Women in Leadership: How to Find Your Authentic Voice
Do Women Make Better Crisis Leaders?
Leadership effectiveness is about the extent to which people are willing to follow the direction a leader sets. We support what we help to create. What makes people most likely to follow a direction is the opportunity to have a voice and contribute to the direction and to feel heard in the process. Leaders who are able to listen, be curious, take in multiple perspectives, navigate decisions that do not have easy answers, consider the impact on both people and results, and get things done are far more likely to build relationships and trust…someone that others want to follow.
There are three languages of communication that we speak in:
Men Vs Women Leaders: Who Speaks Affect?
Men and women both can and do speak in Affect, But organizations can have cultural biases that minimize or silence communication in affect. I’ve witnessed leadership teams where someone would inquire about how the staff might feel about a decision and the response was sentiments like – ‘this is work, it’s not personal’ or ‘I don’t know, I’m not their therapist’. Those beliefs hinder anyone from bringing the voice of affect, which is needed at all times, but most certainly in a time of crisis.
Our societal norms make it more socially acceptable for women to bring the voice of affect,which is one reason this skill might be more developed for women. Yet this is ultimately about having range in your behavior and communication;meaning that it’s available and accessible to men as well.
Obstacles that Dissuade Women from Actively Pursuing Leadership Roles
Many years ago as I took on a new leadership role I was told by the CEO “I don’t think you have what it takes to lead.”About six months later he came back to me and said “I was very wrong.”. Leadership is not a cookie cutter mold – it looks different on everyone and yet women often get told we are ‘too much’ of something or ‘not enough’ of something else. Women are often judged or critiqued against an old mental model of what leadership looks like. We need to change that. Our job in corporate America is to welcome differences in leadership – we need leaders who are effective and capable of bringing a whole range of behavior and communication propensities to their role.
Women Who Pushed Back Are an Inspiration
I’m inspired by many women who have a story to tell where they pushed back against feedback or norms that said ‘you can’t do it that way’. Oprah tells a story about when she first launched her talk show and after a bad experience with a guest segment she made a personal decision that she would no longer invite certain types of guests. She got lots of push back about how that would not work and people would not watch. Amidst all of that feedback she maintained her clear vision about the impact she wanted to have and what she believed was needed. It’s a real example to me of clarity of purpose and trusting your gut instinct that makes it your own brand of leadership – not someone else’s.
Advice for Young Women Entering the Workforce
Don’t take it personally if someone thinks your version of leadership is not leadership. Treat it as a data point and decide what you want to do from there. Keep in mind that the feedback is as much about them as it is you. Find your own authentic voice and then find the place that is the right fit for you. Pay attention to your gut instinct. When a team or company does not feel like a good fit – follow that instinct before you get locked into believing that you don’t have any other options and you have to just be miserable in order to bring home a paycheck.
Impactful Business Lessons From the Pandemic to Carry Forward
When I draw a timeline of my professional and personal life, what I have come to learn is that many of the high moments are preceded by a low moment – a time when it felt like everything was being pulled out from under my feet.
So coming into 2020 I already had a value of looking at those ‘low’ moments as a place to create rather than get caught up in the disappointment, fear or longing for what once was. So in March of 2020 I pivoted the whole business to go from executive coaching and leading workshops in the room across the country to coaching and leading workshops online – and it worked! My business had transitioned to completely remote since 2012, so we already knew how to work online.
I have learned the value of not being so attached to how we do things currently that I miss the moments to invent, create and pivot to something completely new. It’s important to observe what’s needed and be willing to try small experiments that you can learn from quickly. The pandemic taught me to be okay with things not being perfect and make it okay for others as well. I call it the year of our beautiful human imperfections – where it’s okay to bring your full-self to work.
Find your Superpower as a Female Leader
I know this about me: I care about and I frequently seek the perspectives of others. I do both of these without thinking, so they come naturally. I’ve learned to find the balance of not over caring – meaning filling that role for others. I have also learned that there are times to seek perspective and time to just make a decision and move forward.
I encourage you to find and nurture your superpower. It may take some trial and error to land on it, so start now and take notes. (or something to wind this up.)
An earlier version of this article was published in HR.com as part of their Women in Leadership series.