This article is the third of our 7-part women’s leadership series on creating leadership identity, based on principles from Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, by Lois Frankel, Ph.D.  Be sure to refer back to the second article of this series, for practical ways you can actively cultivate your brand and shine a light on your expertise.

No doubt you’ve heard the saying, “Your actions speak so loudly that I can’t hear a word you’re saying.” In this article, we’re going to cover how you act, or those self-initiated behaviors that speak to your level of assertiveness, decisiveness, and confidence – all traits of a strong, effective leader.

Taking some wisdom from Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, Dr. Lois Frankel describes it this way:

“Success in the world of business depends on your ability to know your part and how to play it . . . we are judged by whether we understand the nuances of what it means to act professionally. [There are] subtle, stereotypical ways in which women behave that [can] contribute to an overall impression of their being less competent than they really are.”

Your job in developing your leadership identity is to become acutely aware of your actions – with colleagues, direct reports, and senior leadership.  What are they saying about you?  Are they saying you have confidence and future leadership abilities, or are they saying you aren’t quite ready yet for the big time?

Below are some of the ways our actions can show us to be less-than-competent leadership material:

  • Polling – We ask way too many people for input before making a decision.
  • Not asking questions – We’re afraid to voice a question or ask for clarification because we fear looking incompetent or confused.
  • Sharing too much personal information – We tell colleagues or our manager about problems at home or other stressors – in way too much detail at times – that can paint us as being less than able to handle our work.
  • Helping, to our detriment – We want to make others happy, lessen their burden, and so we jump right in to help – but often with menial tasks.  In the end, we’re burned out, and we look like more of the worker bee than the leader.
  • Avoiding finances – This takes many forms, from avoiding salary negotiations, to not learning the financial side of our organizations, to not paying attention to our personal financial matters. In other words, we don’t act to become secure in the financial realm, business or personal.

Do any of those on the list ring true for you?  If they do, you’re not alone, and it’s possible to reverse them.  Below are some practical ways to do that:

  • While collaborative decision making is good and a natural strength for women, there are times when we need to make a decision and own it.  Pay attention to the next decision you have to make. If it’s not a life and death situation, just make the decision without eliciting input from anyone else. See what happens.  Chances are your decision is perfectly good – and it will give you even more confidence the next time.  If you are in a situation where it’s absolutely vital to have input, select one or two other trusted people, weigh their input, and then make (and own!) your decision.
  • When it comes to asking questions, learn to become a great question asker.  This takes practice, but it’s well worth it and many times it’s all in how you phrase it.  In your next meeting, make note of any areas that need further clarification.  Begin by saying this:  “I’d like some clarification on something you said earlier.  Can you please revisit section X of the project plan on the budget piece?  Specifically the IT budget.”  Notice that you don’t start the sentence with “I’m confused,”  “I don’t understand,” “You lost me at. . . ” or “Maybe it’s just me, but. . . “
  • With personal information, it’s a careful balance between too little and too much.  Too little, and you look like a robot. Too much, and you look like life is out of control (which it is for all of us at times – we’re human.  You just don’t want to broadcast it to the world). Next time you are tempted to share extra details about a parent’s health issue, trouble with your teenager, or last week’s party, consider the person you are with – if they anyone other than a close, trusted friend, check yourself and hold back.  This is especially true if you’re in the presence of your manager or senior leadership.
  • For all of my helpers out there, you know who you are.  In my view, helping falls into three categories:  (1) there is taking on tasks that help others and help you get to the next level (win-win), (2) there is doing legwork where everyone pitches in (sometimes necessary and can show you’re a team player), and (3) there is being a doormat (you’re continually asked to do mundane tasks.)

Ask yourself which of these categories you usually fall into, and if it’s the third one, you must stop right now!  If you tend to fall more into the second category, you have to start working toward a better balance of the first and second categories.  Remember there is absolutely nothing wrong with being seen as a team player, but you have to ask yourself if doing a certain task will make you look like you’re simply a “doer” or a “leader.”

  • If financial acumen is something you’ve put on the back burner, remember this:  leadership involves being financially confident.  This means personally and professionally.  As an example from my own life, I just opened a stock trading account in the past year. It has taught me not only valuable lessons in personal finances, but also how to follow and invest in financially sound companies.  Other ideas include taking a negotiation workshop, or spending time with someone in your finance department learning about your company’s P&L.  Whatever you choose to do first, make sure you’re doing something to build your financial acumen.

I encourage you to follow any of these ideas, and you’ll see how your actions will speak volumes, in a positive and impactful way, about your abilities as a future leader.

Look for the next article in this series to dive deeper into the next building block.

Visit https://amyfranko.com for more information about custom training solutions and professional development services offered by Impact Instruction Group.  Amy Franko works with emerging women leaders, teaching concepts from the international best-sellers Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office and See Jane Lead to many national companies and organizations.

© 2012 Impact Instruction Group

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