A few days ago, someone thanked me for some nice words I had written to them in an email. Given the person was French, a language which collapses the words nice and kind into one translation, I nearly let it pass. Nearly.
Nice, is a word that raises my concern and sets off my alarm bells. Here’s why:
We live in a world constituted of language. Language defines the reality we live in and the futures that we see are possible. Unfortunately, when it comes to defining leadership, the words used to describe and define women leave us at a distinct disadvantage.
And in terms of disadvantageous, unconscious words, NICE comes top of the list.
Other than being insipid, imprecise, undefined and vague, nice is also listless.
Nice lacks vitality, vibrancy and juice. It’s a beige, nylon carpet covering a kilim of colourful threads.
Alarmingly, nice is still an attitude, a posture, and an adjective pushed along with, polite and well-behaved, for girls to aspire to.
Be nice darling.
Be a nice girl.
Oh that’s not nice!
Can’t you be nice?
Be a nice girl – a bit like being a good dog. Sit.
This is where we must train ourselves to be more vigilant in our language, because the world transforms though language. Language that we then translate into action and attitudes.
Nice – or polite, or likeable for that matter – is not what I want my girls, or any girls, to aspire to be. I want them to trust themselves, listen to their intuition, cultivate their individual essence, and be a stand for and speak out about what’s important.
To know themselves deeply
And be real. Real, whole & multifaceted.
Connect to the potential of their magnificent diversity, and lead from that place.
We contain multitudes, that need to be spoken into the world with rich precision in adjectives like – thoughtful, kind, compassionate, considerate, gentle, warm, inspiring, loving, sensitive, sincere, generous, authentic and empathic but also vibrant, committed, genuine, dynamic, strong, effervescent, present, joyful, celebratory, wise and passionate… My God! Anything but nice.
Everything, but nice. Nice won’t cut it.
Being and aspiring to Nice, is how we’ve created to the world we live in now.
Poor, needy, simple and ignorant! Nice!
According to etymonline.com, in all of history, nice has never really had a great track record, neither as a leadership characteristic nor as a quality in general.
late 13c., “foolish, ignorant, frivolous, senseless,” from Old French nice (12c.) “careless, clumsy; weak; poor, needy; simple, stupid, silly, foolish,” from Latin nescius “ignorant, unaware,” literally “not-knowing,” from ne- “not” “The sense development has been extraordinary, even for an adj.” [Weekley] — from “timid, faint-hearted” (pre-1300); to “fussy, fastidious” (late 14c.); to “dainty, delicate” (c. 1400); to “precise, careful” (1500s, preserved in such terms as a nice distinction and nice and early);
By 1926, it was pronounced “too great a favorite with the ladies, who have charmed out of it all its individuality and converted it into a mere diffuser of vague and mild agreeableness.” [Fowler]
Vague and mild agreeableness! Not exactly the sharpest tools we need to possess to bridge the gender pay gap in the next 10 years
What sort of leadership can show up within a vague and mild agreeableness?
What aliveness and depth of connection is possible for you from within ‘a vague and mild agreeableness?’
As for encouraging girls to be likeable and liked, it’s time to make the shift to a new way defining women? Especially given that whether or not you are liked by anyone often depends more on what they had for breakfast than who you are being. Fundamentally being appreciated by people you love, admire and respect for the values and essence they are, that’s quite another thing to aspire to!
Last night, I was spontaneously told by someone in the most heartfelt way that I was warm, gentle, loving rocket fuel. A few months ago someone else said I was evil. Mwaaahahahahahaha!
Personally, I’ll take those adjectives any day over… nice!
We can all mind our language. Train ourselves to become more conscious of the boxes to which we confine ourselves and future generations of young women, through our everyday, unexamined speech.
So tell me, what word, if you removed it from your vocabulary, would open new possibilities for your leadership?
By the way, I’m so excited! The Wild Spirit Leadership club has opened it’s doors. If you want to shake off any residual niceness left over from your education and reconnect with your rich, wild spirit, increase your integrity and lead powerfully then we should have a conversation. You can click here to fill in the application form and request an interview.
Also, I’ve launched the French chapter (Toulouse based so far) of the League of Badass Women. If you’re up for transforming the current leadership model rather than conforming to it (and if you’re reading my blog I’m imagining that’s the case!) then you’ll probably want to add your thoughts to the conversation – and hear the thoughts of diverse women around the world. This is not a conversation about leaning in. It’s about redefining and recreating a new leadership model that is inclusive of women.
The powertalks are free. They are designed to get us all thinking generatively and be part of recreating leadership and moving it forward. You’ll come away with renewed resolve, motivation and energy and maybe some connections you wouldn’t have imagined, which is no mean feat in the current climate. Nothing like having your flame rekindled. To be part of this conversation you can contact me here.