Indra Nooyi. Hillary Clinton. Indira Gandhi. Or any other successful woman leader. How would you describe these women? Most would say Strong. Powerful. Resilient.
Do you think these women became leaders because they had these attributes? Or did being leaders bring out these qualities in them?
Most women leaders have no choice but to portray these characteristics if they want to have their voice heard and influence their team. It can’t be denied that women have to fight bigger odds to be known as successful leaders and managers. If a woman has climbed to the top of the ladder, most often than not, she has gone through challenging situations that have shaped her to be tough and relentless in her own way. And these become the defining qualities that she gets recognized by.
Women have a natural disposition to be successful leaders. They are able to handle multiple goals and simultaneous demands on their time, are inherently agile and fiercely resilient. But the fact is, they also have a natural disadvantage in the patriarchal mindset of the society. This makes it necessary to have some key strategies geared for success, that are assertive yet non-threatening to their team.
Here’s the most pertinent advice I would give to all the women leaders out there.
- Change your Language: Subconsciously, many women have the habit of diminishing themselves with the way they speak to their colleagues. While asking for some work to be done or giving instructions, don’t use phrases like ‘I’m sorry but …’ ‘I was wondering if..’ that undermine your authority. Leaders are self-assured, confident and firm. This must also come out in their language.
- Don’t let anyone take you for a ride: Women who take on tiny operational tasks that are actually meant to be done by someone else often end up being undervalued and taken for granted at the workplace. It is one thing to be helpful but it’s completely a different thing to be taken for a ride. Women leaders must learn to delegate tasks effectively, fighting the urge to get them done themselves. One of the things that make leaders great is their ability to empower their team and increase their potential rather than lift the burden all by themselves.
- Be a Thought Leader: Women leaders often do not enjoy the same loyalty and attention as their male counterparts. They have to try harder to be taken seriously by their team because of the perception that surrounds the gender. That is why it’s more essential that women leaders be perceived as subject matter experts and thought leaders. Read. Be curious. Be informed. Leaders in general and women leaders especially, must be well read to be respected.
- Learn to be Assertive: Being assertive is a quality that is highly undervalued by women all over the world. In an effort to come across as ‘non- threatening’ women often forget that they cannot be good leaders without being assertive. Whether it’s learning to say no when needed or standing by your point, it is important for a woman leader to be assertive without being ruthless.
- Don’t Try to be a Hero: Women who succeed often take on labels like ‘trailblazers’, ‘path-breakers’ or rebels even. These names slowly turn into an image that they are forced to uphold, adding to their pressure and anxiety. In an effort to prove themselves worthy of their position, women leaders have the tendency to stretch themselves thin until a point when it becomes extremely stressful. Women leaders need not try to be flawless champions for their gender in every action they take. It’s okay to be a normal woman who has the same flaws and worries as everyone else at the workplace. It’s not important to be a hero to be a success.
- Stop looking for Affirmation: It’s nice to have people who agree to your vision and understand your point. But it’s not good to always look towards your team for affirmation. Women leaders should not be apologetic about their viewpoint and exude full confidence in their ideas for them to be embraced by their team members.
- Embrace the Spotlight: It’s difficult to be an influential leader if you are an introvert. As a leader, the spotlight is going to be on you and women must learn to bask in it without being sorry or shy. Women who are doing better than their partners have the tendency to be apologetic about the attention they receive. But this attitude can come in the way of effective leadership.
- Build a culture of respect and Inclusion: Women leaders have the opportunity to correct the skewed gender balance in their organization. Not just gender parity but women leaders have been shown to be more inclusive of all minorities, leading to a more culturally diverse workplace. As a person in a leadership position, it is important to build a culture that nurtures respect and collaboration to make sure that employees are more engaged and aligned with the organization.
- Practice Feedforward: Asking for help from your well-wishers is not the sign of the weak. In fact, leaders who seek feed-forward are known to be progressive and passionate about improvement. Unlike feedback which relies on past experiences, feed-forward is a mechanism where leaders reach out to their colleagues and team members for help on certain parameters that will shape future outcomes and behaviour. It is also an effective way to coach the team and align them with business goals.
- Choose your team wisely: Whereas it's important for all leaders to choose their team wisely, women leaders especially need to surround themselves with a team that is progressive and aligned with their vision. This makes it that much easier for them to achieve their goals without worrying about dealing with people with a patriarchal and regressive mindset.
We must admit that the path to leadership is simply different for women. It involves navigating through the labyrinth of expectations and opinions that could limit our potential if we allow so. But with the right attitude, right team and right intentions, women leaders can reach their highest prospects without compromising on their personality and life.