Recently, I found myself thinking a lot about the challenges that women still face when it comes to proving to others that we can be impactful. Having served in a variety of positions in my 19 years at IBM — and now as chief technology officer at a global power solutions company — I have faced the many challenges associated with achieving leadership success. I have also learned that, oftentimes, women doubt ourselves and stand in the way of our own success.
I was able to push through some obstacles; others stood like walls between me and my goals. Along the way, I learned the ins and outs of advancement:
Stop trying to be a pleaser. Women seem to be hardwired to want to please everyone, never say no and always make someone else’s life easier. But once you decide to focus on doing things that align with your own values, life becomes easier. This is a process, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get there quickly. Start with something as simple as choosing a restaurant you’d like to go to. For many women, when asked where we want to eat, our go-to response is, “What sounds good to you?” Instead, tell them exactly what kind of food you’re craving and where you want to get it. Yes, it sounds silly and minute, but when taken task by task, things will improve.
Learn how to handle conflict. A conflict is more than just a disagreement; it is a situation in which one or both parties perceive a threat, whether or not the threat is real. At work, you’re exposed to many different people, work ethics, personality types, and cultural and personal backgrounds. With all these different elements, conflict will occur on occasion. It’s how you handle the situation that will define you as a leader. When facing conflict, follow these steps:
- Stay calm, be the voice of reason and never show it publicly if people get to you.
- Listen at least 70 percent of the time.
- Focus on the positive. Try to create an environment where new and innovative ideas can flourish to give voice to those who want to change things for the better.
- Attack the problem, not the person. No matter how frustrated you are with a colleague, treat them with respect.
- Negotiate. Leaders who manage through cooperation outlast those who manage through fear or authority. This is how you earn your employees’ trust, respect and loyalty
- Remember that having the final say doesn’t really resolve anything.
Take on a leadership role. Get outside your comfort zone. This is one of the best ways to learn and develop new skillsets. Here, again, start with a small task, such as offering to organize an event or spearheading a new project. And once you feel that you’ve reached a measure of success, don’t stop. Take what you have learned and continue to grow and flourish as a leader.
Become a person of value.Women need to maintain relevance by staying curious and acquiring new skills. Establishing a set of core talents will be extremely beneficial in the long run. As you grow and adapt, allow yourself time to become a true expert, then progressively branch out and learn about adjacent or new areas.
Prioritize. Pursuing an ambitious career is never a piece of cake, particularly when you add on establishing a family life. Surround yourself with all the right people, and always keep top-of-mind who you want to come first.