Five Strategies to Strengthen and Leverage the Voice of Women Leaders
It’s Women’s History Month—time to celebrate women’s accomplishments in the workplace! It’s essential to take a moment to recognise women's contributions when you consider that in 2020 women still made just 84% of what men earned for the same job and were significantly underrepresented in leadership roles, according to Pew Research.
The argument about whether women can be great leaders is one that needs to be put to rest. Research has long shown that women excel in leadership roles. To empower women colleagues and to reassure anyone who may have an unconscious bias against women who apply for leadership positions, Dr. Vicki Halsey, VP of Applied Learning at The Ken Blanchard Companies. shares these findings:
Women leaders are rated as being more competent than men on 11 out of 12 dimensions of leadership, according to Forbes.
Having women in senior leadership roles also translates into greater profitability. A study by Credit Suisse found 25% of women in decision making roles had a 4% higher average return on investment—and companies with 50% of women in senior leadership had a 10% higher cash flow return on investment.
“With incontrovertible evidence like this, organisations not aggressively pursuing the cultivation of women executives are making the expressed, intentional choice to disregard evidence, severely undermining performance and compromising their organisation’s potential.”
It’s crystal clear that women's unique voice is needed to help people thrive! So, as a way of encouraging dynamic women such as yourself to climb the leadership ladder, Halsey's acronym WOMEN shares five strategies you can use to create the future of your dreams!
W = Ask WHO Questions
From Halsey's experience, successful women are fabulous at focusing on what they need to do, when they need to do it, and why they need to do it. Then they go out and get it done!
Women have got the what, when, and why down. Now, as more women seek to move into leadership positions, we might want to focus on who. Here are some who questions you can ask to rocket your career to new heights!
Who can help me do this task?
Who can I delegate this to, so I can protect my time and build competence in others?
Who do I want to meet?
Who can I observe to see how the best and brightest do this task?
Who do I want on my personal board of directors?
Who can I endorse and build their confidence, so they are ready to step into a leadership position?
Who do I want as a mentor?
Who can I partner with who energises me?
Who can I and other leaders champion to help them get more visibility?
O = Be OTHER-Focused
Great women leaders are other-focused while keeping their eye on their own work. If someone asks them for help, they are immediately of service. They think of that person and what is important to them, and ask themselves, “How can I best help them?” They never lose sight of what that person wants to accomplish, sending them articles and ideas, checking in on their progress, and being an accountability buddy to ensure the person is successful.
Other-focused women leaders know when to tell people how to do a task and when to ask someone to share how they think they would like to do a task. They know this because, just like a good doctor, they diagnose the task and the person’s demonstrated competence before responding. They are mindful of individual differences and communicate, recognise, and encourage people in a way that is meaningful to them.
M = Use MOMENTUM to Make Things Happen
Inspiring women leaders are energised by momentum. They are always seeking to do things better and faster, help the greatest number of people to succeed, and drive organisational vitality. They are always learning, reflecting on their actions, analysing what they think would be best, and sharing their insights with others.
Momentum comes in many different forms such as speaking up in meetings. Here’s a helpful tip to ensure people listen to your ideas: Instead of giving your suggestions or recommendations in the form of a question such as “What if…” or “How about…,” be direct and say, “Here’s what I think we should do.” That way, people don’t think you are asking a question that drives their need to problem solve.
When you present your ideas, remember: if you hear no, it doesn’t necessarily mean no. No can mean lots of things such as “I’m hungry” or “I’m too busy today and don’t have the bandwidth to consider it.”
Here’s a funny anecdote that some of you may have experienced, between Halsey's very rational husband and herself. They were driving home with their kids from a long hike, and everyone was hungry. Halsey's husband said, “Let’s go out to dinner!” Then he asked Halsey, “Where would you like to go?” Halsey said, “How about that new place?” He thought for a minute and said, “Nooo.” Then Halsey said, “Well, how about the ABC restaurant?” And he thought for a few seconds and said, “Nooo.” And then Halsey said, “I’ve got it! How about if we go to the place everybody loves, the XYZ restaurant?” And again, he said, “No I’m not really feeling that tonight.”
At this point, Halsey thought to herself how come we never get to go where I want to go? So she decided to address that. Halsey asked, “How come you never want to go where I want to go?” He said, “Well, you didn’t say where you wanted to go.” What’s the moral of that story? He was right. Halsey just kept asking questions—and, being a rational guy, he just gave me his answers. Remember this when you’re pitching ideas in the boardroom. State your recommendation (like Halsey should have): “Let’s get off at the next exit and go to Buca de Beppo.” Which Halsey did, and they went, and it was delicious.
One last tip. If you have to say something that might upset someone, don’t start your sentence with “I’m sorry.” Say something like, “Thanks for taking the time to chat.” This expression of gratitude makes the listener more receptive to what you’re about to say.
E = Be Comfortable with EMOTIONS
Awesome women leaders realise that emotions should be acknowledged and embraced. Leveraging emotional intelligence is one of their superpowers.
When Halsey was in her doctoral program, she read In a Different Voice by Carol Gilligan of Harvard. It was revolutionary for her. Halsey did have a different voice—a woman’s voice. When Halsey was a school administrator, colleagues would often tease her by saying, “Oh Vicki, you’re so sensitive! Do you always have to ask how this will impact the students (or teachers or parents)?” This often triggered a sense of shame and powerlessness that came from her childhood admonitions. When Halsey was little, she was often told she was too emotional. If Halsey got excited or upset, she would constantly hear negative comments from her parents that sent the message “People like you don’t make it in the real world!” In other words, they felt expressing emotions would hinder my success.
The truth is the opposite. Now, in a time when people are feeling so strongly about everything, the ability to be aware of and acknowledge your emotions and the emotions of others is the ultimate relationship builder. Creating a place where your people can release negative emotions and amplify positive ones is a special gift. It’s what makes women leaders such a tremendous benefit to an organisation.
N = NURTURE Yourself and Others
Nurturing is a profound concept. It encompasses mindfulness, boundaries, and caring for ourselves and others. Fabulous women leaders realise that our bodies are the holding tanks for our brilliance. No bodies, no brilliance.
Because of this, women leaders protect their time, helping their people take brain breaks and look after their bodies. They run effective meetings so that people are energised, not drained. They stop every hour for a “mindfulness minute” to drink water, exercise for a minute, call someone, or praise someone. They know self-care renews their energy, their ability to be compassionate, and their ability to focus. And they know it’s much harder to be compassionate when you’re drained.
Last, women leaders watch their thoughts carefully. As Margie Blanchard, one of Halsey favourite women leaders, says: “Don’t say it unless you want it!” They realise there is a profound connection between their thoughts, physiology, and outcomes. Since the brain stores information in images, which the body reacts to, they keep their minds filled with desired outcomes and a vision of what they want.
For example, if you say, “I’m exhausted,” what happens in your body? It wilts. But if you say, “I am so energised and excited to go into this meeting and learn something from everyone,” your body becomes energised.
Embrace Yourself. Embrace Success.
Women leaders: the world needs your unique point of view and your energy—for unleashing the power and potential of others!
Keep on leading. Keep on inspiring. Keep on challenging yourself to take even better care of yourself than you already are! Let others hear your powerful voice. Model for others the gifts of clarity, influence, and autonomy. And watch the world return it to you in abundance.
About the authors:
Dr. Victoria Halsey is Vice President of Applied Learning for The Ken Blanchard Companies®, Vicki partners with organisations to design and deliver programs that meet their needs through interactive workshops, keynotes, webinars, podcasts, and other classroom and elearning experiences.