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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?