Thursday, June 28, 2018

Let Your Leadership Style Shine Regardless of Company Culture

Being a leader doesn’t end when girls leave Girl Scouts! In our new monthly series, Changing the Face of Leadership, we explore how Girl Scout alums can continue empowering themselves by changing the game at work and in their communities.

Decisive. Confident. Empowering. When we discuss the qualities of great leaders, these are the words we'll often hear. And they sound particularly familiar to Girl Scouts and Girl Scout alums who, from a young age, learned the importance of taking action, persisting through challenges, and trying new things to build their leadership skills.

Those terms, however, aren’t always used equally between male and female leaders, and that matters for any woman aspiring for a promotion.

The Harvard Business Review recently examined positive and negative leadership attributes and their connection to gender. According to the study, women were more likely to have negative attributes assigned to them, like inept, selfish, and frivolous, while men were more often assigned positive ones, like confident, competent, and level-headed. The most positive quality assigned to a man was "analytical"; the most positive quality designated to women was "compassionate."

Similarly, a Pew Research study on gender perception in the workplace found that although 80 percent of the public believes men and women make equally good business leaders, 27 percent say that men are more decisive than women, and 21 percent believe that men are more ambitious than women. And when it comes to traits assigned to women, 65 percent of adults say being compassionate better describes women than men.

As the Harvard Business Review suggests, people tend to perceive some characteristics as more valuable from an organizational standpoint—a manager might be inclined to promote someone who is "analytical" rather than "compassionate," for instance—even though traits like compassion, humility, and empathy are also viewed as valuable leadership attributes.

As many women in power know all too well, showcasing the more highly valued attributes can turn into a double bind: be decisive, but don't be bossy. Be assertive, but don't come off aggressive or pushy. Unfortunately, this leadership perception paradox affects how quickly women rise into leadership roles.

So what do we do if some of our inherent leadership qualities aren't as highly prized by our workplace? If we're going to change female leadership stereotypes, it's vital that we allow our individual leadership styles to shine. There isn't an overnight solution, but here are a few suggestions for where to start.

1) Remember your core values.

Being everything to everyone, whether in our personal lives or our work lives, is impossible. Instead, remind yourself of your core values—maybe that's speaking out against unfair practices, being straightforward with your colleagues, or striving for excellence rather than perfection—and make sure you stand for those values at work. Write them down, and display them in your workspace. When you make a conscious effort to align with your core values, it’s easier to stay true to your leadership style, and you'll help colleagues see you the way you want to be seen.

2) Lead by example.

Think back to your former managers; whom do you admire most? Chances are, it’s the person who led by example. The one who commanded respect by being respectful of you and your time. The one who was open about expectations and where you stood. Or even the one with whom you disagreed, but who made you feel heard.

Lead like a Girl Scout: model the behaviors that you want to see on your team. 

3) Seek out new experiences.

Remember the sense of pride you felt when you tried something new in Girl Scouts and succeeded? By going outside our comfort zones, we build confidence and expand on what we thought was possible. Challenge yourself like a Girl Scout by regularly trying new things, whether through a class that increases your current skill set, a project outside your department at work, or a side hustle completely unrelated to your work. As you acquire new skills, you won't feel like you have to "fake it ‘til you make it." And what’s more authentic than that?

4) Open the feedback loop.

It might sound terrifying, but asking for feedback is your opportunity to start an empowering conversation for you and your colleagues! By being open to feedback and showing people you value their opinions, you build their trust in you as a leader. And an honest, external perspective is crucial for making sure you're the authentic leader that you want to be.

5) Create a work strategy, and show the results.

Connect your core values to your company's core values, and document them as part of a successful work strategy. Leaders deliver results, so show how your unique leadership abilities tie to your company's goals. For instance, if your collaborative spirit helped your team work more efficiently, document your efforts and the results. Added bonus: on days when you feel challenged at work, rereading those results is a great reminder that you bring something valuable to the table!

And if being compassionate and empathetic are your main leadership attributes? Own them! You may not break down existing corporate culture right away, but you can help create an authentic workspace where your coworkers are their best, most productive selves.