Women’s Leadership Today: Build Confidence, Take Risks

In 2013, Time magazine invited women to tweet what they thought made for a successful career, and many respondents urged women to take risks and network. They Tweeted things like: Don’t waste years in roles that don’t develop you. Seek out challenging projects and roles, and work in different business functions within the organization. Develop a personal leadership brand. 

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Start with these strategies to help build confidence: Personal brand; executive presence; networking; business acumen; and visibility. In order to take those risks to be successful, women need to build their confidence. A key component in doing that is developing these five areas:

1. Personal Brand

Every individual has a personal brand—strengths, accomplishments, passions—basically, the value that the “product” (you) offers. Develop a 60-second marketing statement about yourself. This can be used in networking, and in your online presence through social media or a website. Your marketing statement should be compelling enough to pique the listener’s interest in wanting to learn more about you through additional conversation.  Follow these simple steps:

  • Introduce yourself
  • Share a few features and benefits of yourself
  • Share one accomplishment to demonstrate value
  • Tell what you are seeking. Examples: “I am seeking to network with…; I am seeking an opportunity in…; I am seeking to lead the XYZ Project.”

2. Executive Presence

According to a study by the Center for Talent Innovation, a non-profit research organization in New York, being perceived as leadership material is essential to being promoted into leadership positions. 268 senior executives surveyed said “executive presence” counts for 26 percent of what it takes to get promoted.

Executive presence is the ability to:

  • Project confidence, decisiveness, and composure under pressure
  • Possess strong communication skills, such as articulate speaking skills, assertiveness, and the ability to read an audience or situation 
  • Use clear and direct language
  • Display positive body language by standing erect
  • Maintain good eye contact
  • Offer a firm handshake
  • Speak in an authoritative tone supported by knowledge and experience. 

The good news is that executive presence can be developed. Look for opportunities to improve public speaking skills. This will help sharpen active listening skills, and thinking and speaking simultaneously while maintaining composure. 

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Networking is key for all women building their careers. Here are some strategies:

3. Networking, Internal and External

  • Build your circle of influence: Identify influential people within your organization and professional community. Strive to meet two to four new people per month across organizational functions and within your industry.
  • Participate in professional organizations through board positions and committees. Attend networking events, conferences, seminars to build your circle of influence.
  • Be strategic at networking events establishing an advance plan of action as to whom you would like meet and engage in conversation. Be sure to exchange contact information.
  • Develop an online presence through social media. Become active by electronically connecting with those whom you’ve met. Keep in touch with your connections by posting news, blogging, or emailing.

4. Business Acumen

Knowing about both the business environment (internally and externally) as well as other aspects of business concepts can be the difference between asking for an opportunity and bringing value to an organization as a leader.

Business acumen is the understanding of basic business concepts: how business works and what it takes to make it profitable. It is about being familiar with financial topics such as assets, balance sheets, book value, cash flow, margin and return on assets. Acumen includes an understanding of technical topics such as production time, regulatory policies, and technology innovation. The goal is to become knowledgeable about these topics in order to portray confidence.

5. Visibility

Women need to make their accomplishments visible. Women must ensure that their managers are aware of accomplishments; seek credit for work completed; and negotiate to be considered for promotion or salary increases when it is deserved. Keep track of achievements in a journal so they’re not forgotten when critical conversations take place.  Scan for opportunities both inside and outside of the organization. 

No matter what a woman accomplishes or pursues, saying and doing all the right things may still not be enough. Studies indicate that, in some industries, an unconscious bias still exists within corporate cultures and is the primary reason why women are underrepresented in leadership roles. I encourage women to develop and persevere with their strategic career development plans, and strive for excellence because progress is evident. What better way to demonstrate strength and confidence as role models for the next generations of women?

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Kathy Meany is program director of the Women’s Leadership Institute at Manhattanville College. She is a proponent of professional development for all genders, with a focus on women corporate leaders and transitioning military officers.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Westchester Magazine editorial staff.  

Kathy Meany, program director of the Women’s Leadership Institute at Manhattanville College.

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