Why Women Need to Be Two-Faced in Business to Get Ahead

Successful in Business

My  husband came home from work the other day looking stressed.  When I asked what was wrong, he described a situation to me where two of the women on his sales team were at odds with each other because they differed in their approaches to closing a sale.

Imagine that?!?!

Untying a Knot

One of the women, Natalie, was new and was being trained by the more experienced representative Anna. Natalie felt that Anna was too assertive or even aggressive when it came to approaching their prospects and this upset her.

This angst only caused more problems and it was obvious that they needed to sort this out.

In frustration over this issue, they sought out my husband for a remedy. After listening to both side, he did his best to mediate the situation and find that “win:win” solution. He told me that he felt that he has calmed down them both, but somehow knew the issue would continue to come up.

So, he did the wise thing that husbands should do and asked for my advice as a female entrepreneur.

Some Really Big Questions

To get to a real solution to the problem, he needed to have a couple of questions answered that would help clear up some of the underlying root causes of the conflict:

  • How should he best handle a woman who is driven and powerful, but who is also making other women on the team uncomfortable because of her direct approach?
  • How could he help her become more gentle and approachable so that he wouldn’t have to deal with awkward situations like the one he had just had with them?

As I considered what he asked, I simply smiled to myself.

“What a question!” I thought!

I knew exactly what he was getting at, but didn’t know if there was a simple answer. (To be honest if I knew the right answer to that I definitely wouldn’t have gotten myself into as many messes as I regularly do...)

Women in Leadership

When you’re a women in sales (or in any kind of leadership position,) your success largely rises and falls on your ability to be tough, persistent and courageous. Your paycheck depends on your ability to overcome rejection on a daily basis and not be stopped by what people think.

Being meek and gentle doesn’t usually fall align with the qualities of a super saleswoman; however, from experience I knew that if Anna was going to be a true leader in her field we would have to find a way to soften her approach without breaking her passionate spirit.

An hour after this discussion with my hubby, I had coaching call with a new client who had been referred to me by her boss because she too was overly assertive and was driving their organization’s volunteers away. She shared her story of with me. It was one that sounded much like my own growing-up in business.

Seeking THE Answer

To help solve all of these issues, I asked myself this:

How can I best explain how Type “A” women like me, this client, and Anna can still be strong and powerful without coming across as overbearing?

If you’re a female business leader you’ve inevitably asked yourself this question also. This is because it often feels like a balancing act we can’t seem to work out no matter how hard we try.

Leading Without a Title

One of the best books I’ve read on leadership is called “Leader Who Had No Title” by Robin Sharma. In this story, the author describes what he thinks is the ideal type of leader.

I feel this book provides the answer to my husband’s question and to others seeking a true solution.

To help get the best out of the women on our teams, we have to help them see that leadership is not about being strong OR soft, but rather about being a tricky combination of both (whether we like it or not).

This is how he phrases it:

  • Tough yet tender.
  • Courageous yet compassionate.
  • Firm yet friendly.

I remember the first time I read this paragraph of the book – I felt a combination of nausea and despair.  As someone who prides herself on her boldness, I was actually discouraged by Robin’s description of what it meant to be a world-class leader.

How in the world could I focus on being compassionate and tender while keeping my focus on high achievement?

Wouldn’t those things just get in the way?

Getting To Be Two-Faced

After reading the book four times back-to-back, I accepted the author’s challenge to re-frame what I thought being an influential female leader meant. I accepted that if I wanted to be someone who was capable of leading others in a significant way, I would have to intentionally practice being “two-faced.”

This means that I need to be skilled at balancing the uncensored version of myself with who other people need me to be to bring out the best in them.

It was no longer a question of being one or the other, but being both.

A Better You

I want to be the first to tell you that this transition is not coming easily. Unlike some women who are naturally calmer and softer, this is an area in which I need to be intentional and work on daily.

As I tell my clients, there is nothing wrong with being a strong, passionate, driven personality, but it is wrong when those qualities end up hurting other people as collateral damage.

If this sounds like you, I want to invite you to consider becoming a “two-faced” leader with me.

It definitely won’t be easy but. I know it certainly will be worth it!

So, how are you at balancing your uncensored self with another side that helps others work better with you? How good do you really kn ow the things about yourself that need some balancing? Have you had success at being “two-faced?” I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Natasha Golinsky
Natasha Golinsky is the Founder of Next Level Nonprofits
She helps nonprofit CEO’s take their leadership skills to the next level
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L2L Contributing Author


  1. Deborah Wipf on September 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm


    As a fellow Type-A businesswoman, I can certainly relate! I used to work in the Finance dept of a ministry and kept getting frustrated responses to emails I’d sent to my colleagues regarding receipts they needed to submit or various due dates.

    I finally asked another coworker who was known for being more personable to read my emails. She was shocked at how I was communicating (way too blunt!) and helped me learn how to soften my approach. It took a while, but I’ve learned and it’s pretty rare that I fire off a communication without considering how the receiving party may interpret it. Tough lesson and while its not easy to change ingrained behavior, it was worth the effort.

    • normanrj2013 on September 21, 2013 at 8:48 pm

      While not a woman myself, I have had this same experience and valuable learning, Deborah! Excellent point!

      I reference your comment in my comment to Natasha.

      My best.

    • Natasha Golinsky on September 23, 2013 at 3:17 pm

      Hi Deborah, thank you so much for your comment. It is hard to find that balance without going crazy or trying to become someone else. What other advice would you give to a woman in this situation?

      • Deborah Wipf (@DeborahWipf) on September 23, 2013 at 3:27 pm

        Natasha – My pleasure! For other women in this situation, I’d recommend asking people for feedback. Andy Stanley mentions asking “what’s it like on the other side of me?”. The hardest part about asking that question is not getting defensive when you hear the answer! 🙂

        Now, this doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be someone else. I view it as being considerate of others. I make an effort to communicate in a way that resonates with the person I’m talking to. That sometimes means adapting my style a bit. I’m still communicating my ideas and opinions, just in a different way than may be my natural inclination. This also benefits me since people are more likely to listen and take my ideas into consideration if I communicate in a way they prefer.

  2. Amy Tiemann on September 20, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    As a female executive, I disagree with the premise of this article. The “aggressive” woman (called A) doesn’t need to change who she is. She needs to communicate in different ways to different people. Sometimes you have to be aggressive to get a sale done. Also, this “aggressive” behavior is being observed by another woman and no offense intended other women, but sometimes you are too easily offended.

    “A” could be dealing with mostly men and they prefer more direct communication. I know I work with all men. The only women I deal with are usually customers. When you are successful in business or in sales you learn to easily change your method of communication depending on who is standing in front of you.

    You have to be aggressive in business. You don’t need to be two-faced. Tough, yet tender? That might work for some women, but in sales situation you might get run over. The premise of this article is that it’s wrong to be aggressive, it’s not. The fact that this woman has learned how to be aggressive is a good thing.

    At the end of the day, none of this matters. What matters is her results. Does she sell? If she’s not selling, then she should look at her approach. She doesn’t need to change who she is because a co-worker disagrees with her approach.

    • normanrj2013 on September 21, 2013 at 8:46 pm

      Thank you for your valuable input, Amy. I reference and build on your comment (by disagreeing, in part) in my comment to Natasha.

      My best.


    • Natasha Golinsky on September 23, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      Thank you so much for the comment Amy. The premise of the article (and maybe it didn’t come out as I intended) is to do exactly what you said – to be sensitive to who is in front of you and adjust accordingly – not to be one way or the other all the time. It’s a delicate balance of shifting your approach to be an effective communicator. Great feedback, thank you!

  3. Christina on September 20, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    I am not in a leadership position, but have always been interested in how people lead, or manage. Reading this article brought to mind the apostle Paul’s statement that, in seeking to communicate the Gospel (not always an easy sell), he was all things to all people, so that by all means, some would be won over.

    Also, in an article explaining how to get people to really listen to you, Oprah Winfrey advised speaking to others in the same manner as they spoke to you. If they spoke quickly, so should you…that sort of thing.

    I would consider the apostle Paul, and Oprah, persons of influence! Their counsel points to adjusting our approach, it seems, to achieve a goal involving others,

    • normanrj2013 on September 21, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      Very well said, Christina!

      I reference your comment in my comment to Natasha.


    • Natasha Golinsky on September 23, 2013 at 3:18 pm

      When working with people we need to be constantly in a position of adjusting ourselves to meet the needs of those around us. As leaders our job is to get the best out of people around us and the way we’ve always been doing it may not be the right tool for that task. It’s a tricky balance. Thank you so much for the comment Christina!

  4. Sonya Kahler on September 21, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    I agree with all three opinions above, which may sound strange, but it really boils down to semantics. As a IT Manager, dealing with many personality types, I found Situational Leadership most effective. It’s not being 2 faced, it’s being the type of leader needed for that person, in that situation. So I might need to tell one person to tone down the aggression to be successful, and in my next meeting tell someone else they needed to be more aggressive. I bristle when women are branded a, excuse the language, B$&/@. But on the other hand, if I focus on obtaining the objective, that might be the very thing needed.

    • normanrj2013 on September 21, 2013 at 8:42 pm

      Well said, Sonya. I reference your comment in my comment to Natasha.


    • Natasha Golinsky on September 23, 2013 at 3:23 pm

      Thanks so much for the comment Sonya, you said it perfectly. Where were you when I was writing this post?? lol! I could have used your input. (The term “two faced” was added for drama…not because I think women who are great at situational leadership are being two faced.)

  5. normanrj2013 on September 21, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Thank you, Natasha, for your engaging blog.

    What I perceive you to be describing are personal challenges of learning to employ “situational leadership,” which requires moving beyond simply our natural, preferred ways of responding and learning to respond in the most helpful manner. Amy’s description of how she does this is an example. The work of Ronald Finklestein and others concerning the “platinum rule” is also relevant to this topic.

    I only partially agree with Amy’s comment that, “At the end of the day, none of this matters. What matters is her results. Does she sell?”

    Another relevant question, especially given that she is a sales trainer, is, “Does her team sell?” Given that there is no single best approach to selling, it would behoove this sales trainer to learn how to discuss various approaches with her students. Such would be consistent with Christina’s comment about “adjusting our approach… to achieve a goal involving others.”

    I see my point has already been raised very well by Sonya. And yes, Sonya, it does require integration of apparent paradoxes, doesn’t it?

    My best to you all.

    • Natasha Golinsky on September 23, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      Thank you Ron so much for your comment. I understand that the use my term “two-faced” can easily be misunderstood as I used it for dramatic emphasis and definitely not recommending women to be two-faced in the traditional sense of the expression. It is definitely an article about situational leadership. It is never the answer to be tough all the time or to be soft all the time but the ability to be one or the other or a combination depending on the circumstances. As leaders we need to be flexible and not be so married to “our” standard way of doing things if it means that people get hurt b/c of our unwillingness to adjust our approach.

  6. adithyaentertainment on September 23, 2013 at 2:48 am

    Reblogged this on Adithya Entertainment.

  7. Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D. on September 25, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts on this issue, Natasha. The “balancing act” that many employees, but women especially, must master to maintain their own identity while simultaneously presenting a desired professional image is challenging to say the least.

    And while your description of what one must do to achieve balance makes sense, I take offense at your suggestion that women must be “two-faced”, which suggests insincerity and deceit. It does not seem as though this is your message or intent, but what appears to be your very intentional word choice nonetheless conveys yet another negative stereotype for women to overcome – the very topic you seem to be addressing! There are so many issues facing women in (and out of!) the workforce today that we could all benefit from more thoughtful ways to reference ourselves both publicly and privately.

    • Natasha Golinsky on September 26, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      Hi Andrea, thanks so much for the comment and your feedback. I understand that the use my term “two-faced” can easily be misunderstood as I used it for dramatic emphasis and definitely not recommending women to be two-faced in the traditional sense of the expression.

      What other topics facing working women do you think need addressing?

  8. Larry Walker on October 14, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Hi Natasha,
    Very good article. One of my mentors is Warren Hoffman who excels at dealing with difficult communication issues. One of his responses to this situation would be: “know your audience”. Every communication has an audience — and — every audience can be very different. So step one is to find out more about them and respond accordingly.

    • Natasha Golinsky on October 15, 2013 at 10:17 am

      So true. We have to be a chameleon and adjust ourselves to be the best version of ourselves for each specific circumstance. Thanks for the comment!