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’.

Top 10 Management Tips for New Managers

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1. Choose respect over love without morphing into the Grand Dictator A new higher level position doesn’t give you automatic permission to order people around and watch their every move – would you have appreciated that in your previous role? On the other hand, as human beings we are often conditioned to seek approval so many new managers experience cognitive dissonance as a desire to be approved interferes with their ability to lead. Your staff are relying on you to be their manager which means that generally you cannot be their friend. Making the tough decisions and being respected by your people are the hallmarks of an effective leader.

2. LEAD by example – Become a Role Model People will always learn what behaviour is acceptable by your actions. Role models in the workplace are often characterised by credibility and have built trust by doing what they say they will do or being upfront if they are not able to keep their promise for any reason. You have probably worked for several different managers over the years so examine what motivated you and just as importantly, what didn’t.

3. Master the Art of Influence A big part of your new role will involve requesting people to complete tasks and projects on your behalf. Clearly explaining content, timeline and why that staff member has been asked to assist with the task increases influence and reduces ambiguity.

4. Compare leadership styles with your predecessor One of the most common mistakes new managers make is changing who they are to fit a pre-determined ‘manager’ mould. One of the reasons you got the job is because of who you are, however possessing a leadership style that differs from your predecessor will mean your staff will need to align with a different set of expectations and preferences. You can’t expect your team to know how these have changed unless you tell them so encourage an open conversation around similarities and differences between leadership styles.

5. Preparation is the key Preparation is the key to success at any level – however tracking projects (who they are assigned to, expected outcomes/dates and their current status) allows everyone to be on the same page and work more effectively as a team. This may be the first time you are responsible for recruiting new team members. Prepare ahead when hiring new staff – hire for team fit, train for skill and ensure you have a comprehensive and planned on-boarding process for when they arrive.

6. Manage your stress Stress may be a part of any new management role for a period of time as you adjust to the extra responsibilities and tasks. It is important that you recognise your own personal signs of stress and stress management tactics that work for you. Don’t be tempted to flag that yoga workout in lieu of spending some catch up time in the office – extra-curricular activities and having good ‘sounding’ people outside of work will help you to get through the busy times and initial learning curve.

7. Understand individual differences and communication style Your role now involves managing a team of people with different styles of working, decision-making and communicating. While your team’s individual styles may not be how you approach your work, if the results are good than you will need to learn to accept these differences. Get to know your team, making an effort to spend time with them both as individuals and a group and this will help inform professional and personal growth plans as well as establish the ground rules of team communication.

8. Organisational Culture Companies all have their own culture and it is essential to understand what is important in your organisation. Spend some time getting a feel for the company environment and mission and remember that by representing the organisation as management everything you say can be perceived as a company statement regardless of its intent.

9. Managing Up In other words, an effective manager knows how to handle and manage their own boss. All levels of the organisation (including your manager) have things to accomplish in order for everyone’s job to be completed successfully so ensure you keep your manager up to date on all projects including the issues. Your manager is there to also provide guidance however you should discuss a preferred communication method with them in order to gain the best results – do they prefer a weekly catch up or emails as the issues arise?

10. Accept that you will make mistakes You cannot possibly know everything the first day your start any new role and management is no different. However it is important to realise that now your mistakes are likely to affect the team. Instead of beating yourself up about it, come clean, rectify where possible and learn from the error in order to improve your leadership skills.


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