There’s lots of talk about glass ceilings these days, and it’s no wonder. Studies suggest that only 14 per cent of C-Suite seats are occupied by women. Although there is much that companies can do to change this, there are also some fundamental steps women themselves must take to adjust some of their ingrained behaviours if they want to climb the leadership ladder.

Women at Work: 5 Steps to Becoming a LeaderBased on my own experience, I have come to understand the behaviours that permit both male and female leaders to succeed. If I had to name one common thread, it would be confidence. Successful leaders behave in ways that cause them to be noticed, heard, and remembered. And that’s powerful.

There is no question that women must be their authentic selves. The trick is to deliver their uniqueness in the most effective way possible. Here are five rules that will help women who want to move up the corporate ladder.

5 Steps for Women Climbing the Ladder to Leadership

1. Speak First. 

Yes, first, not last. It doesn’t matter if your idea is not fully baked, with all of the possible pitfalls identified. If you wait until everyone else’s ideas are heard while you refine yours or worse, come up with a reason why yours is not a good idea, one of two things will happen:

  • You will never be heard, because you’ll never get the chance to speak, and the conversation will move on.
  • You will never be heard because someone else said it first.

If you have trouble getting the attention of the room when you need it, there are a few techniques you can try. It starts with body language. Be confident. Don’t slump. Lean forward on the table. Or stand up. Move to the front of the room if necessary. Speak quickly and with energy. Turn up the volume.

2. Stop Apologizing.

Stop qualifying your statements. Every time you preface your thought with an apology or a qualifier, you take power away from yourself and give it to the men in the room (because yes, there are likely more men in the room). Stop it! You don’t really believe it when you say you’re not sure if it’s a good idea, right? So don’t say it.

Also, do not apologize for anything you’ve said if someone disagrees with you. Simply acknowledge the comment and thank them for their point of view.

3. Stay in Control.

Many of us have experienced at least some degree of anger and frustration in the workplace. Men and women react differently. Men raise their voices and swear more commonly when they get angry in the workplace. Women often cry when they are angry. You can do that if you want but you won’t be seen as an effective leader. You will be seen as emotional. There is a double standard when it comes to displaying emotion in the workplace.

Conversely, don’t be quick to act the peacemaker. Women have a natural reflex to smooth a situation over and make a conflict go way. It’s not your job to make a disagreement disappear. If you want to diffuse an issue, ask questions. Stay engaged, stay focused, and don’t become defensive. If there’s no way to keep going, then suggest a break and schedule a time to reconvene. Resist the tendency to avoid returning to the discussion. Push past that fear and get back to it.

4. Give Up the Guilt. 

The demands on everyone’s time in a continuously connected world have never been greater. Guilt causes women to overcommit, take care of others first, and put their own needs at the back of the line. Women who have reached top leadership roles have learned how to push guilt to the side. That’s not to say that these women didn’t sometimes feel guilty or perhaps inadequate while trying to balance work and family. We have to realize we often give too much of ourselves.

Women have a more difficult time than men saying no to requests that they really don’t want to do, whether for work, personal life, or the community. Prioritize your time. Be prepared with a polite no: I would love to participate, but my plate is full right now. I just won’t be able to make that commitment.

5. Play to Win.

Don’t be afraid to press your point, to press it hard, and to keep pressing. Women are afraid to take risks in ways that men are not. But you need to be resilient. You need to get comfortable with the idea of rejection in pursuit of your aim.

Women often hate being persisten because they find this behaviour annoying and that’s not a label they want. But the fact is, men often need to hear an idea more than once to digest it. Yes, it can be exhausting. But you have a choice. Either play to win or just sit on the sidelines and be frustrated.

Melissa Greenwell is the author of MONEY ON THE TABLE: How to Increase Profits Through Gender-Balanced Leadership. She is Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of national retailer The Finish Line, Inc. 




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