One of the on-going issues I find in my mentoring work with women is their wish to be the assertive woman leader, yet at the same time their fear to be so. There is always that sense that they feel trapped – damned if they do, doomed if they don’t. If they be assertive, they are seen to be untrue to their femininity; they are seen to be uncaring. They are regarded as being very forthright, in a negative sense. When men are forthright they are seen as ambitious in a positive sense. Woman are also caricatured by comments like: “She wears the pants” or worse “She’s got balls.” She’s like the men, in other words. It is a damning account.
On the other hand, if they don’t be assertive, their careers are doomed for they become invisible in their organisations and professional and industry sectors. Their potential and talent goes unrecognised. They can feel used. As one woman said to me: “Maree, I’m not walked over like a doormat, I’m wall-to-wall carpet.”
More important is the stress of trying to be nice all the time, looking after and caring for everyone else because they can’t say “no”, being told they are such a “lovely person”, someone the organisation can’t do without, but never being given the opportunities and promotions their male peers get.
This internal conflict, that pulls women back and forth, is so emotionally disempowering. They then see their male counterparts, without the qualifications, experience or commitment they believe they have, getting the opportunities and promotions they feel they deserve. Inside they are screaming. “Look at me. Here I am. Look at what I am doing and can do”, but the words don’t come out. They cannot find their voice.
So Here are Some Suggestion for Becoming The Assertive Woman Leader.
- Be visible. Be strategic in developing your profile, reputation and platform. It’s not WHAT you know today that is important. It’s not even WHO you know. Rather, it’s WHO knows YOU, who has heard your voice and likes what they hear.
- Identify, address and overcome your fears about self-promotion so you can become visible. Make friends with “power” and “influence”, both of which frighten many women, because you need to be at ease with both to advance your career. Be aware of the difference between “power over” and “power to”.
- Act like the leader you want to be. Be decisive and authoritative (but don’t confuse this with being authoritarian). Develop a “Presence”, that demonstrates leadership, in the way you speak, act and dress.
- Develop a mindset that sees the world as flexible and adaptable, not one that is fixed and absolute. Be a possibility and opportunity person.
- Be pro-active, not reactive, positive not negative. Be a glass half full person, not a glass half empty one. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Never go to your manager with a problem for which you haven’t already devised a possible solution. A person with that attitude stands out from the crowd and is very visible.
- Lead from within by drawing on highly developed personal qualities that resource you to manage constructively and pro-actively whatever presents itself to you. This is about developing self-leadership.
- Seek out stretch assignments and projects in your organisation that will let managers see what you are capable of – even if you have to do it in your own time with no extra salary.
- Seize every opportunity that presents itself, even if you haven’t all the KPIs required. Have an “I can do it” attitude. Take risks and run with them. “I will do that and learn doing it.” As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook said: “If you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.”
- Build relationships and connections with the people both within and outside your organisation who have the power, influence, status and contacts to help you grow your career by opening up opportunities to you. This is about networking both internally as well as externally. Your network is your net-worth.
- Manage up. Learn to play to your bosses’ strengths, avoiding anything that may highlight their weaknesses. But don’t just be a “Yes” person, but a “Yes and” person.
- Be right on top of trends in your industry or professional sector, your area of expertise and your organisation. Make your commitment to this learning process obvious to all.
- Get yourself a male mentor who can help you negotiate a pathway through because in most organisations the key leadership positions are still in the hands of men. They are the people with the power and influence to advance your career with and for you.
- As well have a female mentor or female “support” group, women who believe in you and who can share their insights and experience of how they made it so you don’t have to re-invent the wheel at every turn.
- Align your aspirations/dreams with those of your organisation’s. This is about working WITH, not just FOR, your organisation. It’s success is your success. This demonstrates commitment.
- Take responsibility for ensuring your performance is meeting expectations by seeking feedback regularly. You ask the questions of your managers or CEOs that will see you get truthful feedback because they may not have the soft skills to give it to you on their own initiative. You then don’t know you haven’t got what it takes until you miss out on the expected promotion.
- MOST IMPORTANT. Demonstrate that you can think and act strategically. That women tend not to do this may well be the primary reason they are not considered for leadership. Can you analyse a situation in a constructive way, articulate it to others clearly and precisely, develop a strategy for addressing the difficulty present, sell that to your team and lead the implementation of it? Can you work across departments, win inter-departmental support and present it to a Board, for example?