How Leadership Skills Help Women Advance their Careers
In today's competitive business landscape, leadership skills are more important than ever for advancing your career. For women in particular, developing strong leadership abilities can help overcome the barriers to landing senior roles and positions of authority. Though tremendous progress has been made, women are still underrepresented in upper management and C-suite positions. This highlights why cultivating your leadership potential should be a top priority.
The good news is leadership skills can absolutely be learnt and strengthened over time, regardless of your natural inclinations. With focused effort to build up critical abilities like communication, strategic thinking, and resilience, you can become a highly influential leader.
Why leadership skills are critical for women
In an ideal world, leadership potential would be judged without bias and women would have an equal playing field to advance their careers. But we don't live in an ideal world — gender discrimination still rears its ugly head in various ways. As Clair Daly and Marie Fitzgibbon explain, “a systemic approach is needed to address this and all members of an organization from the senior leadership down need to be individually and periodically educated on unconscious bias”. Leadership skills have consequently become a crucial tool for women to overcome the extra barriers to moving into influential roles.
Firstly, strong leadership abilities help dispel outdated gender stereotypes. Traits like assertiveness, authority, and competitiveness are still primarily associated with men, while women are seen as better multitaskers or more empathetic. By actively developing those skills, women demonstrate they have what it takes to spearhead teams, make tough calls, and strategize like their male peers. Leadership skills allow women to step outside of gendered expectations and prove themselves as highly competent leaders.
Additionally, exhibiting leadership skills helps establish credibility and confidence in women. Those qualities are essential for getting noticed by upper management for promotions and growth opportunities. Even when women have the proper experience and qualifications, they are often still overlooked for leadership roles unless they exude confidence and executive presence. Leadership training strengthens those intangible yet vital skills for advancement.
Leadership abilities also enable women to navigate still male-dominated business environments. Utilizing influence, emotional intelligence, collaboration, and communication allows women to thrive and make an impact even when they are underrepresented. Sophie Collins, Chief Marketing Officer at MPB, agrees: “empathy is an important leadership quality. Whether it comes naturally or it's forced on someone by society, having and demonstrating empathy often differs between men and women leaders”. Essentially, focusing on leadership helps provide women the tools and qualities to succeed in contexts that are not yet on equal footing.
Key leadership skills for women to develop
Though every leader has unique strengths, there are several fundamental skills that are critical for women aiming to advance their careers. Targeting the development of these abilities will empower you to take on greater responsibilities and be viewed as leadership material.
Strong communication skills allow women to speak and present with confidence. Being able to explain ideas persuasively, actively listen, and provide clear direction are essential leadership traits. Work on promoting your voice, reducing qualifiers and hedging, and making eye contact. These skills affect how others perceive your competence.
Think big picture and long-term when tackling projects and problems. Leaders forecast future challenges and capitalize on opportunities, so hone skills like evaluating trade-offs, problem solving, and planning ahead. Think like a boss and build strategic thinking by doing thorough research before making decisions.
Women often face more criticism, setbacks, and challenges in male-dominated settings. Develop resilience to rebound quickly from adversity and avoid internalizing failures. Cultivate grit to keep trying and a growth mindset. It can help to surround yourself with encouraging mentors.
Foster collaboration by valuing diverse input, building trust, and getting people invested in collective goals. Improve teamwork, empathy, relationship-building, and delegating. Collaborative female leaders amplify others and lead effectively, so this is a worthwhile skill to develop.
Leaders juggle multiple responsibilities without losing focus or productivity. Women interested in becoming leaders should hone skills like prioritizing, staying organized, managing stress, and focusing deeply on tasks. Schedule time for strategy and creative thinking so you can choose where to invest your time wisely.
Tips for developing leadership skills
Leadership potential can be strengthened through practical efforts over time. Here are some key tips to start building up your leadership abilities:
- Seek out leadership opportunities: Raise your hand for projects that require public speaking, leading teams, making executive decisions, or spearheading change. Say yes when asked to take charge.
- Find a mentor: A successful woman leader can provide invaluable guidance on developing leadership skills based on real experience. They can advise you on improving areas like confidence, influence, and strategic thinking.
- Take leadership training courses: Formal classes, workshops, and programs, either online or in-person, are extremely helpful for honing leadership abilities. Look especially for female-focused options.
- Read leadership books and articles: Learning from experienced leaders, especially women, provides great insight into leadership growth. Autobiographies, interviews, and advice articles are readily available and serve as a great resource.
- Practice essential skills: Public speaking, delegation, collaboration, and strategic planning are skills you can practice regularly to become a polished leader.
- Build confidence: Remind yourself regularly of your strengths and accomplishments. Overprepare to reduce anxiety and seek positive feedback from mentors. Own your seat at the table.
- Develop executive presence: Leadership presence doesn't necessarily require changing yourself. Focus on projecting confidence through communication, appearance, and body language.
Make leadership development a lifelong commitment. Consistently seek new challenges and training opportunities to maximize your growth. The more you practice leadership skills, the more naturally they will come.
Developing strong leadership abilities is no longer just an option for women seeking to advance their careers: it's a requirement. In today's corporate environment, leadership skills are essential to dismantle lingering gender biases, establish credibility, and ultimately get ahead. Don't wait for leadership opportunities to be handed to you. Be proactive in seeking the training, mentorship, and experiences needed to fully harness your leadership potential.