How strong women leaders can build their brand

Read the original article here (links to Inc. Magazine  – “3 Habits of Exceptionally Strong Women Leaders“)

When it comes to climbing the professional ladder, men historically get to the top at a much faster rate than women, and with greater ease. While the number of women in leadership positions continues to rise, there are still hurdles to overcome.

It’s certainly not lack of effort, motivation or ability that leaves women executives out of leadership positions. At some point in their careers, most women struggle to compete in male-dominated organizations. Some overcome the challenge and secure leadership positions, while others become disenchanted and disengage from their goals.

Women must avoid the toxic mindset that they need to compete on the same playing field as men. Let’s shift the focus to personal brands, which guide how people perceive us.

When a woman maximizes her strengths and finds her unique voice, she begins to build a compelling brand. Maybe she has a strong eye for detail or she’s a skillful negotiator – or maybe she has both skills. When she’s confident in those strengths, others begin to recognize them and buy into her brand.

It’s about recognizing the challenges, and then building a brand to overcome them.

Challenges unique to women executives

Women make up about half of the workforce yet very few are in the top seats. According to Catalyst, female leaders currently hold less than five percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. However, recent research from LinkedIn suggested that progress is happening, with leadership gaps slowly closing since 2008.

There are various elements at play when it comes to this gender gap, such as the role of an expecting female employee or working mother. While others may stay after hours to bond with coworkers, mothers often have to leave in a hurry to pick up their kids, shuttle older children to after-school activities, keep up with household chores and manage pediatric appointments. Most mothers wouldn’t change it for the world, and they manage to handle the work-life balance of full-time employment and motherhood. However, that doesn’t mean that the constant juggling of these personal and professional responsibilities isn’t a challenge.

After a recent lecture to a women’s group, one participant put it this way: “I love the guys I work with, but only a woman or mother understands me when I come to a meeting with baby food on the lapel of my suit jacket.

Men and women alike often view these experiences as weaknesses in female employees. Gender stereotypes can leave women comparing themselves to the high-performing men in the room and feeling as if they come up short.

However, giving in to such flawed views isn’t productive for the number of women fully capable of becoming great leaders. By focusing on the strengths of others, women can unintentionally overlook their own leadership competencies and miss valuable opportunities to build their personal brand.

While the challenges unique to women are certainly real, try not to focus on how to compete with your male counterparts. Instead, think about your own ability to succeed. Follow these tips to hone your abilities and build a brand that guides your leadership development:

1. Start with a baseline

You can’t move up without knowing where you currently stand. It can be challenging to perform an honest assessment of your leadership qualities and embrace your inner power, but it’s necessary to establish a strong foundation for your brand.

There’s no shame in leaning on a helping hand to take a hard look at where you tend to exceed. Take the Leadership Style Assessment to discover your natural leadership style when it comes to holding others accountable.

Third-party tools and assessments like StrengthsFinder and StandOut can help you identify your strengths, providing an unbiased perspective that may otherwise be difficult to see. Our Leadership Builder and Executive Coaching services can also be game-changers for instilling confidence in your abilities.

2. Seek feedback from colleagues

You spend a lot of time with your co-workers, which means there’s a good chance they have telling insight about your work habits and performance on the job. Make a plan to grab lunch and ask them questions like “Where do I perform well, and where could I continue to build?” They may even ask you to provide the same feedback in return.

At Partners In Leadership, we’ve been studying the exceptional power associated with asking a trustworthy colleague for appreciative and constructive feedback. In most cases, we find that colleagues can provide perspectives we can’t always see ourselves and common themes often emerge as we gain more feedback.

3. Track your progress

Get in the habit of collecting your thoughts each week, whether it’s the last thing you do before you leave the office on Friday or a productive way to pass time during your commute. Dedicate a journal to take stock of your progress, making note of both accomplishments and disappointment. Reflect on why some projects were easier to handle than others and how you may change your approach to make improvements next week. Include any feedback received from colleagues so you can review it later.

As you track your strengths, you will start to notice them in your daily work. Plus, the internal recognition of your talents and mastery can give you the confidence you need to allow your unique brand to unfold.

4. Believe in your leadership qualities

You can’t build a brand when you’re busy measuring your successes against others. Remember that your experience and talents are entirely your own – and while different from your male counterparts, they carry the same value. Learn where you shine and always strive for continual improvement, believing in your personal and professional development every step of the way. You are your fiercest critic, so show her you’re ready to lead and the rest will follow.

Achieving your goals

Your distinct brand stems from your personal strengths, building a platform worthy of competition. While you will add your own leadership style to the mix, there are some stellar traits that strong women leaders tend to have in common. They collaborate, communicate and connect with their employees with a candid and attentive nature, building loyalty and fulfilling relationships with their teams.

Get ready to break down those gender stereotypes, show them who’s boss and add your name to the vibrant and ever-growing list of successful women leaders.

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1. Develop a baseline. Assessments like StrengthsFinder and StandOut can help you identify your strengths and establish a foundation on which to build your brand. Some women find it challenging to assess themselves honestly and embrace their inner power. These third-party tools can provide unbiased perspective that may otherwise be difficult to see.

2. Seek feedback from your colleagues. Given the amount of time you spend together, your co-workers have significant insight into your work habits and performance on the job. Over the past two decades, Partners In Leadership has studied the extraordinary power associated with asking a co-worker you trust for appreciative and constructive feedback: “Where do I perform well, and where could I continue to build?” A colleague may provide perspective that you cannot see, and common themes may begin to emerge. Keep a record of the feedback for frequent review.

3. Track your progress through journaling. At the end of each week, jot down both your accomplishments and your disappointments. Be sure to reflect on why certain tasks or projects came more easily than others, and commit to improving on past performance. As you track your strengths, you will start to recognize them in your daily work. This practice of internal recognition of your talents and mastery will enhance your confidence and allow your unique brand to unfold.

You can’t build a brand when you’re busy measuring your successes against those of other people. Your experience is different, and so are your talents. By learning where you shine and striving for continual improvement, you can start to build a platform from which to compete in the world. Truly, your competition is with yourself–no one else.

Kirsten Blakemore Edwards, MA CPCC, is a Consultant for Partners in Leadership, helping companies create accountable cultures, while improving employee engagement and effective communication. She is an executive coach and facilitator.​

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