Dynamic leaders–leaders who have presence–are made, not born. This applies to both men and women. Anyone can develop and improve his or her leadership skills to become a more authentic leader whom others want to follow.
However, being in a position of leadership can be particularly challenging for some women, given the cultural stereotypes and gender typing that pervades the business world. The rules for women are different, and more taxing, than those for men. For example, where a man might be viewed as a dynamic leader, a woman would be viewed as too aggressive. Being a woman has both disadvantages and advantages in terms of leadership presence. One key to success is for women to tune in to the organizational climate and make adjustments so that disadvantages are minimized and advantages are maximized.
For both men and women, projecting strength and decisiveness during difficult times is a hallmark of leadership presence. However, women are culturally expected to be sympathetic in difficult situations. In actuality, this is an opportunity for women to demonstrate leading with presence by showing empathy, while at the same time helping others to navigate change. Many female leaders have effectively used compassion to win over associates in challenging times, thereby building trust and engaging their organizations.
Understanding the audience (or reading the room) is a critical component of leading with presence. It can come through research and practice at developing people skills and emotional intelligence, or it may be a more natural capability. Women can better connect with people and inspire confidence in their own leadership by:
*Paying attention to body language.
*Tailoring presentations to the audience.
*Looking for ways to build connection rather than “preach.”
For many people, public speaking is their biggest fear. This is often true with women, simply because in general they have not been openly welcomed to speak their minds in the business world. However, confident public speaking is another skill that can be developed; it comes with practice, practice, and more practice.
Speaking with presence begins with understanding the audience and then presenting to them in a way that facilitates connection. Greeting people ahead of time, listening before speaking, and storytelling are all techniques for building a relationship with an audience that leads to a more productive presentation.
Artful listening is at the heart of authentic leadership. It means entering the conversation without a personal agenda, being open minded to others’ opinions, and paying attention to all the unspoken cues (like body language) coming from the audience. While the gender stereotype presents women as good listeners, many women in leadership find this to be an advantage. Men tend to talk over one another in meetings, while women are more prone to listening.
Strong women leaders also make the extra effort to ensure others are heard, including probing for input from those in the room who are not sharing. Many women leaders have noted it is often more important to hear from those who are quiet than those who are doing much of talking. Matching another’s communication style is another excellent technique for promoting effective communication.
Women should aspire to look like leaders. Unfortunately, women are judged on their appearance more often than men are, even in the leadership realm. To have leadership presence, women must present a professional image.