Stepping Into Your Power as a Female Leader
As an executive coach, I get the opportunity to work with a diverse set of leaders: men, women and nonbinary individuals from different regions, professions and industries. Though leadership challenges differ from organization to organization and person to person, there are some common themes. For example, almost all leaders, at some point in their careers, struggle to assert clear and actionable requests and delegate effectively.
For women leaders, these challenges multiply due to structural disadvantages and ingrained behaviors that sometimes work against their ability to lead effectively. If you’re a woman in a position of leadership, how often have you felt hesitant about asking for a raise or offering critical feedback to an employee? Or, if you haven't encountered these issues yourself, how many leaders do you know who have? I think we both know the answer.
Based on my observations of female executives, I offer three pieces of advice that can create extraordinary results for clients and teams alike.
1. Own your experience
The single biggest blocker to most women's career advancement is not a lack of skill, experience or education; it’s imposter syndrome. As a result, most female leaders I’ve worked with have a tendency to diminish their experience. For example, a woman may fulfill 9 out of 10 requirements for a job, but she may not apply to the position because she is missing one of the skills listed. It breaks my heart to see talented and inspiring women playing small and missing opportunities that are then won by less qualified peers.
If you suffer from a case of imposter syndrome, I recommend taking inventory of your strengths (personal, professional, technical, etc.) and achievements. What do you excel at? What sets you apart from others? What are significant challenges you have overcome throughout your career? Reflecting on your positive traits and strengths is a helpful exercise to shift your energy into the right frame of mind and inspire action. Write down your accomplishments, strengths and unique gifts. Own your success, because you worked hard to get where you are.
2. Express your expectations unapologetically
It is impossible to get what you want if you haven't defined your expectations. Reflect and clearly articulate them verbally or on paper and think about the larger context of why you expect what you want. Providing yourself with the context and justification will increase your chances of doing the same in crucial conversations with your manager, business partners or peers.
Once you identify your goals and understand your "why," remove all subjectivity (i.e., emotion) and keep your ask objective. Why is doing so important? Most of the time, subjective asks are driven by emotions and can blur the context, while objective reasons are factual and tangible. If your ask is subjective, reframe it in an objective manner.
For example, a subjective comment might be, “I am not being utilized to my fullest potential. I want to take on more responsibility.” Transform this into an objective approach: "I have repeatedly exceeded my goals based on my performance reviews and achieved X% growth (or employee satisfaction, project success, etc.), and I see the opportunity to apply the same principles of developing a new strategy (or mobilizing a strong team, hiring talent or fill in the blank) by leveraging my strengths, such as problem-solving (communication, collaboration or fill in the blank). Personal growth is an important value and one I need to integrate into my daily work to stay motivated and energized."
See the difference?
One last thing: It’s critical that you are unapologetic about your request. Many female leaders have been habituated to confuse being assertive with being overbearing and grating. But if you fail to ask for what you need, then you’ll continue not getting what you want. Don’t be afraid to lean in.
3. Accept one size larger; you will grow into it
The fact of the matter is that you will never be 100% ready for a growth opportunity. Real growth comes with taking on a new challenge with a degree of uncertainty, a healthy dose of curiosity and an inner excitement that says "go for it." Ask yourself, “Will this opportunity expand my skills, experience and personality?” The answer will give you a sense of what to do.
It is an incredible experience to watch female leaders rise to the occasion after stepping into their power and honoring their experience. You must take ownership of your skills and talents and refuse to take them for granted. Take always one size larger and trust that you will grow into it.