In this day and age, being a woman leader presents a lot of challenges. For instance, there’s the problem of being treated unfairly compared to your male counterparts, so you have to do more to prove yourself worthy. Experiencing impostor syndrome is also something to consider. Despite being in a leadership position, you can still feel undeserving of your achievements because of what other people say. This may cause you to doubt yourself and feel like you might not be able to deliver.
These challenges make it hard for women to lead authentically, which can lead to miscommunication and misalignment of goals. To avoid this, here are a few ways women leaders can lead more authentically:
Embrace your own style
Leading authentically means doing it in a way that suits you best. In her guide to cultivating an authentic self, business leader Veronica Ross shares that she tried to measure up to other ideas and leadership styles because it’s what she thought would work for her. In the end, it only caused her more stress because she was doing things that she believed others would appreciate.
To figure out your own style, assess your personality traits and ask your colleagues. Think about your ruling characteristics. For example, if you’re typically honest, use that when leading others by being transparent about problems. On the other hand, asking your colleagues’ thoughts allows you to see yourself from the perspective of those you lead. It can be challenging to figure out your own style, so use input from your team to help you determine the dominant traits you embody and use them to your advantage.
Learn to be straightforward
As a woman, you sometimes need to hold back from speaking the truth to please others or prevent them from viewing you as bossy. This usually comes as a result of other people already doubting you as a leader, so you feel like sugar-coating or softening the blow will lessen their ill feelings. However, CEO Erin Hatzikostas contradicts this in her article on corporate leadership. She says that using fancy words isn’t what people want to hear and it doesn’t communicate well. Instead, saying something directly is appreciated because it immediately gets the message across.
When delivering news, assigning tasks, or simply meeting with colleagues, don’t sweeten the message. Even if it’s about a hard topic, be polite and respectful about saying it but get straight to the point. For one, telling your team that you’ve received negative feedback is discouraging, but telling them straight away will only help to rectify the problem as soon as possible.
Becoming self-aware means being conscious of your own character, feelings, and traits.
According to chief learning officer Aisha Allen’s piece on self-awareness and authentic leadership, this will help improve your confidence and make you feel worthy. As a woman leader of color, she notes how there are many challenges that can hinder authentic leadership. For instance, professionals of color tend to subdue certain cultural aspects like their appearance or speech to fit into their leadership roles. As such, it defies the way they view themselves.
To prevent this, one way to stay self-aware is by journaling. This gets you in touch with your thoughts, letting you discover and learn more about yourself. Simply writing about your day can make you realize behaviors or recent achievements you’ve made, establishing confidence that can make you believe in your leadership style. After all, PLEN's goal is to empower women and marginalized gender groups and this is one step in becoming closer to that.
Women leaders normally suppress themselves in order to be seen as strong or stoic like their male counterparts. While this isn’t always a negative thing, displaying vulnerability shows your authenticity as a leader. In a post on empathy and leadership, leader development professor Robin Ely notes how a woman leader’s vulnerability actually creates connections, allowing them to better lead their teams.
Showing vulnerability can start with being honest about the challenges you’re facing. In the same post mentioned above, Ely shares how one principal consultant became vulnerable by telling her team about her upcoming brain surgery. She feared being seen as incompetent post-surgery, but instead, they understood her and even empowered her to find another job that would better fit her needs.
Like Ely, be more open with your team. It makes you a more authentic leader by informing them about certain matters.
The life of a woman leader is already difficult with all the prejudice that exists. However, this shouldn’t stop you from leading more authentically with the ways we’ve provided.
Rose Jordyn is a mental health advocate and feminist. She loves to write about subject matters that are important to her and her advocacies. When she's not working on a new piece, you'll find her enjoying her local spin class.