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In our “Leading Together” series, we’re bringing together women who carved out new career paths, harnessed their skills, and overcame the burnout of managing competing priorities. They’re sharing their insights and the tools women need to say “yes” to career advancement and “hell yes” to that next leadership role. Hosted live on the Booz Allen Facebook page every third Thursday of the month, tune in live, view previous episodes, or read our key takeaways below.
For women with their sights set on leadership roles, there are often factors, such as unconscious bias, working against establishing credibility and asserting oneself as a leader. Once in a leadership role, it can also take time to shape your identity.
Adeft Capital CEO and Founder Carol Melton and Council of Women World Leaders Secretary General Laura Liswood sat down with Brenda Morris, Deputy General Counsel of Litigation and Government Inquiries at Booz Allen to discuss how they established their signature styles while building reverence in the board room.
Here are some ways to take your career to the next level with confidence.
Women often undermine their own credibility with words like “just” and phrases like “I might be wrong, but…” in emails or meetings. To avoid falling into your own trap, Laura suggests credentialing yourself when giving feedback or posing your point of view. Rather than prefacing your opinion with doubt, support it with stating proof of why your opinion is valuable, whether that’s your years of experience or extensive research. Then, invite others into the conversation.
When it comes to practice, Carol likes to think of the Italian word “sprezzatura,” which effectively means practicing something so tirelessly that eventually it appears to be done effortlessly. In the same way that athletes might prep for a big game, she suggests visualization techniques when preparing for an important conversation, presentation, or for reaching other milestones that will take you to the next level as a leader.
Within professional environments in particular, people see and hear women differently. While sometimes this can be advantageous, other times, it can get in the way. The best leaders, Carol and Laura noted, flex their leadership styles. Although you can be empathetic and inclusive, you also have to be tough as nails. After all, “it’s just business,” Carol said, “and some take kindness for weakness.” Above all, be authentic and be yourself. Adapting your leadership style to different situations starts with knowing who you are.
For women to advance, everyone needs to be on board. While men are beginning to step up as allies for change, it’s important for women to continue pointing out issues and reinforcing strong efforts of alliance. Laura underscores this idea through her concept around “the elephant and the mouse,” representing the majority and minority groups. The elephant may not have to know everything about the mouse, but the mouse needs to know everything about the elephant. In other words, flag to male allies where you see missteps to help raise their awareness, such as one of your female colleagues being interrupted by a male colleague. If you see men taking action for change, acknowledge it so that it continues. Doing so will help women move up through the ranks.
Whether it’s taking time away to speak on a panel, advocating for a promotion, or biking across Siberia like Laura (true story), “saying ‘yes’ to opportunities is what gives you a rich life,” said Carol. Part of the process may involve some fear, but don’t let it cloud the opportunities that lie on the other side. Risk will not only give you pleasure in life, but it’s ultimately what will get you recognized.