Wear What You Want; Mean What You Say
I’m a mom, I’m a spouse, I’m an athlete, and I’m a successful business executive. In the recent past, these facets of my life would’ve been viewed as competing voices, even opposed to one another. Today? Complimentary. I’ve been asked many times and as I prepare for upcoming talks for International Woman’s Day, I know I’ll be asked again…Yes, I’ve mastered the life/work balance. Every morning, after getting back from the gym and cleaning up, I put on a grey or black business suit (because I choose to), join the family in our collective “launch,” and then head to the office. Over the next eight to ten hours, I will talk strategy with my colleagues, douse fires, and lead my team, pouring my skill and energy into a company I believe in. I am highly effective at what I do, among a growing cadre of women serving as leaders in their respective businesses and organizations. When the workday is over, I’ll take care of my body, nourish my mind, and support the people I love. Yes, I can have it all. My advice to other women just beginning their climb up the ladder? Be your authentic self. This is 2019, not 1979. Embrace your femininity and celebrate the whole you as you deploy your considerable talent in the office space.
Debunking the Gender Assumptions
What did you give up to get here? We’ve all heard a variation of this one before. Usually delivered by a male Baby Boomer, this question and its relatives is really a subtle way of announcing, “I’m still adapting to an office full of female execs (like you).” Well, there’s no need to snap back at the guys struggling with the fact that women are just as successful in the C-Suite as their male counterparts. You’re in the position you’re in because your credentials and experience distinguished you from the applicant pool. So, do yourself a favour. Don’t waste your time engaging in an internal dialogue about the obstacles confronting women in business. Instead, use the time to sell product, improve processes, develop staff, and all-around kick ass at your job. Your presence as a leader in your context brings diverse ideas and approaches into your context, as well. Whether your colleagues publicly acknowledge your contributions or not, they know how your voice enriches the corporate conversation. Embrace your position, lend your voice to the strategic side of the house, and lead. No apologies needed.
Mean what You Say
Working authentically requires courage in all that you do. This isn’t about gender, it’s all about leadership. Begin with authentic speech. Whether male or female team members, they’re YOUR team members. Be generous in praise of great performances, but firm as hell when they’re disrespectful, underperforming, or self-serving. Authentic speech from day one lets the team know that you are a confident and skilled leader. As for supervisors and organizational peers? Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no. Firmness from day one mitigates manipulation on day #429.
Authenticity flourishes when you have a vision for yourself and the team that you manage. Articulate your business vision with those looking to you for leadership, helping your charges see how their work contributes to something bigger. As for your vision? Be clear about your role in the organization you serve, and develop a plan for your own advancement and personal development. If you know where your heading, it’s much easier to focus on your team’s trajectory.
Paving the Way
Somewhere in Manhattan, a Columbia graduate student is putting the finishing touches on her master’s dissertation. She may be the next Rockstar to interview with your business. However, as credentialed and articulate as she may be, you could be setting her up for failure by not claiming the authority your position affords you right now. Claim your authority.
Generations of amazing, talented women clawed toward the top. You – we – are recipients of their labour. So, let’s be authentic right now. Honour your abilities, speak with authenticity, and don’t apologize for being a mom AND an executive. As for the daily outfit? I’m sticking with grey and black, but feel free to rock the pink cardigan if you choose to. You’ve earned it.