By Gerry J. Tucker
Having the opportunity to sit at the executive table, I am often on the edge of my seat encouraging an emerging female leader to assert herself and find her voice. Research and surveys indicate that the leadership and communication style of a female leader differs from male leaders. Emerging women leaders are often perceived as collaborative yet, quiet, or pushy and loud, or too passive and laid back. I would venture to say that successful female leaders have learned to be proactive, thorough, calm under pressure, collaborative and an effective communicator. These leaders have learned to project their voice in the right way and at the right time. All leaders need to find their voice in the workplace and use it for the benefit of the team.
When a person finds their voice in the workplace, the person is able to integrate their values into their communications and interactions. The individual is able to state their opinions in a unique and powerful way. Your voice represents who you are. You’ve probably been in a meeting where a female colleague makes a statement that is overlooked. A male colleague follows up with the same or similar statement and it is given credence and affirmation. To use your voice in this situation means the female colleague speaks up and says, “that’s exactly what I had in mind and I’m glad you agree with me.” Instead, often, the opportunity to assert one’s voice gets lost.
Leaders have different styles of communication. Sometimes an emerging leader may get nervous when put on the spot in a meeting. The individual may swallow their words, hoping no one hears them. A challenging communicator may get defensive, hoping the other party will back off and move on to another topic. A passive emerging leader may be quiet and sit in the meeting hoping not to be noticed or called upon to engage in the conversation. The talkative person may have a desire to show that they “know it all,” before others find out that they really don’t know it all. Whatever your style of communication, your communications are underscored and supported by your values and is expressed through your voice.
Finding one’s voice necessitates being confident, assured, knowledgeable and comfortable with you are and how you communicate – unapologetically. It also requires that you are self-aware of your values, strengths and areas of challenge. Leaders are always developing and growing and eventually they find their voice. These three keys will help you find your voice in the workplace.
- Be clear about your objectives. Talking for the sake of talking or for being heard is meaningless. As a leader, you are part of the conversation and you should contribute when you have something valuable to say. Don’t ask meaningless or pointless questions. To make a point, sometimes it’s better to ask a question, rather than make a statement. Be clear about how your statements contribute to achieving the team’s goal. When you contribute valuable information to the team, your stock rises. Always maintain direct eye contact, use concise statements, clearly articulate your concern or position, and tie it back to the team’s objective.
- Communication is verbal and non-verbal. The non-verbal is as important as the verbal. Composure and clarity are the keys to being an effective emerging female leader. This is not the time to be transparent about how you feel; it is the time to express how you see the issue and how you can contribute. If you get angry, calm down before you speak and, in the meantime, just smile. Don’t let the team see your anger. It has been said that the eyes are the window to the soul, use them wisely. In addition, remember how you sit at the table is an indication of your feelings and comfort level. Sit where you can be seen and heard.
- Give yourself permission to have an opinion and share your thoughts, without screening them. Women tend to assess their communications in the process of communicating them. If you feel strongly about a subject, go for it. Always say it in a way that the team members will receive it. State your views with conviction, deliberateness, and focus on the facts. If you get nervous, don’t deflect your meaning, restate it. Own your communications. Don’t allow another team member to talk down to you. If that happens, find your voice and demand respect and professionalism