“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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“Promotion means finding new ways of being successful- and walking away from the old ways that defined success. A leader who tries to be the same leader across all levels is not going to be successful at all.”
~ Matt Pease, DDI Vice President ~
Client Jamie Asks: There are many people in my organization that could benefit from increased executive presence. What should I look for in a business leadership training program? What skills can I expect my people to gain from such a program?
Coach Joel Answers: This is an important step. Your executives and those you are grooming for leadership need to have a whole company perspective. To be successful they must move from a tactical day-to-day approach to a more strategic overview. Here are six skill sets you’ll want your business leaders to develop.
- Step away from the day-to-day. There’s a saying: When you’re up to your ankles in alligators, it’s hard to remember you’re here to drain the swamp. Executives face many compelling day-to-day problems that can eat up all their time. Help your executives learn how to set aside a specific part of their day to reflect on ways they and their team can contribute to the company’s bottom line.
- Look at the big picture. It’s no longer enough to excel in your area. You need a clear view of how your work contributes to the overall success of the company. Get your program to help your leaders elevate their sights.
- Gain self-confidence. This is a mind game, but it’s based on past performance. People need to know they are doing a good job. A key training program will help your leaders assess their past ideas and work. This builds self-assurance which will give then that executive presence that makes people want to follow them.
- Do the work. Find a program that focuses on teaching skills that give real, measurable results. People need to deliver on the high profile jobs they are given. When they manage every project so their work shines, they demonstrate their abilities to co-workers and supervisors. And it gives your people confidence they have the necessary skills to perform at that high level.
- Recognize and seize opportunities. Part of situational awareness is looking beyond current tasks. What else needs to be done? Is there a gap that someone is not filling? Can you take the initiative? Successful executive training courses help with the mind shift necessary to look beyond the average and take those opportunities.
- Focus on solutions. Far too many people spend lots of time discussing the problems. They may lament the shortcomings or complain about the problem. Good leadership seminars will show people how to find solutions.
Jamie, you are wise to look at training your leaders from within. You already know their work ethic and they know the company culture. But leaders don’t just grow on their own.
They need extra and different skill sets. They need a professional to coach and train them to perform at their optimum level. The abilities that have grown them to this point are not sufficient to get them to the top. Unless you train them in those new ways of thinking and acting, you will not help them acquire that executive presence.
Of course you and I both know it can’t be a façade. It can’t be for looks. That leadership, that executive presence has to be backed by a history of success and by skills and vision.
If you need one or two people to gain these skills, I recommend individual coaching. If you want a group of people to grow, a business leadership course can be brought to your executives and tailored to their challenges and the needs of your company.
For more information on how Joel can help your leaders gain that executive presence, contact him.
Talkback: Have you found programs that were successful in developing your leaders?
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“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
~Daniel Goleman ~
Henry is in high level management of a dominant retail company. Because it spreads nationally with global products, Henry deals with leaders on all levels.
“We’ve learned that intelligence, determination, and vision alone, will not guarantee a successful leader,” Henry says. “When we can accelerate cognitive development, we have a better chance at creating successful managers and executives.”
Henry explains that they like promoting from within. The more they can understand and accelerate the abilities of their team to grow these leadership skills, the more successful their leaders become.
“Cognitive development is a way of thinking differently,” Henry says. “How do they interact, motivate, and regulate themselves? How do they think about themselves and to what degree are they concerned about others?”
Henry feels these five specific skills give them a higher probability of becoming successful leaders.
1. Realistic Self-Confidence. Good leaders understand who they are. They recognize their moods, emotions, and what drives them. They know that their moods affect those around them. Their excitement is contagious. Their displeasure can be motivating or discouraging depending on how they use it.
People with cognitive awareness of their strengths and weaknesses tend to not take themselves too seriously. They can laugh at themselves as they build up others.
2. Self Control. Powerful leaders learn not to react immediately to problems or situations. They have the ability to suspend judgment and to think before acting. This gives them time to consider alternatives and options, to step back and evaluate more thoroughly. They can be open to change.
Self control also helps leaders avoid leading with negative emotions. When they master themselves, it’s easier to act with integrity and to be trustworthy.
3. Motivation. Every leader must be a self-starter. Sometimes it seems leadership is swimming upstream. It takes that inner motivation to move forward and influence your organization to produce.
Leaders need a passion beyond money to motivate them to want to work. Even beyond status. “This is one of the traits we discover,” Henry says. “If the leader we are grooming doesn’t have this motivation, there’s not much we can do.”
You’ll see evidence of a manager’s motivation through his team’s commitment to succeed and his or her strong desire to achieve.
4. Understanding People. Leaders need to know what makes people tick. What emotions cause them to work hard? What concerns reduce efficiency? Good leaders are adept at seeing things from someone else’s point of view. Then, the master leader uses that knowledge to help each person be their best.
Leaders develop cognitive awareness of the people around them. This accelerates their leadership expertise as they build trust and retain talent. They exhibit more cross-cultural sensitivity and give better service to customers and clients because they have empathy.
5. Relationship Management. “We find our successful leaders understand how to build networks,” Henry said. “They listen. They respond. And the employees respond to them. It can’t be a manipulative kind of thing. It has to be genuine.”
Leaders use social skills to find common ground, build rapport, and persuade. This is essential in team building. The majority of our communications are non-verbal. A raised eye-brow. A nod. A pat on the back. Leaders with great social skills connect with their organization.
As Henry works with his succession plan, he tries to develop these cognitive leadership traits and increase their strength in each prospective leader. “When we do this, we find it accelerates or amplifies all their other virtues of intelligence, skill sets, and experience,” Henry says. “We are pleased with our results.”
Are you looking for a way to ramp up the effective cognitive development of your leadership? Contact Joel to help you expand on these traits.
Talkback: In your experience, how essential are these cognitive traits for successful leadership?
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“Nothing can be more absurd than the practice. . . of men and women not following the same pursuits with all their strengths and with one mind, for thus, the state instead of being whole is reduced to half.”
~ Plato ~
Client Mary Ann Asks: I’ve got a real dilemma on my hands. I’ve got two very talented managers who have been on my team for several years. Martin is a real go-getter, definitely somebody who gets the job done. Danielle is a great motivator, a real team player that brings out the best in her people. There’s one open position that would be a move up for both of them—but it’s only one position. Which one should I promote? Does gender make a difference? How do I figure out the different male and female leadership styles between the two of them?
Coach Joel Answers: Leadership styles are not gender-neutral. But when you’re looking at a promotion situation such as this one, I think you need to put gender aside for the moment and look at some key management characteristics. Ask yourself these three critical questions:
- What’s best for the job?
- What’s best for the staff?
- What’s best for the person?
Statistically speaking, there are clear differences in male and female leadership styles. A study conducted by McKinsey & Company shows that men and women use key leadership behaviors differently. The three behaviors most often used by women were people development, expectations and rewards, and role model. Women were also more likely to use inspiration and participative decision making. Men, on the other hand, utilized control and corrective action, as well as individual decision making with more frequency. There was virtually no difference in men and women when it came to intellectual stimulation and efficient communication.
So with that in mind, let’s consider those three questions.
1. What’s best for the job? Consider first what outcomes you are expecting for this position. If you are in a growth mode with lots of new initiatives and projects that need motivation and team building, you might lean toward Danielle. On the other hand, if this is a position that involves quick decision-making rather than consensus-building, or if that department is in need of some rebuilding, Martin might be a good choice.
2. What’s best for the staff? Think about the direct reports that this person will have. Will they thrive on a highly creative, free-flowing environment or do they need structure and stability? Think about assertiveness vs. empathy, encouragement vs. direction. Picture each person in the department and visualize him or her reporting to either Martin or Danielle. You’ll know instinctively which manager each person would thrive under. You might end up deciding on the individual who provides “the greatest good for the greatest number.”
3. What’s best for the person? You want to set the individual up for success. Think beyond your own immediate needs for the department and look to the future. Where do you see your department in five years? How does Martin fit that picture? How about Danielle? You also need to think about how you’ll utilize and continue to reward the individual who doesn’t get promoted.
None of the characteristics we’ve talked about are either good or bad—they just are. Your job is to decide which kind of leader is best for your department and your people at this particular time. The bottom line is that both male and female leadership styles have a lot to offer.
Are you faced with a tough promotion decision? Joel can talk you through it—contact him today.
Talkback: How do you think gender differences affect leadership styles? Share your experience here.
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“The best way to predict your future is to create it”
~ Peter F. Drucker ~
Samantha was ready to move up. But she was pretty much at a dead end at her current job. She knew she needed more executive job training before she’d be ready for a profitable transition to another company, but as a single mom, she couldn’t afford to pay for it. Her current job wouldn’t cover it. The executive training had to be free.
“I knew I needed to think and act like an executive before I’d ever have the chance to be in that position,” Samantha said. “I was close. But not there yet. I came up with 4 free sources for executive job training.”
1. Observation. “It cost me nothing to observe other leaders,” Samantha said. “I looked for executives within my current company—ones I liked and admired.” She made a conscious effort to watch their management style. She took notes on how they presented ideas, how they listened to responses, and interacted with team members. “I not only listened to what they said, I watched how they acted, how they moved.” She paid attention to details. “I even listened to their voice inflection and watched other’s reactions.”
2. Books. Samantha started with the free books at the public library. Those books she found especially valuable she bought so she could underline them, cross reference, and add them to her library. “There are a lot of books on job training and executive leadership,” Samantha said. “And they vary widely in quality.” Samantha spent some time on Amazon and other sources reading the reviews. While they were not always accurate, she found them generally helpful in choosing the best books for her.
3. Online Sources. While the quality also varies with web sources, Samantha found plenty of free executive job training there. Some sites offered free white papers on different aspects of leadership. She found blogs, articles, websites and business leadership books that delivered meaningful content. “I downloaded every piece of free training I could find,” Samantha said. “Some coaches and trainers are very generous with their information. It was like getting an MBA.”
4. Study Leaders. “I decided that my leadership style was like Meg Whitman’s—or I wanted it to be like hers,” Samantha said. She felt her personality traits and the way she liked to lead dovetailed into the way Meg was currently leading. So she did an in-depth study of Meg. “I watched her on YouTube. I read every article I could find on her. Then I “put on” her leadership style. I stepped up to a more direct approach. I realized I can be pleasant and still be insightful, deliberate, and exacting.”
Samantha was surprised at how completely her free executive job training paid off! “First co-workers started coming to me for advice and problem solving. Then the management actually created a new position and moved me into it.” Samantha realized that executive training requires work and application whether the training is free or paid.
But in this case, Samantha’s efforts paid off very well.
If you are looking for free training for your executive goals, be sure to visit Joel’s website and access the leadership articles and information there.
Talkback: Have you find great free sources for executive job training? Tell us about them.
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