by Cristina Padilla, Director of Coaching & Engagement & Tiffany Tate, DEI Specialist
In the second part of our two-part series on leadership lessons for women by women, we explore the need to embrace our authentic selves and establish clear boundaries, both of which benefit the leaders themselves as well as their teams and organizations.
ExecOnline is celebrating Women’s History Month throughout March by sharing stories and words of wisdom, including those of our community of committed and talented female coaches.
Too many times female leaders believe that they need to become chameleons to show up to different meetings, events, and engagements, playing different roles and political agendas to get ahead. When we do this, we cause confusion for ourselves as well as those around us in terms of who we are, how we act, and how we behave, and it can get incredibly messy. There is great benefit for female leaders to be real, genuine, and authentic. This is real life, and you are bringing your whole, authentic self to work. You are making decisions based on your values and beliefs that should align with the companies’. Except you also have the benefit of your emotional and social intelligence and knowledge, skills, and abilities. Research shows that women can use both left and right sides of the brain in parallel, which helps in times of crisis like the pandemic, working from home, and associated change management activities. If someone is trying to be someone she was not, her skills to manage through the example would not shine as brightly. In conclusion, “Be YOU, everyone else is taken.”
The work culture women lead in today has changed since our mothers and grandmothers entered the workforce. Yet, there are still challenges for many women today. As a woman leader, and more importantly a coach, I want to offer women the safety and freedom to be themselves in the workplace. I tell them, “Find your voice. Show up as your authentic self. And find the right role, team, manager, and company that embraces that you.” A key lesson I love to coach women on is the pressure to find work/life balance. I despise that phrase as I think it sets women up to feel even more guilt than they already do. Balance isn’t realistic. During certain times, life or family require more. During other times, your job or team requires more. I am a big believer that we should view it as work/life fit. What is the right fit that lets you feel good about life and your responsibilities away from the office as well as your responsibilities in the office. Do your own thinking to identify what that can, should, or needs to look like and find a place that aligns with those values to share your talents and impact. Finally, remember your own experiences as a woman leader. Reach back. Reach to the side. Support women around you with what you have learned and have to offer. That’s the sure fire way to lift all women up.
I often coach women leaders about believing in themselves and being comfortable in their own skin. Coaching sessions with women leaders, entrepreneurs, and high-potential talent commonly diverge into conversations about dealing with imposter syndrome, struggles with being a strong leader while also trying to fit in, and advocating for themselves and their ideas.
Advice for female leaders: Your leadership style is your personal brand. Don’t focus on fitting into others’ expectations. Start with a deep awareness about your own leadership values, style, and opportunities for personal growth; and make that a part of your personal leadership brand. Be consistent and true to yourself – that will help you build trust.
Time management is very common among the women I coach. They don’t have time to focus on the important parts of their responsibilities and are bogged down in the day-to-day tasks and firefighting. By the end of the week, they feel burned out and, at the same time, that they didn’t get anything done. When we really get to the root of the challenge, it comes down to setting boundaries and learning to say, “No.”
We can’t say yes to every meeting invite, project, message, request, or demand we get—though we wish we could because we genuinely want to help others and there’s the guilt that comes with saying no. When you say yes to everything, though, everything suffers. It’s time to figure out the urgent vs. the important.
Use the Eisenhower Matrix to help you visually plot out your work to help you decide where you need to focus your attention. By being clear on your priorities and your bandwidth, you can then say no with clarity and kindness and provide a little context with your response.
Be strategic and intentional about your choices. Focus on the vital few that will have the biggest impact on your team, your organization, and yourself.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from the female leaders I’ve coached is to invest in boundary setting. Beyond physical demands, many of them have their mental and emotional capacities stretched nearing breaking points. This is because they shoulder the burden of the people they care for – employees, colleagues, friends, and family. When they realize that they can “care but do not carry,” they don’t feel as weighed down. This enables them to be more effective in offering their support to others as they have more of themselves to give. What this means is, care about the situation, but don’t carry the burden of it. Care about the person, but don’t carry the load for someone else. If you aim to solve the problem, you are robbing them of their self-agency and ability to use their critical thinking skills. Also, this extra load that you are putting on your shoulders will lead to emotional and physical exhaustion, leaving you with a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for the very people you want to care for.
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