A global perspective on best practices women everywhere can use
by Connie Glaser
As an author and speaker, I’ve had the extraordinary opportunity to travel around the world and speak with successful women on six continents. From Mumbai to Manhattan, Cape Town to Chicago, women’s appearances may differ, but their strategies for success have a great deal in common.
On a recent speaking tour through India, I was asked by a young female journalist, “Do you find similarities among women around the world—in their challenges to be successful and their strategies for leadership success?” I thought it an excellent question, and the answer is, “Yes!”
Here are best practices women around the world share, along with specific strategies women everywhere can use to follow suit …
When FastCompany recently asked, “Who has more credibility, men or women?” more than 80 percent felt men were perceived as more credible in the workplace. That’s not altogether surprising. Due to social conditioning, women often miss opportunities to take the initiative and earn recognition for their accomplishments. To increase your visibility and boost credibility:
– Seek out mentors who are aligned with your aspirations. Decades of studies offer solid proof that mentored individuals enjoy a host of perks: They perform better on the job, advance more rapidly within an organization, report higher job and career satisfaction and express lower turnover intentions than their non-mentored counterparts.
Not surprisingly, researchers have also found that mentors can be especially beneficial to women. Like it or not, when it comes to breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling and achieving coveted jobs traditionally held by men, women still need an extra push—and having a mentor can make a huge difference.
Whatever your goals, look for someone who’s “been there, done that,” and having already walked in your shoes can show you the ropes. Remember, too, that mentors don’t have to be from the same industry, gender or generation.
– Better yet, find a sponsor. Recent research conducted by The Center for Talent Innovation reveals that when it comes to career mobility, sponsorship trumps mentorship. What’s the difference between the two? Mentors typically provide support, guidance and feedback when needed, as well as serve as sounding boards, cheerleaders, role models and confidants. Sponsors, on the other hand, take mentoring to a whole new level by advocating on your behalf, connecting you to key players in your company/industry and helping you land plum assignments—thus increasing your visibility.
Finding a sponsor can be more challenging than finding a mentor. You need to earn this kind of investment by demonstrating that you can deliver outstanding performance. Moreover, you must consistently make your sponsor look good. Many companies have begun to create paths to sponsorship, so if yours does, step up and get involved. If not, work on aligning yourself with someone who has power and influence in your area of expertise, take the time to prove your worth to him/her, then initiate a discussion regarding potential sponsorship.
– Ask for what you want and the resources you need. Women tend to feel uncomfortable asking for what they want and need. We worry we’ll be perceived as aggressive or selfish. Get over it. Men do it all the time, and besides, if it’s a reasonable request and affects the bottom line, the answer will almost always be yes.
Of course, getting to yes often means waiting for the right opportunity to ask for what you want. Avoid negotiating when you’re emotional or when you catch your manager off-guard. Instead, set up an appropriate meeting time when you have your thoughts collected. Also, do your homework. Know exactly what you want or need, why it’s necessary—or why you’ve earned it (be prepared to back up your thoughts with data and statistics)—and be ready to list the benefits that will result from having your request granted.
– Take risks. The very word often scares women, mostly for fear of failure, but if you merely march in place, you face an even greater risk of becoming obsolete. Studies show that people assume men naturally want to take on challenges, but women often have to seek them out. So, raise your hand, even if doing so feels out of your comfort zone. Taking the more difficult path is what will get you noticed.
– Take credit for your accomplishments. One trait that many women wear openly is modesty—not owning or drawing attention to their accomplishments. This is a losing strategy. While arrogance is unattractive in any gender, owning your accomplishments and stepping into your power will always get you noticed, regardless of gender.
Communicate with Clout
In survey after survey, the number one skill determined to be indispensable to leaders is communication. So, to truly shine and succeed, you must be able to speak the language of power. The good news is, you don’t have to be a great orator to develop a compelling communication style all your own. In fact, leadership works best when it’s authentic. But there are common threads that set effective leaders apart, allowing them to command attention and get results …
– Remember the 3 Cs: Clear, Concise and Confident. The tiniest details can make or break how you are perceived as a leader, and choice of words is a biggie. If you want your message to be heard, you need to keep it simple and straightforward. This isn’t to say you need to “dumb it down,” but forget the thesaurus and use words and phrases that most people can understand and relate to. This rule of thumb holds true regardless of your audience—be it board members, clients, colleagues, or your team.
– Cultivate a voice of credibility. Ditch the hedges, qualifiers, fillers and tentative language that can be distracting and undermine the impact of your statements. Also, pay attention to the tone of your voice. Use declarative sentences and avoid ending statements with a question mark unless they are truly questions.
– Learn to speak so people will listen. Powerful people know what they want to say and say it concisely and precisely. Always lead with the executive summary, speak in bullet points and don’t stray from your focus.
– Be inquisitive, and then listen like you mean it. It’s a no-brainer that asking questions is critical for gathering information, soliciting feedback and clarifying what others are thinking—all important building blocks of the decision-making process. But smart leaders know that zipping their lips after asking questions is equally important, as is looking someone in the eye, refraining from interrupting and even slightly tilting your head to assure others that they are being heard—and understood. As politician Dean Rusk once put it, “The best way to persuade others is by your ears, by listening to them.”
– Know what to say when someone challenges your authority. Stay cool and calm and use phrases such as “You’ve given me a lot to think about, so let me get back to you” or “I appreciate you raising this point, and I’ll think it over.” This allows you to exit tough conversations gracefully.
Have Executive Presence
Headhunters estimate that, on average, executive presence accounts for as much as 70 percent of first impressions we make. But that figure applies to men. Throw a highly qualified female into the mix, and that figure can soar to as high as 85 percent! What’s more, studies say that executive presence matters as much as—maybe even more than—impeccable credentials and an impressive track record.
What exactly is executive presence? In a nutshell, it’s charisma coupled with confidence, knowledge, and character. When leaders with executive presence speak, people listen—because their words project conviction and authenticity. Here’s the good news: Executive presence is not something you’re born with. You can develop and cultivate it. Here’s how to convey that special quality of leadership:
– Enter a room with a sense of purpose and aplomb (even if it’s feigned at first). Graciously shake people’s hands and engage in small talk to forge immediate personal connections. When speaking, stand (or sit) tall, maintain good eye contact and use appropriate gestures to emphasize points you want to make. When your words and body language are out of alignment, you won’t inspire or motivate anyone. Remember that confidence is all about perception—and acting confident is the first step to feeling that way.
– Don’t leave a meeting without contributing to the discussion. Most people come to meetings as spectators and haven’t thought much about making a contribution. If you plan ahead with some well thought-out remarks, you’re way ahead of the curve and will gain recognition from others.
– Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Making inaccurate assumptions for fear of being perceived as ignorant can be far more damaging than taking time and making the effort to thoroughly understand what’s being discussed.
– Convey passion. Your words may be eloquent and inspiring and your body language spot-on, but it’s your passion for an idea or topic that will ultimately persuade others to buy into your message. When you’re viewed as committed to what you’re saying, it’s easier to get folks fired up. Moreover, passion has been shown to increase a leader’s credibility tenfold.
– Be a chameleon. Powerful leaders don’t rely on a single communication style; instead, most are “bilingual.” This technique involves figuring out exactly what you’re trying to accomplish, knowing your audience and then adjusting your communication style accordingly. Harvard University researcher Sarah McGinty breaks this concept down into two basic language styles. Talking “from the center” is a more traditional style where the leader is “at the front of the pack and leading everyone across the ice,” she explains. It’s a style you’d use when you need to take control of a problem or sound credible on a particular topic. On the flip side, language “from the edge” is best used when “you aren’t leading the troops over the barricades. You aren’t at the center of things, but you can still be powerful on the edge by asking questions, summarizing what you’ve heard and checking that everyone’s understanding of a subject is the same,” McGinty explains.
– Engage! Exceptional leaders often tell meaningful stories or share personal anecdotes to connect with others and drive home primary points. They know that using language to “paint a picture” of an idea or collective goal fuels the imagination and unites ideas with emotions. Research reveals that when we can envision what someone is talking about, the image lasts far longer than the words spoken. Even better, a good story has been shown not only to inspire enduring enthusiasm for a cause, but spark people to action. And that’s music to any leader’s ears.