06/14/2010 11:49 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Help Me Write a New Model of Female Leadership

In a recent teleseminar, I was describing what I view as the emerging identity of strong, smart high-achieving women when one of the participants said, "It sounds like you advocate that women should be more like men. I would rather see men honor feminine power."

I responded by telling her that the women I'm talking about have not forsaken their feminine strengths. According to the Bem Sex Role Inventory -- the most widely used measure of masculinity and femininity -- college-age women are still demonstrating traditionally feminine traits such as "sociable, compassionate, and understanding." Yet many of these women also rank high on what was once seen as traditionally male traits such as "self-reliant, independent, able to defend one's beliefs, willing to take risks, and able to make decisions easily."

As women gain more freedom, education and economic power, they are becoming more confident and assertive. Being self-assured and outspoken does not mean a woman is not feminine. I believe the research indicates that women aren't becoming more like men. Instead, they are becoming stronger as women.

It is possible that women, and men, can be compassionate and assertive, sociable and analytical, collaborative and self-reliant, and empathetic and directive. Girls are being brought up to integrate these traits more effectively instead of confining them to the stereotypical care-giver traits of old. Therefore, some people see all powerful women as acting more like men. This is a short-sighted, unfair and damaging assessment.

Sadly, there are still books and seminars that teach women how to be more like men in order to succeed. Wouldn't it be better if we were to work to change the rules instead of trying to figure out the old playbook? As we have seen over the past three years, "business as usual" has failed. Cloning didn't work. This is a time for transformation.

That being said, I think we can also transform our thoughts around what is acceptable behavior for both men and women without labeling them one way or the other. We should honor the individuality of people and the strengths they bring to the table, whatever they are. If we focus on results instead of biology, everyone wins.

Therefore, the model of leadership for women needs to be redefined. The model must allow women to be both aggressive in their pursuit of goals and to show vulnerability when they feel fear or disappointment, like any human would do. Yet as we've seen, our society is still critical when female leaders show their humanity. As Linda Tarr-Whelan, author of Women Lead the Way, noted, "Hillary Clinton, during her presidential campaign, was attacked for being too tough as well as for tearing up."

What then would be the model of female leadership? If role models challenge us to keep growing and to reach for our own potential, who would you place in this category?

I am drawn to women who demonstrate strength and grace instead of trying to bully their way to the top by ridiculing others. Although the "pit bull" approach may get you noticed and you may be able to right some terrible wrongs, "women of strength and grace" accomplish their goals differently.

The opposite of weak does not have to be brutish. Showing confidence doesn't have to include displaying your muscle. Women of strength and grace admit when they are wrong, can change their mind as they learn, and they share a vision of the future that is so clear and inviting that others are eager to follow. This is a part of the model I'm building. What would you add or change?

Women are increasingly being recognized for their influence in the workplace, academics, politics, the arts and sports. This is all the more reason that those who stand out should be seen as models of reason, compassion and of course, good humor along with their clout and deeds. In the end, we will be more powerful if we honor the blend of masculine and feminine that is emerging.

Who are your role models of strength and grace? What women demonstrate intelligence, courage, compassion, decisiveness, assertiveness and passion? It could be your grandmother, Sandra Bullock, your former boss or even your daughter.

Share your model of strength and grace as a comment on this post. I will highlight some of your responses in future posts.

Remember that role models aren't perfect humans. They are imperfect beings that open up possibilities for you to fulfill your own potential and purpose.

If we can get clear on what we call a model of female leadership, we can begin to allow for, even honor, this behavior at work. We can quit defining women as too strong or too weak and never let them be who they are as the strong, smart, and wonderfully imperfect humans who know how to help their children, their companies or their countries succeed.

Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction by Dr. Marcia Reynolds is now available! Read the reviews on Amazon.