27 September 2023

Bright lights: Why influential women don’t need the limelight

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Allyn Reid* says influence is a natural byproduct of respect, and women in the workplace can achieve it without masculine posturing.

Photo: temizyurek

When I was a little girl, I saw a lot about leadership from the media and the world around me.

Leaders were smartly suited men who sat at the heads of boardroom tables and glowered at their smarmy lieutenants, occasionally losing their tempers and shouting insults.

Leaders were the ones who spoke the loudest and the most — the ones who got the most screen time and whose names led the rest when it came time for the post-scene credits.

Thankfully, as I grew into a woman, I learned that the truth about leadership is very different from what I saw in the movies.

Your influence is not determined by your volume.

Or your screen time.

Or the placement of your name in the credits.

Influence is a natural byproduct of respect, and for women in the workplace it can be achieved without any kind of masculine posturing whatsoever.

Sound too good to be true? Read on …

Brazen, pushy leadership is becoming unpopular — and rightly so.

Nobody likes to be bossed around.

That’s always been a fact.

The thing is, for centuries, most people never had a choice.

Problematic leadership styles date back to the age of despotic kings and emperors, when people’s concepts of human rights and self-determination were very different from what they are today.

Some relics of that era persisted longer than they should have, including the myth of the all-knowing, forever-above-reproach, his-word-is-our-command leader.

People don’t want to follow leaders out of fear or awe, and the good news is that historical developments — like, you know, democracy — mean that in most cases they no longer have to.

This is great news for women, who for millennia have been quietly using means beyond fear to develop influence: Empathy, respect, competence and nurture are already natural leadership traits in most women.

Rather than women needing to adapt themselves to fit society’s mould of leadership, society’s idea of leadership is finally changing to fit what women have always been doing.

Self-aggrandisement and influence are not the same thing.

Influence is like electricity: You can’t generate it simply by deciding that you deserve it.

Ironically, from my experience, those who crave power the most and are the first to posture themselves as leaders are often the last to receive real influence.

It’s always earned or given.

You can’t just take it.

“At a fundamental level, one of the reasons that people do things for you is because they like you,” says Dorie Clark, author of Entrepreneurial You.

You don’t have to be “the awesome-est person in the room” or make sure “everyone is blown away by your charisma,” you just have to be likeable and trustworthy.

Then, once you have people’s trust, you just need to be confident enough to ask for things.

It doesn’t matter how much of the limelight you have — if you are disliked by your co-workers or seen as a glory-chaser, your executive ability to get things done will be hampered.

A woman’s advantage in the workplace (often) lies in her soft skills.

As previously mentioned, women have been building quiet influence for years, not because they were stronger or louder or more aggressive than their peers, but because they instinctively knew how to use soft skills like empathy and emotional intelligence to bring people over to their side.

It’s been shown in studies that, although men and women score similarly for overall emotional intelligence, women have a decided edge when it comes to empathy.

Men stay in tune with the feelings of others briefly, but then quickly move on to calculating how to fix whatever problem is causing the other person’s feelings.

As women, our brains are wired to hold on to empathic feelings for a longer period.

We can stay with someone’s emotions so that the conclusions we reach will be more in line with the true issue that needs to be addressed.

This soft skill is one of the most powerful attributes that women can bring to the workplace — and it doesn’t rely on being centre-stage.

“The best way to prime colleagues for backing you and your agenda is to make them feel heard,” writes Rebecca Knight in Harvard Business Review.

“Start by giving them your undivided attention in one-on-one situations.”

“When people know that you care about them, they’re more likely to remember you in the future, and accept your influence.”

Women are natural leaders.

They have always been.

Now that the world is finally abandoning the old-fashioned model that required leaders to hog the spotlight, the stage is set for women’s innate influence-building qualities to finally pay off.

* Allyn Reid is a leadership development advisor and co-founder of the Secret Knock Conference. She tweets at @TheWooManity.

This article first appeared at www.entrepreneur.com.

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