Women Leaders can face common challenges as they seek to operate on bigger playing fields. They sometimes struggle to get their voice heard, be seen as influential leaders in their domain besides subject matter experts, and slide comfortably into power positions, especially among high-profile groups comprising solely of men.
Striving to be seen and heard can create doubts and negative emotions in women robbing them of an impactful presence - minimising it. Often one hears the core question - How can I be perceived in the way I want to be perceived in the workplace?
In her autobiography 'Becoming" former first lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama outlines her struggle with finding her voice as President Barak Obama's wife. She also writes about being a very accomplished woman who seemed to be recognised only through her connection to a powerful man.
Michelle Obama recalls an incident in which, when campaigning during the last few days of the Presidential elections, she was dismayed and frustrated at being labelled an "angry black woman" because of her demeanour and communication style which though well-meaning, was very intense. People labelled her based on how they perceived her, while the reality was far from the truth.
When Barack Obama won the elections to become President, Michelle writes that the first thing that she did was to 'define' herself, before others could define her. It required her to understand what she values, what she wants to stand for, and how she wants to stand for it, thereby helping her build an undeniably powerful presence and brand in the years to come.
Michelle's experience reinforces the reality that impressions about an individual are formed based on how people can get impacted by their overall presence. For example, a first-time leader exuding confidence can transfer a feeling of trustworthiness amongst her team, even if she is yet to prove it.
A positive, impactful presence begins with clarity on who we are and how we want to show up.
The most powerful personal brands are very clear on why they exist, who they are and who they serve. Their clarity and consistent message make them unforgettable.
Here are four questions that help you define who you are so that you can build your presence as a leader. People will see you based on how you see yourself; hence it is essential to know yourself accurately!
Who are you?
When you achieve clarity on your vision and purpose, core values that drive you, your strengths, what you want and what you don't want in life, it gives you a distinctness and helps you show up with authenticity. Knowing who you are, helps in being consistent in your behaviour, choices and decisions, further helping you build trust in the organisation because people begin recognising brand YOU.
Here is a link to download a complimentary ebook to help you find out more about yourself click here
What do you want to be known for?
You are good at what you do. However if there is one thing that you want to be known for in your organisation, what will it be? As a leader what could be your single superpower? For example, would you like to be known for your strategic mindset, people skills, communication skills, etc.?
A fully developed strength that you are recognised for, adds to your confidence levels. If you think a strategic mindset is your strength, then use opportunities to maximise it. Volunteer to look at a colleague's project from a strategic viewpoint; in forums and discussions, offer your strategic inputs so that you wear this hat as often as you can in the workplace.
Doing the above consistently helps your unique brand to emerge stronger, as people will easily add your name to a particular skill or competency.
What is the value you bring to the table?
Often senior women leaders can suffer from the imposter syndrome, questioning their presence in the room.
One way to overcome this block is to remind yourself at the time of the value you bring to the table. You are there because of your strengths and you earned that seat on the table. Talk about your work with passion, enthusiasm and joy. Your energy will automatically get transferred to others around you!
What do you stand for?
Standing up for something is a sign of honouring your core values in a manner that is expansive vs minimising. We stand up for something larger than us, and people respect us for it because of our connection to a higher purpose that brings passion to our presence.
While what we want to be known for, can be related to skills and knowledge, what we stand for can be connected to character strengths eg integrity or a cause eg gender parity at work. Sheryl Sandberg stood for women empowerment even as she served as the COO of Facebook.
A good exercise to help us find out what we want to stand for, is to ask ourselves: What would you be willing to give up your career and comforts for? What is absolutely important to you?
Finally, Your presence will be impacted by how much you understand yourself and how you feel inside yourself. Pay attention to both, to define your unique self.
When you stand tall in your wholeness, you inspire and influence others to want to know and listen to you.
Recommended Book - How Women Rise by Marshall Goldsmith and Sally Helgesen