What Frances Hesselbein and other inspiring women can teach you
The #MeToo movement. The #TimesUp movement. The drive for equal pay for equal work and for balanced representation.
Women are experiencing a time of momentous change. And in boardrooms and offices around the country, they are realizing their true power and potential.
As a leadership coach, I have worked with thousands of successful women leaders. And I have met women leaders from around the world that have inspired me. Although these women come from different walks of life, they share many things in common; many habits, behaviors, points of view and attitudes that have led them to where they are today.
In her Golden Globes speech, Oprah Winfrey referred to today as a “new dawn” for women. To guide you through this new dawn, here are three key pieces of advice for women leaders, based on what I have learned from the incredible women I’ve met and worked with throughout my career.
• Step up and speak up.
In the workplace, some women shy away from attention. They stay in their box. They wait for an invitation to excel beyond the roles they are assigned, for permission to make themselves known.
As women leaders, we must learn how to raise our hands. We must make ourselves more visible.
Don’t wait for someone to pick you, invite you, or give you permission to get involved. Tell people you want to be involved. Share your accomplishments, your achievements, and even your dreams and goals.
One of the most remarkable women I have ever met is Frances Hesselbein, the former CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA. At 101 years old, Frances is still actively speaking and writing, and serving today as the president and CEO of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute.
I met Frances 30 years ago. Reflecting on her remarkable career, I asked Frances if she had a plan when she started her journey. “No,” she replied. “I didn’t have a career plan. But what I did was whenever there was a door open and a new opportunity, I always looked into it and took a chance and walked through the door.”
Those opportunities only arise if people know you are looking for them, if you make your intentions and your goals known to the world. Step up and speak up, and opportunity will find you. You then have to be bold enough to take it.
• Modulate your “dimmer switch.”
Some women do the opposite of shying away. Their light switch is either off or on, all or nothing. You often hear these people say things like, “This is who I am. Take it or leave it.”
As a leader, you must learn to read your audience, to tailor your message to the listener. If you are perceived as overbearing to a particular audience, your message will not be received well.
In the advice of Patty McKay, former global executive at LG Electronics, think of your attitude and behaviors as a dimmer switch that you can brighten or dim, depending on the audience. Be flexible and work with a range that is appropriate to the situation. Learn how to modulate your brightness.
When I met Frances Hesselbein, I noticed that she always paused for two seconds before responding to a comment or question. After observing this behavior several times, I realized what she was doing. She was taking a moment to think through her response, to tailor her message to her audience. She was taking a moment to modulate her dimmer switch.
• Build strong relationships with men and women.
Success in any career depends on relationships — with clients, colleagues, and managers.
Take time to nurture these relationships.
Deepen relationships with coworkers on an authentic and meaningful level — tell people you want to be on their team, be proactive and call someone and reach out, take business trips together. Build these relationships now for the future, and never turn your back on the people you respect. In the words of Susan Wackerman, a former executive at HP, “You never know who you will work with in the future.”
When it comes to your managers, women must learn to “manage up.” This phrase often invokes the idea of “being political,” which has a negative connotation to many. But managing up doesn’t mean being inauthentic, “kissing up,” or thinking of relationships as purely transactional. It means learning how to show up and representing yourself. It means knowing what your boss wants and needs from you, and how to meet their expectations.
Managing up successfully can create a mutually beneficial relationship with your boss that leads to personal and professional growth. Susan Wackerman defined these kinds of relationships as sponsors. “I have benefited from sponsors throughout my career at HP. It opened doors because they believe in you and willing to take risk on you,” she once said.
This new dawn is an exciting time for women. We are realizing our true potential and helping one another reach it. It is a time that will inspire both men and women alike, and generations to come.