Women in Leadership Roles:
Are They Perceived Differently?

Female Leader

“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.”

~ Malcolm S. Forbes ~

Client Ellen Asks: I’m a woman in a leadership role, and I have a question about perceptions. It seems that women are judged differently than men for the exact same actions. Where a man might be seen as authoritative, a woman acting the same way might be seen as bossy. How do ensure that I am projecting the image I desire as a female business leader?

Coach Joel Answers: I’ve often written about the importance of proactively shaping the perceptions others have of you. This is a key strategy to standing out, getting credit for your work and, ultimately, getting ahead.

But what if you’re a woman?

Do any of these comments sound familiar?

  • “I feel inferior to some of the men at my office, even though we have the same titles.”
  • “Most of the meetings I go to have few women and I feel alone and intimidated.”
  • “When I’m in meetings with men, what I say seems less important.”
  • “When I speak up at the same time as a male colleague, my boss always wants to hear what he has to say first.”
  • “When I bring up concerns about details, my male colleagues accuse me of ‘not seeing the big picture.’ So I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.”

I’ve heard these same concerns from a number of clients. These are smart, articulate, highly motivated women in leadership roles at blue chip companies. They feel their gender hinders their ability to shape their image. One woman summed up her frustration by telling me, “I feel like the deck is stacked against me. The rules for men are different. If a man speaks up or challenges someone, he viewed in positive terms as being aggressive or competitive. Yet if a woman does the same thing, she’s called a b—-.'”

Naturally, this isn’t the case with all women and work situations. But if you share some of these concerns or frustrations, here’s what I advise my clients:

Don’t feel guilty about being assertive.

There’s nothing disrespectful or “unfeminine” about being assertive and forcefully expressing your point of view. The best decisions are made when everyone contributes their ideas. You shortchange your company, your customers and yourself by remaining silent or intimidated by “what others will think.” Someone once said, “Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.” It’s time to stop apologizing.

What have you got to lose?

If you’re afraid to speak up, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best that can happen?” Chances are, you’ll find your fears or reservations aren’t justified and the rewards greatly outweigh the risks.

Is it a gender issue or a confidence issue?

When consulting with female clients in depth about this, we’ve often discovered that the real problem isn’t with “them,” it’s with “you.” They were using gender as an excuse. They tended not to speak up at all meetings, not just those with men. They realized they needed to develop a strategy to build their self-confidence. This might involve reading self-help books or attending an assertiveness training class.

Learn from successful role models or mentors.

Seek advice and inspiration from successful women in your organization. Watch them in action, use them as sounding boards, learn how they use or bend the so-called “rules” to get ahead.

Talk to your boss.

During your next performance review, tell him (or her) you want to work at being more assertive and more comfortable at speaking up in groups. Ask for his advice and seek out feedback following meetings: “How did I do?” “Did I come across as too aggressive or confrontational?” “What should I have done differently?”

But what if it really is a gender issue?

My advice is: you can’t change them (the men in your office), you can only change yourself. Pick your fights and avoid fueling their negative stereotypes. In other words, don’t be overly emotional, focus on facts and not personalities, etc. If you continue to be frustrated, look for work someplace else. “Don’t compromise yourself,” the legendary singer Janis Joplin once said. “You’re all you’ve got.”

Don’t let your gender be an excuse. Joel has successfully coached many women, and he can help you reach your full potential too. Click here to learn more about leadership coaching for women.

Talkback: Are you a woman in a leadership position? Have you found that you are perceived differently than the men in your company?

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How Do Others Perceive You?
All You Have to Do Is Ask

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“People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy after.”

~ Oliver Goldsmith ~

A client—we’ll call him Steve—told me he knew a man who sucked all the oxygen out of the room. This person was brilliant, but he talked way too much and annoyed everyone around him. He never knew this because people weren’t willing to tell him and he never asked for feedback on how he was perceived.

Do you know how you are perceived by others in your organization? Even if you think you do, do you really? One of the best ways find out is to simply ask.

Get feedback from your immediate manager, peer, someone you don’t report to, someone more senior than you, your boss’s boss, from your key customers or others outside the organization. Knowing how others perceive you plays a very important role in your own self development.

Here are eight tips to help you ask for, and learn from, feedback so that you will be able to influence how others perceive you at work:

1. Choose the right time and place when asking for feedback.
Select a time when you and the person you’re asking for feedback aren’t busy or preoccupied with other matters. Conduct the conversation in a private place where there will be minimal distractions. It also might help to schedule the meeting in advance to give that person time to think about how you’re perceived and not just offer off-the-cuff responses. Also, when you schedule your conversation in advance, it underscores that you’re serious and consider this a priority.

2. Explain why you’re interested in learning how you’re perceived.
Be sincere and honest. You might say, “I want to make sure I’m projecting a professional image, Sarah. You’ve seen me interact with customers and vendors when we’ve had problems. How do I come across in those situations?”

3. Make it clear you’re not fishing for compliments; you want their honest assessment.
People may hold back or tell you what they think you want to hear. They’re afraid of hurting your feelings or that you might become defensive. Sometimes it helps to admit a personal flaw or shortcoming to encourage people to open up. For example, “I know I get impatient and sometimes interrupt people to get to the point. I’m trying to work on that. Are there other things people have mentioned to you about my personal style?”

4. Above all: DON’T GET DEFENSIVE!
Even though you don’t intend it, you may come across as defensive by the language you use. When someone shares less than positive feedback, avoid confrontational, in-your-face questions like, “What do you mean?” or “Why do you say that?” or “Does everybody feel that way about me?”

5. Ask for specific examples.
If the feedback is critical or sensitive, take the emotion out of the situation focusing on specific examples of the behavior in question. “Gosh, Jim, I didn’t realize that some people think I always have to do things my way. I certainly don’t want to give that impression. Can you think of any examples recently where I’ve done that? Where I might have turned some people off?”

6. Thank them for their feedback.
May it clear you appreciate their feedback. Also, show you’re serious at self-improvement by enlisting their help in the future. For example, “I’ll try to focus on not dominating conversations, Judy. I really do want to hear other people’s opinions. But if I suffer a relapse, let me know, okay? I won’t take it personally. Just give me a friendly reminder to ‘cool your jets.'”

7. Repeat the process with others.
Solicit feedback from others to confirm or clarify areas that indicate improvement or attention. Look for patterns or common themes. Then work to transform these negative perceptions.

8. Take action.
If you handled these feedback sessions skillfully, you now have valuable intelligence that can go a long way at making you a more effective worker/boss/colleague, etc. Develop an action plan to address the negative perceptions you may be creating, and look for opportunities to emphasize the positive perceptions you hope to convey. Remember that perceptions play a critical role in career advancement and success.

Changing perceptions is the first step in Joel’s PVI formula, which he teaches to his executive coaching clients to help them advance more quickly up the career ladder. If you’re ready to start changing perceptions and increasing your visibility in order to influence your way to the top, sign up for Joel’s career advancement coaching.

Talkback: Do you know how your co-workers perceive you? In what areas do you need to work on changing their perceptions?

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How to Deal with Gossip at Work:
7 Steps to Dispel the Drama

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“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

~ Eleanor Roosevelt ~

Client Jonathan Asks: Several of my co-workers like to spread stories without checking to make sure they are true. Recently, someone shared an inaccurate and favorable story about me. What can I do to mitigate the damage?

Coach Joel Answers: Everyone is susceptible to gossip stories at work. But what if the stories are about you? And, even more disturbing, what if they are erroneous and could harm your reputation? Chances are, this won’t happen to you. But, if it does, it’s important to take action.

Once unfavorable stories get created they often get cemented in as a permanent perspective of who you are. This perception becomes their reality and everything else you do reinforces how others see you.

You can have 50 examples of trustworthiness and one false representation and this one malicious example undermines everything else.

During your constant interactions at work it’s possible that things you do might get misinterpreted in a way that is not accurate.

For example, you might be seen as unreliable because you didn’t get something done ontime or be viewed as a loose cannon because you speak up and say things at client meetings that are not appropriate. Some of these stories might be true, but often they aren’t reflective of who you really are at work. The problem is one or two negative stories can cement a perception of you that is actually inaccurate.

Here is a seven-step process to help you deal with workplace gossip and change negative misperceptions into positive (or neutral) ones:

Step 1: Gather information about the unfavorable story.
Without getting emotional or defensive gather as much information as you can about the unfavorable story. This fact-gathering stage is key. You don’t want to fly off the handle, confront someone and make matters even worse.

Step 2: Dispel the unfavorable story.
Go to the source of the story – the person who believes or is communicating the misperception – and explain your situation. Discuss your perspective and what you felt actually happened. Provide enough information so the person understands exactly the truth from your perspective. You could say, “Hi, Carla. I hear you may have some concerns about what I said at the client meeting. Could you tell me about them?” And then, after hearing the other person out, provide your perspective of why you spoke out like you did.

Step 3: Ask about other misperceived stories.
Ask the person if they have any other stories that they would like to share. When you hear the new stories, explain what actually happened versus what was perceived. Provide greater understanding of how these stories could have been misinterpreted.

Step 4: Take responsibility for what you did.
Even though you may not agree with the misperception, you most likely can find some things that you can be accountable for. Show that you have learned a lesson and what you take from this situation. Come up with some examples of what you’ll do differently based on what you have learned.

Step 5: Share favorable stories.
When a person observes something unfavorable, this image gets stuck in their mind. Counter the negative perception by coming up with ways and examples of how you haven’t been that which they think you are. If they think you are untrustworthy, come up with three or four stories illustrating your trustworthiness. These other stories help balance out a one-sided and limited perspective.

Step 6: Ask the person to give you another chance.
Explain how you don’t want to be stuck in their view of something that happened in the past. You sincerely desire to be given another chance to prove yourself. It’s not fair for you to be punished by something that happened only once or it occurred years ago. Get the person to take a risk on you and let you try again. The risk is minimal with tremendous potential upside.

Step 7: Thank the person for their honesty and willingness to help you.
This is one of the best ways to enhance your reputation and clear up any misunderstandings.

Since your career advancement depends on other people’s perceptions of you, it’s important to take action quickly when negative stories about you surface. Get valuable feeback about the way you are perceived at work by completing the perception evaluation here.

Talkback: Have you ever been the subject of unfavorable gossip at work? How did you deal with it?

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Are You Annoying Your Co-Workers?
Employees Share Their Biggest Gripes

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“I’m aware that I can be annoying.”

~ Sandra Bullock ~

Client Eva Asks: As an HR professional, I hear a lot of petty complaints from various employees about their co-workers. Most of the time, the offending party has no idea that he or she is being annoying. How can I be sure that I am not inadvertently aggravating my own co-workers without realizing it?

Coach Joel Answers: Annoying co-workers are a common problem. Fortunately, most people realize that there are frustrating people everywhere, so unless the situation is severe, it is unlikely that they will leave over minor annoyances, especially if action is taken to correct the problem.

However, it is wise to be concerned about how your own behavior might be perceived. A survey conducted by Opinium Research asked people what annoyed them the most at work. Here are the top ten things that drive workers up the wall:

  • Grumpy or moody colleagues
  • Slow computers
  • Small talk or gossip
  • The use of office jargon or management-speak
  • People speaking loudly on the phone
  • Too much health and safety in the work place
  • Poor toilet etiquette
  • People not turning up for meetings on time or not at all
  • People not tidying up after themselves in the kitchen
  • Too cold, cold air conditioning

Now, you probably have little control over the speed of your computers, your office’s OSHA requirements or the setting of your thermostat, but you do have control – at least in terms of your own behavior – over seven of the top ten grievances.

How often are you guilty of these minor annoyances? Do you come to work with an attitude? Try being positive instead.Do you talk about others behind their backs? Stop! Do you use phrases like “think outside the box” or “get our ducks in a row”? Skip the jargon and strive for clear and effective communication. Are you tardy at meetings? Meetings can be a great way to increase your visibility, but you won’t make a good impression by showing up late. Do you neglect to refill the coffee pot when you take the last cup? Be considerate of your fellow employees.

By changing these small and seemingly insignificant behaviors, you can go a long way to make your work place more civil and enjoyable, as well as earning the respect and trust of your colleagues (and boss).

Do you have a habit that your co-workers might find off-putting? Identify the changes you need to make and implement an action plan to help you improve the way you are perceived by your co-workers through Joel’s 7-step executive coaching model.

Talkback: Have you ever had an annoying co-worker? Tell us about him or her, but don’t name names!

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How Your Bad Reputation Could Destroy Your Budding Career

Reputation Poster

“The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”

~ 
Socrates ~

Do you ever feel like your boss simply doesn’t appreciate you? Are you stuck in the same job, unable to advance, with your salary frozen at the same miserable rate? You could be a victim of your own bad habits—habits that may have earned you a bad reputation.

And it doesn’t take a dramatic faux pas—like swinging from the chandelier and calling your boss an idiot during a staff party—to slaughter your reputation. Sometimes, it is the little things that earn us a bad rap.

Here are a few of the career developmentthings you might be doing that could be ruining your career.

1. Exuding sloppiness. Does your workspace look like the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust? A disorganized, cluttered desk creates the impression that you have sloppy work habits and can’t keep on top of things.

Do your clothes look like you’ve slept in them? An unkempt appearance sends the message that you are either too lazy to pick up an iron or you simply don’t care.

Maintaining a tidy and organized work area and a professional appearance will do wonders to clean up your damaged or bad reputation.

2. Doing the bare minimum. Every office has its clock-watchers—the ones who can never be found before starting time and leave at five o’clock sharp. No matter how busy the office is, their breaks are a top priority. They are unavailable to work overtime or take extra shifts. And they avoid tasks that are not part of their job description.

Technically, these individuals aren’t doing anything wrong. They are working during their assigned working hours—but they are unwilling to go the proverbial extra mile. And amongst their bosses and co-workers they are creating a lasting, negative impression—one that will greatly hamper their career.

Do you find yourself staring at the clock, getting ready to leave five minutes before quitting time, and dropping everything to take your coffee break? These seemingly benign actions may be earning you a bad reputation.

3. Moaning. Perpetually complaining, badmouthing co-workers, or having a negative attitude can kill staff morale and poison an office’s atmosphere. These employees are likely to require removal—and this equates to either a dead-end position or the end of the unemployment line.

Employers appreciate staff members who are enthusiastic about making a positive contribution to the company—and they reward them accordingly. Ensure that your interactions have a positive impact on those around you.

4. Having a bad online reputation. Have you repeatedly been turned down for promotions or new employment and don’t understand why? Perhaps you need to examine your internet reputation.

You can bet that prospective employers and clientele will check you out online. That is why it is imperative that you ensure that your photos and comments on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and other social media are appropriate. Make sure you delete anything that you wouldn’t want your future boss to see—because it can never be “unseen.” And the damage to your reputation cannot be undone.

5. Clinging to “old school.” Yes, maybe you have done it that way for the past twenty years. And, yes, your boss has heard the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to change with the times. Being inflexible and unwilling to adapt will quickly earn you a bad reputation and make employers wonder why they keep you around.

If new technologies intimidate you, ask for help, take a course, or buy yourself a Dummies Guide. Never simply refuse to learn.

It doesn’t take a grandiose display of stupidity to annihilate your professional reputation—sometimes it’s just the accumulation of little things. By simply ceasing to engage in these easy-to-fix behaviors, you can greatly enhance how others perceive you—and greatly improve your career path.

Talkback: What are the little things you might be doing that could be impacting your career success negatively? What are you doing to fix this?

Kimberley Laws is a freelance writer, novelist, and avid blogger who loves to use words to entertain and educate.

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