Women in Leadership: The double-bind of assertiveness and influence

minute‘I don’t have a traditionally female way of speaking – I’m quite assertive. If I didn’t speak the way I do, I wouldn’t have been seen as a leader. But my way of speaking may have grated on people who were not used to hearing it from a woman. It was the right way for a leader to speak, but it wasn’t the right way for a woman to speak. It goes against type.’

 

These are the words of Kim Campbell, who served as Prime Minister of Canada in 1993.

It’s a message that’s not uncommon when female leaders talk about the challenges they face in being influential in powerful roles. The dilemma boils down to a few core points:

1. Whether we like it or not, even in the 21st Century, mainstream societies all over the globe perpetuate stereotypes about how women (and men) should behave

2. We are all primed to succumb to these associations about men and women, and sometimes they happen on a such a subconscious level that we hardly recognise our own biases

3. As leaders, women need to understand these biases (I didn’t say condone them) and develop a level of awareness and a range of skills that enable them to shine and be influential.

So how do we do that? In practical terms, there many ways to achieve this, but here are three simple concepts that you can explore to shape and cultivate your leadership influence as a woman…

#1 Understand the dynamics of male and female communication

That’s right, we all know that there are gaps in the way we relate between the genders at times. But what are the common ones, why do they exist, and what can you do to navigate them and minimise the potential for misunderstanding?

#2 Optimise your confidence

Yes, it’s true that we women win all the prizes when it comes to being our own worst critics. To be influential, you need to be confident – and to be confident, you need to back yourself. So we need to learn how to find the right balance between confidence and modesty, assertiveness and diplomacy.

#3 Get into the Driver’s seat

Understand that more opportunities present themselves to people who are open to them and seek them out. As women leaders we need to know how to set ourselves up to thrive, how to ensure our lives are richer for the experience, and how to make sure we take other women along with us.

Investing in our potential as leaders is the kind of investment that pays off – not just for us, but for all of the people around us. Too many women leave their leadership careers to chance, and never take the time to examine their abilities as a leader, how they influence others and what their potential could be. Don’t let that be you.

Written by Pamela Cronin

Pamela Cronin facilitates Bright*Star’s Leadership Development for Women.  

NEW Speakers for Web 201318Pamela Cronin has more than 15 years’ experience working with organisations across the public and private sectors.  Her training combines rich, contemporary theory and stimulating activity, providing practical tips and advice.  Pamela draws on her expertise in the areas of people management, business strategy, communication and team development to deliver challenging learning in a personable way. She is an accredited Team Management Index (TMI) Facilitator, and is the author of the Brooker’s New Zealand ‘Guide to Training and Development’.