Women are better leaders...but we need to be more than that to get promoted

First published on the Women's Agenda website (18th January 2016) by Anneli Blundell. Source: https://womensagenda.com.au/leadership/advice/women-are-better-leaders-but-we-need-to-be-more-than-that-to-get-promoted/


Women are better leaders. Yet the ever-present, pay-gap issue and continued low numbers of women in senior ranks, shows that being better is not enough to get ahead. There will always be a myriad of circumstances that contribute to this complex issue, but one thing is certain: being good at what you do will not guarantee your success; doing a great job and waiting to be noticed is not how you win the game. To get ahead, reach your potential, and make a difference, you must understand the real game you’re playing.

Current state of play

In 2012, Zenger and Folkman surveyed 7,280 leaders and rated them on their overall leadership effectiveness. Women led the way at every level and not just on the ‘soft skills’ but on those traditionally held by men, for example, taking initiative and driving results. Additionally, 11,434 adults surveyed by Gallup showed a 6% higher engagement rate of employees who were led by a female. 

However, this leaderboard serves as a celebration and a warning: a celebration because we can take pride in knowing that women are well equipped to deliver leadership, and a warning because it highlights a challenge for women to put themselves forward—the difference between reputation and results.

Getting ahead at work

Getting ahead at work is as much about being ‘seen’ as a leader as it is about actually leading. Doing a great job, playing by the rules, and working hard is not enough to get ahead. Women are rarely rewarded for being humble achievers. Women can be deemed the greatest leaders in the world by the people they lead but these are not the people who are promoting them. A good leadership reputation needs to be as visible from above as it is palpable from below. Without the ability to manage up, speak up and have a visible leadership brand, women jeopardise their opportunity to play a bigger game.

5 ways to enhance your leadership game

In order to transform great leadership skills into greater leadership roles, women can actively manage their leadership presence so their ability is equal to their visibility.

  1. Quit the questioning tonality: Tonality rises as if you are asking a question, even when you’re not. ‘Hi. My name is Sharon?’ Keep your tonality flat or going down at the end of a sentence.
  2. Stop hedging your language: A reluctance to make declarative statements causes an overreliance on softening language to cover multiple perspectives. Don’t weaken your conviction by diluting your stance. Make a statement then handle pushback if it comes to you.
  3. Speak up: Use your voice. Be heard. Be visible. Speak in a volume that can be heard. Be one of the first to speak in groups and meetings. Speak every 10–15 minutes.
  4. Stand still: Rocking, swaying or resting your weight on one foot projects a casual, relaxed demeanor at best and a lack of confidence, at worst. It does not command authority. Stand still with your weight evenly distributed.
  5. Accept credit: Minimising your achievements and downplaying your contributions belittles your effort and ability. Accept compliments graciously. Look people in the eye, smile and say thank you.

Women transform the work arena. Engagement is higher, profits are stronger and compliance is tighter. We need more female leaders; we need women who can manage their leadership brand just as well as they manage their business results. We need women like you. Now you know the rules of the game, will you play?


Staff management: honesty best policy to bring out full potential

First published on The Australian Business Review (30 Apr 2016)

Great leaders give critical feedback. They tell it like it is. They are heard. They inspire action. Leaders who give targeted, real-time feedback — good and bad — support and challenge their ­people to develop.

Giving critical or corrective feedback can invite negative reactions: denial, hurt, blame and anger are possible responses. Most of us are not eager to upset others, which makes it easy to justify ­delayed responses or missed feedback opportunities. However, avoiding the tough stuff can have major consequences. Leaders must make the effort. They must confront their own comfort and confidence levels when faced with having hard conversations. Withholding critical feedback is like asking someone to complete a crossword without providing all the clues. It is not possible.

Sue (not her real name) worked as a community support manager. She moved through leader­ship roles in various divisions within five years. Sue was liked as a person but not respected in her role. She sat on decisions, was easily overwhelmed and was seen as a bottleneck to progress. She did not deliver.

When June was appointed as division head, she quickly noticed the issue. June gave Sue the feedback no one wanted to give. She respectfully yet firmly laid out the situation. Sue was shocked and distressed by her apparent ­underperformance. Missed feedback opportunities meant Sue was not given the chance to modify her ­behaviour.

After a few months of coaching support, things were looking up. Sue’s projects were on track and she noticed a change in how ­others treated her. Sue thanked June for her candour and willingness to invest in her growth.

Without critical feedback, we do not know what we do not know; we become blind to our potential. The better you are at giving critical feedback, the faster and deeper people will develop. Here’s why:

People need challenge. John Demartini, an American researcher and bestselling author in human behaviour, says: “People grow at the boundary of support and challenge.” We need just enough challenge to keep us growing and developing, and just enough support to feel encouraged and on track. One without the other can lead to boredom and stagnation or burnout and stress.

People need clarity. We cannot see our behaviours as clearly as others can. Sometimes we are not as good as we think we are and other times our performance ­deserves more credit. Without an outside perspective, we remain blind to our development opportunities and strengths. It is a leader’s role to provide the clarity we cannot see for ourselves.

People have courage. They ­actually want the bad news that their leaders do not want to give them. In 2014, business management consultants Zenger Folkman surveyed 899 individuals globally about their relationship to feedback. They found people wanted corrective feedback more than praise. Of those, 72 per cent said their performance would improve if their manager provided corrective feedback.

Leaders who sit on feedback because they do not have time, do not think it matters or are reluctant to have a hard conversation, stifle the growth of their people.

Anneli Blundell is co-author of Developing Direct Reports: Taking the Guesswork Out of Leading Leaders.