One of the things I love about being a woman leader in the new millennium is how much times have changed. There is an overt recognition of feminine energy and the benefits that brings to leadership. There are also very public cautionary tales about how men have sometimes messed things up with bullish male-dominated thinking, acting, and win/lose mentalities. As a new year begins, it’s nice to brush up on our skills and remind ourselves of the talent and power we already possess. This is a quick note to reaffirm what is and give women leaders, entrepreneurs, and execs some encouragement to make the most of the new year. These rules are reminders of things you probably already know, with the hope that you will further embrace your personal power as the bad-ass woman leader you already are!
Rule #1: Femininity is a plus. Use it. Years ago, women leaders were encouraged to fight against their femininity. Women newscasters were taught to deepen their voices to appear more credible. Today, it’s more widely recognized how much women bring to the table as leaders. There are studies that show how much women leaders can bring out the best in their teams and build strong cultures of success as well as affirm the personal values of each team member. Workforce dress norms have changed as well. I remember when I worked for IBM in the 80s, where female versions of tailored suits were the norm. Gray, black, and navy blue. Pinstripe and herringbone. White starched blouses. How boring! Thank goodness we now have a broad array of wardrobe choices that don’t lock us into old personas.
Rule #2: Focus on results while connecting with your people. There are some managers that look at results only, without recognizing that what they are managing involves people who have personalities, families, and personal lives. Work your plan and be prepared to be firm but understanding when something goes awry. I’ve found that the best policy is to lead with confidence and inspire the loyalty of the people who work for you. Similarly, managing up is a great skill to have. You can work with your manager, board members , and peers to bring them along without being combative.
Rule #3: Take credit for your good work! Women are sometimes groomed to be humble. We don’t step up and take credit for a job well done. Some of us are uncomfortable being in the limelight. When our work is recognized, we pass it off to the good work of the team. Sometimes this behavior can cost us opportunities for promotions or business deals, and we are left wondering what happened. It’s ok to talk about your work – especially if you are in business for yourself. Self-promotion is not shameless, it’s necessary in order to thrive and succeed in today’s economy.
Rule #4: Take care of yourself. Some leaders work themselves to the bone. They are always on and work through weekends and vacations. Is this you? No matter how invested you are in your work or your business, you have to find a way to unplug and take care of yourself. I am coming off of a year of constant churn and ended up being sick for weeks at the end of 2018. I realized that I needed to realign my energies so that my health, spirit, and joy were also priorities, which is one of my goals for 2019.
Rule #5: Stop apologizing. Some women automatically apologize for anything, whether it is their fault or not. They apologize for having a different opinion: “I’m sorry but I have to disagree.” They qualify their ideas by saying things like, “I don’t know what you think about this, but…”, as if the other person’s opinion is more important than their own. The next time you catch yourself about to apologize, reframe the statement to be something that is more affirming. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be accountable when you screw up, as we all do at times. But for some, this is so woven into our day-to-day language that it’s second nature. Be aware, and adjust if you need to.
Rule #6: Just do you! This is my personal mantra, and why I started the Just Do You Institute for Women’s Empowerment. There is never anyone way to do things. Whatever your work is, lead authentically and from your own comfort zone. Being yourself goes a long way when dealing with superiors, colleagues, and your staff. Fake shows up very clearly. Don’t imitate others – find your own leadership style and be consistent with how you operate.
Rule #7: Take up space. My final point is about owning your place in the world. In my experience, even the most powerful women can sometimes be quietly insecure and have nonetheless learned to cover it up or adjust to a more diminished existence. I spent years trying to deny my innate power and making room for other people until I was called out for it by a strong woman who saw me as I truly was, and saw me trying to hide and shrink. I am eternally grateful. I was seen as smart, but nice, a team player, and dependable. But when I had a good idea, I didn’t share it right away in a meeting and winced when a co-worker offered the same idea and got the credit. My marriage reinforced this bad behavior. I kept valuing my ex-husband’s opinion and his work, and his WORTH, over my own. I’m sure you may have some examples of your own.
These are ways to push against the insidious ways that women erode their confidence and their worth. Stand tall. Use your voice, and don’t qualify your opinion. Assert your authority and your value to the team. Learn to disagree, particularly when you are passionate about your position. Hone your negotiation skills. Don’t suck it up and complain to people who are not in a position to change things. Use your own power to create change.
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