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This article is part of our 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 previous article of this series, on how playing to win shapes your leadership identity.

We have hundreds of interactions and situations we encounter in a day. They’re virtual and live; written and spoken. They take place via email, social media, phone calls, or in meetings and presentations. Your responses in any given interaction broadcast your leadership potential.

With this leadership identity trait, Dr. Frankel points out that many women are socialized to respond to situations in ways that are docile, polite, or acquiescent. Women are not typically taught to stand their ground or respond in powerful, assertive ways.

Think for a moment about how you respond to what’s happening around you. Many times you probably don’t give a conscious thought to your responses. Below are some of the ways your responses can communicate the wrong leadership message:

  • Believing that what got you here will get you there.
  • Allowing others’ opinions to have far too much leverage over your decisions.
  • Routinely putting the needs of others before your own.

We’ve all had these happen at one time or another. One of these on its own isn’t a deal breaker. But if any of these are responses you regularly engage in, it’s time to take a closer look at why it’s happening and what you can do to change it.

  • Believing that what got you here will get you there. This is about internalizing messages. I’ll give you an example from my life. I’m the oldest of five daughters (I know, my poor dad!) and there have always been lots of expectations of me, some imposed by family and some self-imposed. One of those expectations was being “ultra-responsible.” That expectation has served me very well throughout my life and career, to a point. My response to that expectation was to always strive for perfection in any project or assignment given to me. It was done well, it was done on time, and I managed nearly every detail.I had to change when I became a leader. I had to learn new leadership responses – delegating, trusting, and to letting go of influencing every single detail of a project or product. In order to be successful, my response now had to be allowing others to step up and take responsibility.
  • Allowing others’ opinions to have way too much leverage over your decisions. This has a lot of similarities to polling, or unnecessarily asking for the input of others. Where it’s different is when you “know your stuff” and offer a solution or opinion based on your expertise and experience. Then it’s counteracted by another’s opinion and you find yourself second-guessing your judgment or wanting to avoid conflict. The end result is that you accept their judgment as better than yours and it affects the path you take.When you find yourself in this situation, never assume that someone knows more than you – especially when you have the expertise and experience. A new response is to ask the other person to share more information with you. This will help you get to the “why” of his or her opinion before allowing it to sway your decisions.
  • Routinely putting the needs of others before your own. From time to time, we have to put the needs of others before our own; it’s part of the give-and-take of life and work. The key is paying attention to whether you’re routinely putting everyone ahead of you. If it’s routine, it’s a problem, and it manifests itself into things like:

­ – Not advocating for yourself when it comes to assignments and raises

­ – Routinely canceling personal plans for work obligations

­ – Putting everyone in your family ahead of yourself

­ – Having no free time outside of work and family to pursue other interests

­ – Allowing yourself to be a “yes” person to every request

How do you break this habit? Begin with something small and practice. The next time someone needs you to do something that you know can be handled in another way, graciously say “I wish I could help you, but I can’t at this time.” And, if it makes sense, offer another idea on how to delegate the task. Another great habit to get into is scheduling a given amount of free time each day or several days a week. It can be any time of the day where you shut everything off and do something for yourself. Take a walk, indulge a hobby, or just enjoy the peace and quiet. This new way of responding will give you time and space – and it will make you a better leader.

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