Are CEOs allowed to like pink? Or glitter and glam? Do you have to dress a certain way? How serious do you have to act to run a company? Isn’t when you are serious more important?
I guess Steve Jobs and his famous turtlenecks gave rise to thousands of CEOs who don’t wear a suit, but it still feels like there are a lot of prerequisites. Especially for women CEOs. Gender-based expectations when it comes to appearance are still alive and kicking but it goes beyond that. I’m not alone in feeling that behavior that is tolerated or even celebrated in men is questioned and discouraged for women.
Assertive vs. angry; decisive vs. pushy; passionate vs. emotional; a good family man vs. unreliable because of kids – and the list goes on. I’m not the first to notice or comment on this, far from it. I am going to expand on this idea though, from my own personal experience. I also know that things have changed for the better in many ways but still, the feeling of not measuring up to the “ideal” of a CEO persists for many women, including me sometimes.
I feel like I don’t fit the mold in some ways. I love pink. I love sparkly things. I love pink sparkly things. I have two adorable dogs that I dress up and have the occasional birthday party for. I am a serious golfer and pretty good at it; I also ran the Disneyland Half Marathon twice dressed like Tinkerbell. When I talk about unicorns, I might be referring to impossible to find candidates who tick every box on a long and unrealistic list of qualities developed by a client – but I am just as likely to be referring to our unicorn, the stuffed one that we created for our 30th Anniversary a few years ago. The unicorn that is friends with the dragon we gave a way at a conference. They live at the office and pop up on our website and Instagram now and then.
Some people would say I’m silly. Or frivolous. I would say that I am very in touch with my inner child. I like to have fun and laugh a lot. Is the unicorn something that Tim Cook or Mark Zuckerberg would do? I can’t know for sure, but it doesn’t seem like it. Then again, I am not a CEO like either of them. I’m not like any other CEO and that’s okay.
There isn’t just one kind. I am my own kind of CEO.
Every one of us is a unicorn, a one-of-a-kind person with our own combination of skills, knowledge, and life experience. Our personality – including all of our strengths, flaws, and quirks – are part of that too. That uniqueness is what we bring to our job, and part of why we are good at it. Authenticity is a popular word these days. Everyone wants to feel it and project it and ends up mostly curating it. I’m guilty too – we all want to look good in our pictures! But in real life, I can’t help but be authentic. Trying to fit a certain mold backfires and I end up being awkward and weird – I don’t know how to be anything other than me.
What’s important is that a CEO gets the job done. That they make sure the business runs, people get hired, clients are served, bills are paid, etc. You still need to think about the future, plan for the unexpected, navigate a pandemic economy, and so on. I need to be serious when I’m signing contracts, or looking at tax documents, or meeting with a client – “serious” meaning prepared, engaged, invested, and knowledgeable. I need to lead my team, knowing when to offer guidance and when to encourage autonomy so we can all be successful.
And I can do all of that while being myself. Just as Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg are being themselves. Just as CEOs everywhere should be doing. There is no one way to be a CEO. Wear a suit or don’t. Be quiet, be loud, drive a fancy car, or ride a bike to work. Have kids, have pets, be single, married, or in between – or don’t.
As long as you are yourself and you are happy, you will likely do a much better job than pretending to be something you are not. Wear pink, decorate your office with glitter, talk about sports and musical theater and whatever else you are into. Laugh and enjoy life. Share yourself. Be yourself. It’s the best way to be a CEO.