Lead Like a Girl: 10 Ways to Put Your Feminine Strengths to Work at Work, Part 1
As we move further into the 21st century, the face of leadership is becoming more and more feminine. Here, the co-author (along with 19 other women) of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life, identifies 10 traditionally feminine strengths that make women ideally suited to take their place as leaders. This is part 1. Part 2 will appear in the next issue of this newsletter.
For decades, women in business strove to become members of the boys’ club. We mimicked how men thought, communicated, and even dressed. But now, trying too hard to tap into our “masculine side” has gone the way of severely tailored 1980s power wear (complete with giant shoulder pads). Women have realized that we think and communicate differently – which means that we also lead differently. And (here’s the best news) because our natural skill set is increasingly valued in the global economy, we’re perfectly positioned to become today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.
As the powerful and popular campaign by Always proves, doing anything “like a girl” is something to be proud of – and that includes leading!
Women already have the raw material we need to become successful leaders. We just need to shift our attitudes and master the best practices to put these natural skills and abilities to work.
To be clear, this is not a contest between the sexes. As one of my co-authors, Lois P. Frankel, points out, women aren’t better leaders than men – just different leaders. And here’s an added bonus: What followers expect from leaders in the first decades of the 21st century are behaviors and characteristics traditionally associated with women!
Our book brings together 20 nationally acclaimed women authors to share their real-life advice for breaking free of women’s traditional limitations in work and community.
Here, based on the contributions of my co-authors, I share 10 ways you can use your feminine strengths to lead like a girl.
[Editor’s note: Feminine leadership strengths are not exclusively the domain of women. Men can learn from and embody these same strengths. And, as O’Reilly points out, these traits and behaviors are the wave of the future.]
1) Reframe your ideas about power
If you think power necessarily means “command-and-control leadership,” think again. Women wield our own style of power and, frankly, it packs quite a punch. Consider the fact that we influence 85% of all buying decisions and thus are pivotal to the success of many industries. Often, just shifting the way we think about power can make women feel more comfortable with taking the lead.
Co-author Gloria Feldt explains that instead of seeking “power over,” women are more comfortable seeking the “power to.” Feminine power is the ability to accomplish our goals, provide for our families, and make the world a better place – and to help others do the same.
Women understand that more for you doesn’t mean less for me, that power isn’t a finite resource. The more girl power we use, the more of it there is.
2) Don’t try to be the strong, silent type
Because women are seen as talkative and chatty (often non-productively so), many make a conscious effort to hold their tongues in professional settings. But research suggests that this is a misconception: Men actually talk more and hold the floor longer than women during meetings.
Claire Damken Brown, another co-author, says that women’s reputation for wordiness might stem from the fact that our talk patterns are indirect and detail-driven, meaning that we usually provide more background information than men. But research has found that women talk to exchange information and establish cohesion.
So as long as you stay focused on goals instead of gossip and practice the art of the brief response, it’s okay to use your words. Odds are, your feminine communication is making you an effective leader.
3) Ask for help
The traditional image of the “strong” leader is a man who is self-sufficient and capable. He’s the prototypical rugged individualist and never asks for help. Of course, this is an outdated stereotype, but for many leaders (male and female alike), the reluctance to ask for help persists. What we need to understand is that women have long realized the benefits of tapping into the resources and expertise of others – Will you watch the kids? What’s your advice? Can we work together on this? It’s an incredibly efficient –and effective – way to get things done.
For millennia, women have actively built strong, supportive connections to help their “sisters” live their very best lives. Because women don’t mind admitting what we don’t know and are willing to share the credit, we are good at spotting problems and making sure they get fixed. When we don’t let our egos get in the way of asking for help, we’re far more likely to achieve progress and success.
4) Take to the podium, woman-style
How many women do you know who’d rather do almost anything than speak in public? Anxiety about public speaking is common to both women and men, but it’s especially important that women overcome this fear. To advance in leadership roles, women will need to be seen and heard at the podium – and be remembered positively afterward.
Contributor Lois Phillips says women have a natural affinity for public speaking. We tend to provide information to help listeners achieve their goals, rather than to establish dominance over the group or negotiate status. We also want to connect with our audience and have an innate ability to read and respond to their nonverbal cues.
5) Shift your perspective (and theirs, too)
Women have a special brand of resilience. We are able not only to power through tough times, but are often able to creatively use obstacles as teachable moments and stepping-stones. A big part of this quality has to do with an ability to reframe who we think we are and what we think we deserve. (M. Bridget Cook-Burch tackles this subject in the book.)
The stories we tell ourselves about events in our lives are every bit as powerful as the events themselves. For example, if your company is failing in one area, you might see that “failure” as a springboard to move in a fresh new direction. Being able to shift your focus away from what you don’t want to the things you’d like to create will not only help you survive and grow; it can help your entire organization become more future-focused and productive.
As women, it truly is our time to step up and take our place as leaders. When we focus on and hone our feminine skills, we can make a positive impact on our companies, our communities, and our world.
Next time, Part 2: Feminine leaderships strengths 6–10.
Nancy D. O’Reilly is an author of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life. As a clinical psychologist, motivational speaker, and women empowerment expert, she helps women create the satisfying and purposeful lives they want to benefit themselves, their families, and their communities. To help accomplish this, she founded and devotes her energies to fulfilling the mission of Women Connect4Good, a 501(c)3 foundation. To learn more, visit www.drnancyoreilly.com.
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