For all of the progress women in leadership are making in the workplace, there are still stark reminders of the challenges that face them. For example, a 2018 report by Grant Thornton showed that 75 percent of responding businesses have at least one woman in senior management—an impressive increase from 66 percent the year before. However, the proportion of women in senior management roles actually dropped, from 25 to 24 percent.
There is much work left to do. Women in leadership—as well as women striving to advance into leadership—might well encounter the glass ceiling, so women must continue do everything they can to break it. First priority: finding your leadership voice.
Having a leadership voice is more than speaking up when the situation presents itself. It’s also about how you communicate with coworkers, peers, superiors, and subordinates alike—it’s about building influence and personal brand. Here is a closer look at the importance of finding your leadership voice:
Who Do You Serve?
In their book, Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness, and Trust, Edgar and Peter A. Schein advance the idea of “personization”—building relationships with the whole person who you are communicating with and not just his or her workplace role. “Personizing has nothing to do with being nice, giving employees good jobs and working conditions, generous benefits, or flexible working hours,” they write. “It has everything to do with building relationships that get the job done and that avoid the indifference, manipulation, or, worse, lying and concealing that so often arise in work relationships.”
Keeping this in mind, finding your voice also means empowering others to find theirs. In getting to know coworkers’ motivations, passions, and goals, you gain an understanding to craft your own leadership voice and style. Doing so allows you to better connect with those around you. Michael C. Bush and Ed Frauenheim write in A Great Place to Work for All, “Being a leader of a great workplace is not a function of your company’s size or resources. It’s a function of how you treat the people who work there. … When leaders are more inclusive, more inspiring, and more caring, they win on outcomes like talent retention, innovation, and revenue growth.”
Who Are You?
Finding your leadership voice requires a self-assessment of what kind of leader you currently are and what kind you want to be in the future. Identify the priorities and values you want to deliver as a woman in leadership.
In Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done, author Dianna Booher identifies several “best practices” of strong communicators:
- Understanding the importance of always telling the truth
- Listening for strategic opportunities and avoiding minefields
- Reading body language for the complete message
- Choosing precise words for strategic messages
- Paying attention to emotional content
- Understanding the importance of timing
- Understanding how confidentiality aids persuasion
“Any one of these seven communication practices can increase your influence,” Booher writes. “Be intentional as you focus on them. Adopting all seven will play a strategic role in your success as a leader.” In this regard, each interaction is an opportunity to hone your message as it resonates with employees. Your voice doesn’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel, but it does need to be your own—something others can consistently expect and, most importantly, respect.
Who Can You Learn From?
Although finding your voice is a personal endeavor, the examples set by others can be powerful influences on your leadership development and style. Although you can find inspiration from a wide range of leaders, pay particular attention to those who are a close match to your personality and values, and study how they effectively communicate.
Are the leaders you admire quick-witted, using charismatic language to engage others? Or are they methodical and reserved, making every word count? Do they fall somewhere in-between? A mentorship relationship with leaders you admire is ideal, but time, distance, or circumstances may render that unrealistic. In those cases, study their writings, listen to their speeches, watch their TED talks, and absorb as much as you can about their leadership style.
Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. Ultimately, you likely will evolve your voice to adapt to your work environment, your employees, and your values. What’s most important isn’t the voice you end up with, but how others respond to your leadership. As Linda Swindling writes in Ask Outrageously! The Secret to Getting What You Really Want: “Earn respect. People enjoy dealing with others who encourage them to think bigger. People with high potential want leadership models who successfully take risks, impact others, make effective decisions, and exceed expectations.” Achieve this goal, and you’ll cement and perfect your leadership voice.