Five Strategies to Strengthen and Leverage the Voice of Women Leaders

It’s Women’s History Month—time to celebrate women’s accomplishments in the workplace! It’s essential to take a moment to recognize our contributions when you consider that in 2020 women still made just 84% of what men earned for the same job and were significantly underrepresented in leadership roles, according to Pew Research.

The argument about whether women can be great leaders is one that needs to be put to rest. Research has long shown that women excel in leadership roles. To empower women colleagues and to reassure anyone who may have an unconscious bias against women who apply for leadership positions, I share these findings:

  • Women leaders are rated as being more competent than men on 11 out of 12 dimensions of leadership, according to Forbes.
  • Women leaders score higher than men in 17 of 19 leadership competencies, according to Harvard Business Review.
  • And 33% of people who work for a female manager are engaged at work, compared to 27% who work for male managers, according to Gallup.

There’s more: Female managers are more likely than male managers to encourage employee development, check in frequently on their employees’ progress, have regular conversations about their performance, and praise their people.  They are also better at collaborating and are perceived as being more empathetic and trustworthy. And they are significantly better listeners.

Perhaps Forbes best summed up the facts:

Having women in senior leadership roles also translates into greater profitability. A study by Credit Suisse found 25% of women in decision making roles had a 4% higher average return on investment—and companies with 50% of women in senior leadership had a 10% higher cash flow return on investment.

“With incontrovertible evidence like this, organizations not aggressively pursuing the cultivation of women executives are making the expressed, intentional choice to disregard evidence, severely undermining performance and compromising their organization’s potential.”

It’s crystal clear that your unique voice is needed to help people thrive! So, as a way of encouraging dynamic women such as yourself to climb the leadership ladder, my acronym WOMEN shares five strategies you can use to create the future of your dreams!

W = Ask WHO Questions

From my experience, successful women are fabulous at focusing on what they need to do, when they need to do it, and why they need to do it. Then they go out and get it done!

We’ve got the what, when, and why down. Now, as more women seek to move into leadership positions, we might want to focus on who. Here are some who questions you can ask to rocket your career to new heights!

  • Who can help me do this task?
  • Who can I delegate this to, so I can protect my time and build competence in others?
  • Who do I want to meet?
  • Who can I observe to see how the best and brightest do this task?
  • Who do I want on my personal board of directors?
  • Who can I endorse and build their confidence, so they are ready to step into a leadership position?
  • Who do I want as a mentor?
  • Who can I partner with who energizes me?
  • Who can I and other leaders champion to help them get more visibility?

O = Be OTHER-Focused

Great women leaders are other-focused while keeping their eye on their own work. If someone asks them for help, they are immediately of service. They think of that person and what is important to them, and ask themselves, “How can I best help them?” They never lose sight of what that person wants to accomplish, sending them articles and ideas, checking in on their progress, and being an accountability buddy to ensure the person is successful.  

Other-focused women leaders know when to tell people how to do a task and when to ask someone to share how they think they would like to do a task. They know this because, just like a good doctor, they diagnose the task and the person’s demonstrated competence before responding. They are mindful of individual differences and communicate, recognize, and encourage people in a way that is meaningful to them.

M = Use MOMENTUM to Make Things Happen

Inspiring women leaders are energized by momentum. They are always seeking to do things better and faster, help the greatest number of people to succeed, and drive organizational vitality. They are always learning, reflecting on their actions, analyzing what they think would be best, and sharing their insights with others.

Momentum comes in many different forms such as speaking up in meetings. Here’s a helpful tip to ensure people listen to your ideas: Instead of giving your suggestions or recommendations in the form of a question such as “What if…” or “How about…,” be direct and say, “Here’s what I think we should do.” That way, people don’t think you are asking a question that drives their need to problem solve.

When you present your ideas, remember: if you hear no, it doesn’t necessarily mean no. No can mean lots of things such as “I’m hungry” or “I’m too busy today and don’t have the bandwidth to consider it.”

Here’s a funny anecdote that some of you may have experienced, between my very rational husband and me. We were driving home with the kids from a long hike, and everyone was hungry. My husband said, “Let’s go out to dinner!” Then he asked me, “Where would you like to go?” I said, “How about that new place?” He thought for a minute and said, “Nooo.” Then I said, “Well, how about the ABC restaurant?” And he thought for a few seconds and said, “Nooo.” And then I said, “I’ve got it! How about if we go to the place everybody loves, the XYZ restaurant?” And again, he said, “No I’m not really feeling that tonight.”

At this point, I thought to myself how come we never get to go where I want to go? So I decided to address that. I asked, “How come you never want to go where I want to go?” He said, “Well, you didn’t say where you wanted to go.” What’s the moral of that story? He was right. I just kept asking questions—and, being a rational guy, he just gave me his answers. Remember this when you’re pitching ideas in the boardroom. State your recommendation (like I should have): “Let’s get off at the next exit and go to Buca de Beppo.” Which I did, and we went, and it was delicious.

One last tip. If you have to say something that might upset someone, don’t start your sentence with “I’m sorry.” Say something like, “Thanks for taking the time to chat.”  This expression of gratitude makes the listener more receptive to what you’re about to say. 

E = Be Comfortable with EMOTIONS

Awesome women leaders realize that emotions should be acknowledged and embraced. Leveraging emotional intelligence is one of their superpowers.

When I was in my doctoral program, I read In a Different Voice by Carol Gilligan of Harvard. It was revolutionary for me. I did have a different voice—a woman’s voice. When I was a school administrator, colleagues would often tease me by saying, “Oh Vicki, you’re so sensitive! Do you always have to ask how this will impact the students (or teachers or parents)?”  This often triggered a sense of shame and powerlessness that came from my childhood admonitions. When I was little, I was often told I was too emotional. If I got excited or upset, I would constantly hear negative comments from my parents that sent the message “People like you don’t make it in the real world!” In other words, they felt expressing emotions would hinder my success.

The truth is the opposite. Now, in a time when people are feeling so strongly about everything, the ability to be aware of and acknowledge your emotions and the emotions of others is the ultimate relationship builder. Creating a place where your people can release negative emotions and amplify positive ones is a special gift. It’s what makes women leaders such a tremendous benefit to an organization.

N = NURTURE Yourself and Others

Nurturing is a profound concept. It encompasses mindfulness, boundaries, and caring for ourselves and others. Fabulous women leaders realize that our bodies are the holding tanks for our brilliance. No bodies, no brilliance.

Because of this, women leaders protect their time, helping their people take brain breaks and look after their bodies. They run effective meetings so that people are energized, not drained. They stop every hour for a “mindfulness minute” to drink water, exercise for a minute, call someone, or praise someone. They know self-care renews their energy, their ability to be compassionate, and their ability to focus. And they know it’s much harder to be compassionate when you’re drained.

Last, women leaders watch their thoughts carefully. As Margie Blanchard, one of my favorite women leaders, says: “Don’t say it unless you want it!” They realize there is a profound connection between their thoughts, physiology, and outcomes. Since the brain stores information in images, which the body reacts to, they keep their minds filled with desired outcomes and a vision of what they want.

For example, if I say, “I’m exhausted,” what happens in my body? It wilts. But if I say, “I am so energized and excited to go into this meeting and learn something from everyone,” my body becomes energized.

Embrace Yourself. Embrace Success.

Women leaders: the world needs your unique point of view and your energy—for unleashing the power and potential of others!

Keep on leading. Keep on inspiring. Keep on challenging yourself to take even better care of yourself than you already are! Let others hear your powerful voice. Model for others the gifts of clarity, influence, and autonomy. And watch the world return it to you in abundance.

Leave a Reply