Finding Your Feminine Leadership
Ever been in a leadership meeting and felt like you were being ignored or not taken seriously by the males in the room?
Recently I attended a meeting that began with an address by our VIP guest. As he spoke, he directed his focus to the highest-ranking male and then to the other high profile males in the room. I was ignored and by that, I mean he made no eye contact with me.
The dynamics in play were interesting yet not uncommon. Unperturbed and slightly amused, I saw this as a challenge to shift the dynamics in the room by using subtle techniques that are easy and effective.
By the end of the meeting, everyone was meeting my eye and directing conversations at me. An added bonus was receiving feedback afterwards that acknowledged my contribution to the meeting.
So here are my five techniques to shifting the leadership dynamics in a male-dominated room without resorting to being one of the blokes.
Tip 1: Be Big
This is about territory. Physically take up as much space as you can and be visible. Put your hands on the table where they can be seen and your elbows out to the side as much as it is comfortable. Hiding your hands on your lap subconsciously convey that you have something to hide.
Posture is very important. Sit up and pull your shoulders back. My personal observation is that women tend to slightly round their shoulders, making themselves appear “smaller”.
Tip 2: Be Certain
This is about self-belief. It is an attitude of “I will prevail”. One of the giveaways of uncertainty is excessive head nodding and it is something we might be doing automatically. Nodding continuously, while speaking or being spoken to, communicates a desire to be liked, a need for external approval or a desire to end an uncomfortable discussion by agreeing to what is being said.
A small amount of nodding is fine to communicate encouragement, build rapport and when you genuinely agree with what is being discussed. But be aware if your nods are a crutch and ask a trusted colleague for feedback if you are unsure.
Tip 3: Be Present
This is about focus. Bring a laser-like focus to the person speaking so they feel like the most important person in the room. Stillness is important. Do not fidget or check your phone and only write brief note points if it is absolutely necessary.
When the speaker makes eye contact with you, he or she will feel the difference in your attention and will most likely look back regularly to see if you are still “looking”. However, if the person is someone you feel uncomfortable around, focus on the bridge of their nose just between their eyes.
Tip 4: Be Relevant
This is about emotion. Now that we have established presence, it is time to take things up a notch by adding value to the speaker and the meeting. When we are truly focused, we are thinking about the meaning of what is being said, beyond the words, to a central theme. For instance, how it would impact customers, clients and colleagues, and what emotions are related to that impact.
Also offer acknowledgement when someone shares a win, a frustration or sensitive information. Keep your response simple. For instance, “Thanks John, this message is a great reminder to the team about XYZ.”
Tip 5: Be Vocal
This is about vocal presence. If you are not used to speaking up in meetings, start using your voice. If you are not clear about what is being discussed, ask a question or several for clarity. Chances are if it is not clear to you, others might be in the dark too. But choose your words carefully. Ask, “What outcome do we want to achieve from this meeting?” rather than saying, “I don’t understand.”
When you speak, use downward inflection at the end of sentences to communicate authority and certainty. Think of how a newsreader speaks. Upward inflection creates a questioning tone and communicates uncertainty. Your upright posture will help with voice projection so again, be sure to sit up straight.
These skills and techniques will shift the energy and establish your status within a room hierarchy. With that status, you will go on to develop assertiveness, presence and charisma in your work environment.
Kerryn Gamble is passionate about changing the leadership gender imbalance. She specialises in showing women how to develop their brand of confidence and building engaged teams. Kerryn is a speaker, consultant, executive coach and author of the Confidence Magnifier guidebook (iBooks). She is also Vice President of Professional Speakers Australia – Southern States. For more, visit www.kerryngamble.com
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