I recently attended an excellent course, Women Advancing in Leadership, run by Emma Walker-Cotton – a specialist in organisational and leadership development. It was a real treat to spend the day with a group of professional women from diverse industries, to share experiences and strategies for becoming the type of leaders we want to be.
To mark International Women’s Day, here are my five top tips for becoming a respected leader in the workplace – inspired by this course and my own learnings so far.
- Dream big.
I know this one may seem a little obvious, but many of us mentally limit ourselves before obstacles even appear. For instance, children and family life are taken into consideration before they are a reality. How about we aim high and then adapt as our circumstances change, rather than opting for a career or job role that is perceived as more flexible or less demanding? Challenge your own assumptions about different career paths and ask a range of people for advice.
- Advocate for yourself.
Women have to break down more barriers in the workplace, so they need to be able to take risks and speak up for themselves – not an easy task, I know. One attendee mentioned that she wasn’t invited to an all-male board meeting alongside a male colleague in exactly the same role – despite having done all the preparatory work.
In a situation like this, you don’t need to be aggressive or go in all guns blazing – but you can confidently ask why a decision like this has been made, and make a case for yourself.
- Don’t apologise!
In the example above, many women would be tempted to use phrases like:
- I’m sorry, but…
- I’m sure I’ve misunderstood but…
- I’m a little confused about why…
- Maybe it’s just me, but…
- I’m not sure I’m totally comfortable with this…
We use these phrases even when we know we’ve understood perfectly well. When you catch yourself using these qualifying expressions, think about what your argument is and remind yourself why you need to be assertive. (A little caveat: sometimes you do actually need to say sorry – just make sure you’re not simply doing it to be ‘polite’ or ‘nice’.)
- Create your own boardroom.
I loved this advice from the course. It’s not easy to shatter that glass ceiling on your own. Ideally you need a strong support network to help you get there. Different perspectives – from both men and women, people of diverse backgrounds, and professionals in your own and other industries – are incredibly beneficial for developing your understanding of leadership, and the type of leader you want to be.
None of us can know everything on our own. Find people who will inspire you, help with specific challenges, give you candid feedback, introduce you to the right people, or simply listen to you vent (we all know who these people are!).
- Say no.
It can be tempting to agree to everything to show willingness and enthusiasm. But this shouldn’t come at the expense of burnout. It’s a real skill to know your own limits, to determine your capacity at different times, and to delegate tasks. There are many tools and strategies to support with this, but ultimately, you need to figure out what works best for you. An achievable workload will give you the space to prioritise effectively and to work on honing your capabilities as a reliable, trusted and authoritative leader in your business.
Do you recognise some of the behaviours mentioned above? I’d love to know your thoughts, and also the advice that you’d share with aspiring women leaders. You can find me on LinkedIn here – let’s chat!