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Leadership & Communication

Tackling female leadership

7 Aug 2013, by Informa Insights

Women often face different challenges as leaders than men, with women in power sometimes pigeon-holed as being either too much of a pushover or ruling with an unwavering iron fist.

However, neither of these labels will garner much respect in the workplace, meaning women need to take on a leadership style that not only stays true to their inherent characteristics, but ensures processes continue to run smoothly.

So how do women go about this? Well, here are some tips for remaining authentic in the work environment, while still getting the job done.

Pick a mentor
One of the best ways to learn a skill is to watch a person you admire – and leadership is no different.

While your mentor doesn’t have to be female, it may be a good idea as men do not have to tackle the unique barriers faced by women in the workplace.

If you don’t have suitable female role models at work, try joining professional organisations or community groups for inspiration.

One day, when you’ve mastered the intricacies of leadership, be sure to mentor other up-and-comers to return the favour.

Learn your own unique style
A trap that many women fall into when navigating senior positions is that they imitate the leadership style of men, which can lead to being labelled as controlling or demanding.

Operating at the other end of the spectrum and being ‘too feminine’ can lead to a loss of authority, a situation that can be equally damaging.

Instead, be yourself and find your own strengths and weaknesses in leadership and cater to them.

This will take a certain amount of introspection; you’ll need to examine your values, your goals and your experiences to formulate a leadership style that best suits your characteristics.

Take advantage of communication skills
Women naturally gravitate towards a collaborative working environment, emphasising sharing, brainstorming and teamwork.

Maintaining this atmosphere, while still retaining a sense of authority, can be a tough task, particularly if there are a few people within the ranks that like to challenge your ideas.

But as long as you utilise effective communication by setting targets and confidently tackling disputes so that goals are achieved, this leadership style can create some excellent results.

Remember, listen to your subordinates enough to take on board their grievances, but don’t let their negativity immobilise you.

Be confident in your planning and research and follow through using team suggestions where necessary.

Learn the company culture
You should always take the time to learn about your organisation’s history, culture and work ethics, particularly if you are an outsider being recruited for a leadership position.

While you may have your own way of doing things, you’ll need to be aware that this may not fit into the existing environment, meaning your arrival will ruffle even more feathers than usual.

Don’t be afraid to implement new ideas, however. Just ensure that your move into a leadership position isn’t associated with immediate negativity among co-workers.
Ask for support
Many women in leadership roles may feel hesitant about seeking support as they think it will be considered a sign of weakness or being incapable.

However, it is better to seek help than to plunge headlong into a project or meeting when you are unsure of yourself.

Trying to tackle too much on your own will only lead to being overworked, stressed and prone to a burnout.

This support can come from those above – such as asking a superior to back you up on a new policy that is being second-guessed – or even from subordinates when looking to delegate workloads.

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