|Tips for Aspiring Women Leaders|
As aspiring women leaders move from clarifying their larger driving passion to succeeding at a specific job, it is important that they recognize both the written, and especially unwritten, rules that determine how quickly they advance in their career. While a woman's company may dictate more specific rules of the workplace, executives cited eight important pieces of acumen they wished they had known sooner in their careers, regardless of industry:
1. Identify and master critical skills first. It can take people at least six months to fully understand all the expectations of their new job and about a year to properly execute them. If a woman can focus on and perfect the core attributes of her job early on, it will build her credibility faster in the organization.
She must ensure that she is proficient in her primary duties before distracting herself with things such as networking or attending conferences.
2. Think about the end goal. As a woman moves higher up in her organization, she will find that being a technical expert is far less important than her ability to motivate and inspire people. One CFO advised that as a woman advances, "finding [her] voice as a leader is perhaps more important than getting proficient in [her] technical role."
The leaders interviewed had enough technical skill to merit their promotion, but became leaders primarily due to skills such as effectively managing a team or excellent communication. They filled their gaps in technical knowledge by surrounding themselves with others whose strengths were different than their own.
Young women should start asking themselves how they can leverage other skills besides technical knowledge to add value in their company. Envisioning what they would like to be remembered for can serve as a personal mission statement that can help track progress toward.
Whether it consists of specific improvements they made, quality relationships they built, or their ability to handle high pressure with poise, they need to think beyond technical expertise.
3. Develop a professional presence. How a woman presents herself in the workplace is critical if she is an aspiring leader. A professional presence encompasses a number of characteristics: attentive eye contact, professional attire, and a confident posture and handshake.
Features like these will help reinforce a woman's presence which is ultimately about establishing the fact that she is credible, respected, and has the ability to inspire "followership" in those she works with.
4. Develop a strategic viewpoint. Most of the leaders interviewed found that their promotions to leadership were a result of their ability not to get lost in the details of their job or department, but their capacity to assess their organization from a bird's eye viewpoint. Young women should demonstrate an awareness of how their organization works as a whole and how their particular job or department influences the big picture.
They can practice this through careful observation and by asking themselves questions on the job. For instance, how will a particular proposal affect the company as a whole? How will a decision impact the organization collectively, not just her department?
5. Stay positive. While this sounds simple, it is often forgotten how powerful a positive attitude can be when advancing within a company. A large amount of business is handled in social venues and many times business decisions are based on the likeability of the person one is interacting with.
Staying positive also keeps the focus on finding solutions to problems as opposed to constantly complaining about them. If a woman delivers strong results on the job coupled with a positive attitude, it will be hard for her to go unnoticed.
6. Be helpful, but strategically helpful. Succeeding will always require teamwork, and it is important for a young woman to demonstrate that she is team-oriented. It strengthens her alliances at work, and potentially exposes her to new skills and people.
However, too often women only demonstrate their helpfulness in "support-type tasks," or work that they have been socialized to do. For instance, women are far more likely than men to volunteer to take on administrative roles, such as taking notes at a meeting, when it is not part of their job description.
Historically women have been the ones to get the coffee, be the secretary, or generally play a supporting role. While it is important that young women lend a hand where needed, they should give pause to consistently taking these roles.
7. Take ownership of successes. Another distinct difference between men and women is the likelihood that they will claim credit for what they have achieved. While men regularly assume credit for successful initiatives, women are more likely to assume that people will notice their hard work and give them the credit they are due.
Women are more likely to dilute their contributions by stating that "we" achieved something instead of "I" achieved it. Young women should practice using a clearer, fact-based approach.
For instance, "Last year when I suggested we update our plan, I never thought it would lead us to such a major overhaul." The women interviewed all gave credit to people in their lives for giving them the support they needed to attain their executive role, but each took ownership of the improvements that she had personally made.
They added that consistent communication is crucial to taking credit. Using meetings as venues for recognizing accomplishments and follow-up emails to her boss are good ways for a woman to keep her ideas and contributions associated with her and not claimed by someone else.
8. Know one's strengths and weaknesses. Leaders distinguish themselves from managers as people who are open to and ask for both upward and downward feedback. Aspiring leaders need to demonstrate that they can take constructive criticism and use the strengths of others to balance their weaknesses.
Annual performance reviews are excellent times for women to reflect on how they have created value for their organization and where they could improve. They should come prepared to highlight specifically how they have created value but also be open to their boss' suggestions for improvement.
It is also important that they get in the habit of requesting informal feedback, always asking for input on both how they excelled and how they could improve.
This article is based on the book "The Next Generation of Women Leaders." The book summary is available online at Business Book Summaries.
LEADERSHIP | 12/22/2011 @ 12:38PM |18,063 views
5 Leadership Tips for 2012
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With only a few days left until we usher in the New Year, you’re going to be bombarded with lists of things to do and not to do. Most of them will contain the same tired rhetoric from years past. These lists du jour will simply rehash and spin items from prior years while offering little new in the way of helpful thought. I wanted to give readers 5 key items to focus on if they’re serious about becoming better leaders in 2012 – my holiday gift to you.
There are lots of things I could have included on my list, so many will probably wonder how I chose the following 5 items. The following list contains the 5 items (6 including my bonus selection), which I’ve personally chosen to focus on (pursue) in the upcoming year:
- Family: I’m going to approach this topic a bit differently than many – If you’re struggling with the family balance thing my advice is simple: don’t attempt to balance your family – make them your priority. I’ve simply lived too long to buy into the myth that success in the workplace will create happiness at home. While it makes for a nice sound bite to console those with a guilty conscience, IT IS A LIE. If your business is growing, but your spouse is crying and your children are neglected, it’s time to do a reality check on your priorities. If your assistant respects you, but your spouse doesn’t you have serious issues that need your immediate attention. If you would rather spend time with your online “friends” than with your children, it’s time to pull the ripcord on your internet connection. Here’s the cold hard truth…if you cheat your family to invest into your career, you and your loved ones will pay a very heavy price. It is simply wrong to value your workplace commitments over your family commitments – moreover it’s not necessary. If your focus is on your family, your career won’t suffer, it will flourish. Get this wrong and not only will your family suffer, but so will you as you someday mourn the loss of what could have been, but cannot be recovered.
- White Space: While the mind of a leader may be most comfortable being oriented toward the future, he/she can only act in the here and now. The knowledge and skills required to master any endeavor only happens when we focus on what we’re currently doing. This is the definition of presence, and it is only when we operate in the present that real creativity, growth and innovation occur. The problem with being present is that many leaders confuse this with having to do everything themselves. Have you ever interacted with somone who deals with silence by jumping in and filling the conversational void? This same thing occurs with executives who attempt to fill every open slot on the calendar with activity – this is a huge mistake. Smart leaders don’t fill their calenders with useless activities, they strategically plan for white space allowing them to focus on highest and best use endeavors. Leading doesn’t always mean doing. In fact, most often times it means pulling back and creating white space so that others can do. This is true leadership that scales.
- Listening: Want to become a better leader? Stop talking and start listening. Being a leader should not be viewed as a license to increase the volume of rhetoric. Rather astute leaders know there is far more to be gained by surrendering the floor than by dominating it. In this age of instant communication everyone seems to be in such a rush to communicate what’s on their mind, they fail to realize the value of everything that can be gleaned from the minds of others. Show me a leader who doesn’t recognize the value of listening to others and I’ll show you a train-wreck in the making.
- Unlearning: I’ve believed for quite sometime the most profound and commonly overlooked aspect of learning is recognizing the necessity of unlearning. We’ve all acquired knowledge, beliefs or positions that but for the protection of our ego, would easily admit are outdated. I can think of no better definition for a closed mind than someone unwilling to change their opinions. Smart leaders recognize it’s much more valuable to step across mental lines in the sand than to draw them. Here’s the thing: No one has all the answers, so why even attempt to pretend that you do? Show me a person that never changes their mind, and I’ll show you a static thinker who has sentenced his mind to a prison of mediocrity and wasted potential. If the world is constantly changing, if the marketplace is always evolving, if the minds of others are continuously developing, how can you attempt to be unchanging and still be relevant? The smartest people I know are the most willing to change their minds. They don’t want to be right, they want the right outcome — they want to learn, grow, develop, and mature. Subjecting yourself to dissenting opinion allows you to refine your good ideas, weed out the bad ideas and acquire new ideas. Moreover, it’s the ability to evolve and to nuance thinking that leads to the change and innovation your organization needs to survive. Leaders and their ability to change their mind demonstrates humility, confidence and maturity. It makes them approachable, and it makes them human. People are looking for authentic, transparent leaders willing to sacrifice their ego in favor of right thinking.
- Engagement: Leadership isn’t about you – it’s about those whom you lead and serve. There are few things as limiting and frustrating as disconnected leaders. Smart leaders spend their time starting or advancing conversations, not avoiding or ending them. The more you engage others, the better leader you’ll become. It’s nearly impossible to engender the type of confidence, trust, and loyalty a leader must possess without being fully engaged. In person, over the phone, via email, through the social web, or even by sending a good old fashion thank you note – ENGAGE.
- * Bonus item – Read: There are few things which impact your thought life more than what you read. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I plan to continue this pursuit in 2012. I read more than 70 books in 2011, and plan to read more than 100 books in 2012. To the person, the best leaders I know are prolific readers. My message today is a simple one – if you want to improve your station in life, as well as the lives around you – read more. The greatest leaders throughout history have been nothing short of relentless in their pursuit of knowledge. I believe Michelangelo said it best when he uttered the words “Ancora Imparo” which when translated from the Italian means “I am still learning.” By the way, his first public use of this phrase was noted to have been on his 87th Birthday. I don’t know about you, but I’m still learning (and unlearning). Moreover, the day I stop reading, the day I stop learning – that’s the day I stop leading, and likely the day I stop breathing.
Follow me on Twitter: @mikemyatt