By Dr. Denise Meyerson
Why is it that we are still discussing why women are not more highly represented in higher management and leadership roles? It is really time to move past a conversation that has been happening for a good 10 years – that I can remember. Enough! Time for women in leadership roles to take matters into their own hands and to be totally proactive in setting the tone and the pace for their careers.
Step out of the waiting room – we make so many excuses for remaining reactive. I am waiting for a new manager. I am waiting for someone to retire. I am waiting for my children to grow up.
Here are some practical tips to consider so that you set your own destiny:
1. Project credible optimism at all times
You are in charge of how you come across to others and projecting trustworthiness and confidence can help you create the right mental image of yourself in the eyes of others. You might like to pretend otherwise that perceptions don’t matter. Don’t kid yourself. People form opinions of you based on a whole range of signals. Within 7 seconds, they’ll have an impression about who you are and what you represent. These opinions might have no foundation at all in reality and might be very far from the truth. However, they are really hard to undo and once formed, they tend to stick.
Even in times of high anxiety, your facial expressions, your level of energy, and the way in which you frame your words are incredibly important. You might be like the duck paddling like crazy beneath the surface of the water. What is visible though is someone gliding along and projecting confidence and reassurance.
There is strong evidence that women who have strong peer groups will do well professionally. Take active steps to build your networks. Attend industry events, training programs, take time to connect with others. Remember to be generous with your networks. Remember that the best networkers genuinely want to help others and offer them useful tips first before asking for favours.
The principle of 6 degrees of separation does in fact apply. You never know who will introduce you to whom and how that person will become the next big opportunity to come your way.
Accept most of the LinkedIn invitations you receive, whether they are immediately valuable to you or not. They don’t need to become your ‘new best friends’ but they could become a way of introducing you to other people. Great influencers always have strong networks who are both close advisors and also a loose network of colleagues.
3. Build your brand
You need both an online and face-to-face presence. Check what comes up when you search on your own name. Invest time in your LinkedIn profile and a professional blog or Twitter account. This tip relates to guideline #1 in that it is up to you to proactively manage your image. Major organisations do not leave their brand management to chance. They are very careful about the reputation that they gain and how they are portrayed. The same applies to a personal brand.
Do small and easy things such as:
- Have a great headshot taken so that you project your personality.
- Have a make-over to update your wardrobe or your look – remember what we said about first impressions whether we like to acknowledge this or not.
- Commence a small blog so that you are writing positive material and you are associated with being knowledgeable and credible.
- Post up LinkedIn and other social media posts or updates that are relevant and demonstrate that you are on trend with your industry.
4. Associate with superstars
Overcome any shyness and ask to be introduced to them. Attend events with strong guest speakers and get exposed to the best of the best. If you want to be seen in a positive light, associate yourself with people who have been successful. Life tends to move in waves and you need to be ready to catch the next wave. Being surrounded by positive thinkers who have been successful gives you the chance to excel as well.
Think about what happens at a party. The quiet ones tend to be the wallflowers whereas the hub of the party are the people who are happy and projecting a positive vibe about them. This is not to say that you need to be a frantic loudmouth to be at the centre of attention. It is simply that people gravitate towards those who are light and energetic and steer clear of the whingers. If you are in the company of the positive people, you tend to step up to their level of energy and set higher expectations for yourself.
5. Take inventory of your own strengths and areas for improvement
Be honest with yourself. If you are not great at self-assessment, seek constructive feedback and be open to it. You really don’t need to find yourself a mentor. You simply need to be honest with yourself about where you could do with some further development. Listen to people who are trying to give you feedback and who want you to succeed. Even if the feedback might appear at first glance to be hurtful or over-critical, try to find the nuggets that you can apply to set yourself up for even greater success.