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The Secrets of Leadership Presence for Every Woman Leader

The first step to leadership presence is acknowledging what needs to change.
The Secrets of Leadership Presence for Every Woman Leader
Image credit: Shutterstock
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5 min read
This story originally appeared on Ellevate

You know that woman who walks into the room, delivers a message and everyone's eyes are glued to her every word? She stands tall, even if she's 5' in height. She commands attention and respect when she speaks, not because of the volume of her voice, but the confidence and energy behind it.

Related: 9 Tips for Succeeding as a Woman in a Male-Dominated World

This woman has what's called "leadership presence." It's one of the key missing ingredients for women striving to advance. We surveyed 25 rising women leaders and found that 65 percent identified leadership presence as a skill they are most eager to develop.

Why? Because they know it will help them achieve the respect they deserve.

Report after report indicates that women are inching their way into senior leadership positions at a snail's pace, currently holding 5.2 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies and only 26.5 percent of executive and senior level positions are regularly highlighted.

What can you do as a woman to accelerate your own development when it comes to cultivating this vital skill and be recognized as a leader? Well, it's not more education. We know that women are already outpacing men in all disciplines with university degrees. And it's not hard work -- women are known to exert a strong work ethic in just about everything they do.

What you may not have is leadership presence. Research shows women need three important ingredients to master this critical area.

1. Confidence

Every client we see struggles with self-confidence, and that's both men and women. Yet women tell themselves, "I wasn't good enough," whereas a man often blames a failure on an external factor unrelated to himself.

Confidence is the underlying issue permeating all of leadership presence. So, what do you do about it?

1. Become more aware of how it gets in your way and how other people see you. Self-awareness is fundamental. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback on how you come across at work. Get a pulse for how you are being received by others.

2. Establish check-ins on what you're feeling and thinking. Become aware of that nasty inner critic that cripples confidence with, "I messed up again!" Reframe those interpretations to more positive ones: "That was a great learning experience." Put that inner critic to bed.

3. Build your confidence through small wins, which will also build credibility and enhance your reputation. Becoming more aware of how you sabotage your self-worth is the biggest step to overcoming a self-confidence issue. In the meantime, "fake it until you become it."

Related: 11 Strategies to Lead and Succeed as a Minority Woman

2. Establish your unique voice

As women, we don't need to sound like men. We need to develop our own voice and point of view.

1. Some women speak in a tone and manner that disempowers their message. They sound young and inexperienced with a soft, high-pitched voice. One 36-year-old smart and capable woman we coached literally sounded like a 15-year-old girl. And she had no awareness that this was impacting her credibility. Record your voice and videotape presentations. See and hear how you come across to your audience.

2. Watch the language you use. Get rid of the "I'm so sorry..." Pay attention to how many times you apologize and ask yourself whether an apology is really necessary, or if it's a bad habit you need to break.

3. Eliminate the doubt when delivering a message. Instead of starting off with, "Maybe we can try it this way..." shift to, "I recommend this approach." You will notice that your words have more impact!

4. Practice, practice and more practice. Not in your head, but out loud. Practice in the mirror and ask for feedback from people you trust. You'll be amazed at the difference it makes.

3. Physical presence

This encompasses how you hold yourself and how you feel in your body. Women have been socialized to fit in. It's time for that to change. That 5' tall woman who commands a room -- what's she doing that makes her stand out? She's comfortable in her own skin, proud of who she is and what she believes in.

1. When standing, check your posture. Bring your shoulders back and hold your head high. Imagine the top of your head being pulled up to the sky, elongating your spine.

2. When sitting, take up space. If you've been invited to the table, you belong there. Don't wrap yourself in a ball with hunched shoulders, crossed arms and legs. Put both feet on the floor, open your chest. This allows your breath to flow more fully and your voice to sound more confident.

3. When meeting someone, look them directly in the eye. This conveys self-assurance.

Related: The Growing Influence of Women Entrepreneurs

If you take only one action as a result of this article, ask for feedback regularly. Sallie Krawcheck, Chair of Ellevate and CEO/Co-Founder of Ellevest, recommends asking, "how did I do?" and "what could I have done better?" at every opportunity. Don't be afraid of the answers -- the first step to leadership presence is acknowledging what needs to change.

(This article was written by the co-founders of Breakthrough: For Women Leaders on the Fast Track. Ellen Keithline Byrne, PhD is a Coach and Leadership Consultant, and founder of Elle Partners, which grows innovative leaders. Karen Kirchner, MS, PCC has a 20-year track record of helping leaders to effect meaningful, sustainable change. Denise D'Agostino, CEC is a Facilitator and Coach who brings practical approaches and a high level of energy enabling leaders and teams to perform and deliver.)

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