Today’s leaders have their work cut out for them as they navigate their way through the pandemic and face unprecedented levels of chaos. There’s little room for mistakes, uncertainty lurks around every corner, and employees are anxious and worried. This is the perfect time for women leaders to let their skills shine bright. And that’s not just because of the COVID situation. The more masculine, ego-driven, command-and-control style of leadership is on its way out and is being replaced with a culture of collaboration, creativity, emotional intelligence and engagement. It’s never been more important for women executives and up-and-comers to embrace the characteristics and abilities that women bring to the table.
Women leaders don’t need to mimic masculine behaviors to do a great job. Not only do we have everything we need to lead on our own terms, our natural abilities and characteristics are exactly what organizations need, now more than ever. Here’s some advice to help rising women leaders as well as veteran executives bring out their best qualities and help their organizations thrive during difficult times.
Act like the leader you strive to be. If you aren’t in a leadership role yet (and even if you are), think of each day at work as an audition for your future career as an executive. The better you act the part, the more likely you will be “cast” in the role someday. This includes not only your attitude, accomplishments and work ethic, but how you present yourself each day.
Go big or go home. Don’t confuse busyness with productivity or progress. Even if you’re the world’s greatest multitasker, resist the urge to get lost in distracting activities such as cleaning out your inbox or organizing files. You may pat yourself on the back afterward, but meanwhile you’ve put off that important but complicated project you need to deliver. Remember, going after significant projects is what gets you noticed—and now more than ever, your concentrated efforts could make a lasting impact on the success of the organization. Don’t put yourself in the slow lane!
Focus on the task at hand. Women executives are more than just leaders. We are also wives, mothers, teachers, caretakers, disciplinarians, housekeepers, chefs and more. And when we go to work, we bring our whole selves with us. That means it is crucial to focus on the task in front of us and compartmentalize the demands of our personal lives—especially when we are working from home. This takes a lot of self-control, but anyone can master the skill with practice. We must also push our “self-awareness button” so we know when our personal life is spilling over into work. We have to know when it may be time for a quick walk to regain our focus, or phone a friend, or leave “the office” early.
Be a woman, phenomenally. In other words, be who you are. Whatever you do, don’t try to act like a man. Mimicking the attitudes of your male counterparts won’t get you where you want to be. Stepping into the “real you” is freeing and enhances your effectiveness in any role. So be yourself—from your personal style to your personality—and let it show, even if only over a Zoom call!
Speak your mind. You don’t have to be aggressive to make your point of view known. For leaders, assertiveness is an essential skill for success, and it’s a skill every woman can develop. I recommend what I call “respectful truth-telling,” which simply means expressing your feelings and needs in a direct and honest way. This is a good way to get the respect you desire, along with what you want. For example, here are a few ways to ask for what you need using respectful truth-telling:
- I am confused. Can you help me understand?
- Excuse me, can I have ______?
- I could really use your support in ______.
- Can we talk about an area where I need some additional support or resources?
Let your nurturing side show. Do not underestimate the power of nurturing in moving an entire organization’s agenda forward—especially at a time when everyone is stressed and worried about the future of the company. People will accomplish amazing things when they believe they are valued for their work and encouraged to grow. They are a more energized and engaged workforce. Organizational success becomes the byproduct. Don’t hesitate to be your warm, encouraging, uplifting self at work. A nurturing leader can unlock human potential in an organization and take it to a whole different level.
Keep cultivating strong relationships. Women are naturally great relationship-builders and give their all to most every relationship they have—whether with a team member, partner, child or friend. This willingness to engage with others sets us up for great success. You can even do this in the age of COVID by scheduling periodic virtual chats or phone calls to catch up with your network. This keeps your connections strong even when you cannot regularly meet face to face.
When the going gets tough, surround yourself with positive relationships in the workplace as well as in your personal life. Your network will inspire you when you feel discouraged, recharge your batteries when you feel burned out, and celebrate with you when you achieve new milestones.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help… Women are typically very comfortable reaching out to friends for advice, company or someone to listen. This serves us well in business because we are more willing to say, “I need a hand,” or, “Can I please get your input on this?” After fighting for our career advances, asking for and receiving help when we need it is a common practice.
…And help others in return. Because women are wired to nurture others and help them succeed, roles like mentoring and helping employees integrate meaning and purpose in their work come naturally. They also offer a safe place to vent frustrations and work through challenges as a woman executive.
Mentors can play a significant role in the successful onboarding of new female executives, who are usually in the minority and can bumble around for months, sometimes years, before they connect with other female leaders in the organization. A planned connection could increase comfort levels in the early phase of employment and ease the transition into and understanding of organizational culture.
Women should feel proud of the attributes they bring to any organization. Our touch is unique and doesn’t have to be masked or perceived as a sign of weakness. We are effective leaders being fully who we are… leading our way. PM
Jackie Gaines, MS, RN, is an award-winning senior healthcare executive and author of The Yellow Suit: A Guide for Women in Leadership, available at amazon.com.