feminine. 

And I just think we have an underdeveloped honor, respect for, modeling of the feminine. And I think as Gen Xers, you feel that the most. Because if we go into other businesses that maybe even younger women have started, they tend to have a lot more of that energy in them. Not all, but they do. There's a lot more permission for them to do that. 

Now, I think that poses its own issues. But our unique circumstance has led us to, I think, confusion. And that has led to imposter syndrome that is pervasive in women who are 45 to 60. That's why there are women who are outrageously financially successful in their companies and feel horrific guilt for it. And in the next episode, I want to unearth that. I want to unearth where does the guilt come from? Where does this unworthiness come from? Where does the fact that you keep getting pulled back into your business, no matter what, come from? Why is that a unique issue for Gen Xers and for women? We're going to unpack that. 

But I want you to sit with right now, it's just thinking about your life experience as a young woman, working and having leadership, and what was modeled for you. What did you get taught good leadership look like? And does that align with who you think you are, and how you and your voice, and how you want to lead today? 

Because if it doesn't, it's okay, you're not broken. You're not doing it wrong. But my heart breaks because I know there's so many of you who think that's true. But we can change that. So let's meet in the next part of this series to talk about it.  

Hey, if you are a female founder, business owner running a company and you are, you know, you've achieved some success, right? You're running over seven figures. You grow a little bit every year. Your team is growing. I know a lot about you. And one of the things I know about you for sure, is that you don't have a lot of time. And you also might be a little tired of everybody who wants to talk at you, and not listen to you.  

So, I want to encourage you to join  

We're going to be putting together a pretty powerful opportunity for you to work with me exclusively in some private coaching while also getting all of the tools and resources that you need to be better at leading your team, so your business can continue to grow. But you don't have to continue to literally expand how much you're doing all the time. 

So I hope you'll check it out. Add your name. More information will be available soon. 

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