Female Leadership Series: 002
Being a leader must be one of the most rewarding careers you can ever pursue. Not only is the work interesting and challenging, but you are impacting the direction of others and the direction of your company. You are able to see that you are making a difference in something humongous.
In this article, you will learn key areas for women leaders to tap in order to both increase credibility and visibility. So, let’s begin:
- Ask for the stretch assignments: Women must often explicitly signal their interest and willingness to take on unusual or challenging assignments. Otherwise, managers may assume they are not interested. Women can get caught in a double bind of being seen as too ambitious. So, you wouldn’t necessarily want to tell your boss you want her job. But, it would be generally acceptable to voice your interest in taking on more responsibility and demonstrating your ability to do so.
- Building networks: This is one area that is a push back for many mid-level management individuals who don’t take this seriously. It is important to build networks internally to develop allies and externally to increase your value to the company. You may think you don’t have time, but it can actually save you time when you need to call on that ally for support on a big project with a tight deadline. The higher up you go in an organization, the more important it is for you to have strong networks. At higher levels, the emphasis of work is done more through people and your ability to effectively influence and communicate with others. People with large networks can easily access and receive timely, useful information to help them accomplish their goals. It is best to identify individuals where there is a mutually beneficial relationship based on common goals and interests. Who are two or three people you need to develop a stronger relationship with?
- Develop strong communication skills and master your emotions: Developing strong communication skills, mastery of your emotions, and the ability to effectively handle conflict is another very important area for success. Once you reach management level, your ability to effectively influence and relate to others is more important than your technical skills. There has been enough research out now on the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EI), which is a current term for a person’s ability to manage their emotions and relate effectively to others.
- Learn the rule of the game: Business is still played by the rules of team sports. The games we play as girls and boys influence how we ‘play’ at work. So, in order for women to be effective in this arena, they will need to visibly see the rules of the game and understand how to manoeuver within that framework.
- Know and manage your image: You will want to manage how you are perceived. Some questions to ask yourself are: How do people perceive you in your organization? What kind of reputation have you established? What image are you portraying through your dress? As a leader it is more important to be respected than liked. You are called upon to make tough decisions that everyone will not necessarily like. This is another difference in the male and female culture that can create tension. As young girls we are taught to get along and being liked is important. A word about business attire. Make sure your business attire is tasteful but does not draw more attention to your sexuality, such as tight skirts, sweaters, low cut blouses, or frilly clothing. The way you dress determines the overall message you send. If your makeup, hairstyle, or clothing stands out, then what you are saying in an important conversation will be secondary. The general rule of thumb to follow is to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Notice what successful women at the top of your organization are wearing and adapt to that style. You can still have your own style, just remember the unspoken dress code is akin to the team uniform and is another ‘test’ of how well you fit into the team.
- Know your long-term goals, maintain work/life balance, and support other women: Be clear about your long-term goals and how you will maintain the work/life balance that’s right for you. If your goal is to reach the upper executive levels, then find out what commitment it will take, how it will impact your personal life, and what support systems you will need to put in place. There are many ways to be in leadership and have a powerful impact. You may decide that you enjoy being at a mid-level management position with the ability to influence many people and groups within the organization. Or, if you are better suited to be a senior level individual contributor such as VP of Investor Relations, then go for that. It’s important for your own happiness and satisfaction in life that you identify your key productive skills, your long-term goals, and your personal quality of life to determine the best career path for you.