BY JAN ARZOOMAN
Women eyeing leadership roles or being considered for one can benefit from corporate initiatives dedicated to that goal. American Management Association sees that more companies are investing in developing women’s leadership, realizing that this helps not only their image but also their actual profits. Diversity and inclusion efforts in a company must include promoting women into upper management. It’s no longer acceptable to claim you’re diverse when your corporate suite is still mostly filled with men.
A core belief of AMA is that increasing skills creates better employees, leaders, and organizations. Ann M. Evanston, an international speaker, coach, and author who develops women’s leadership courses for AMA, agrees that learning communication skills, business finances, or strategic thinking is always worth the investment for people who want to advance in their career. Becoming a confident, recognized, and valued woman leader, however, requires a different skill set, she told AMA in an interview.
Leadership Skills to Focus on
To become leaders who create success for themselves and add value to their organizations, Evanston said, women should hone their skills in three important areas:
Owning your leadership voice. “Many women that I meet coming into coed classes are great communicators—that’s really not the problem,” Evanston said. But, “we’re still hearing this message in the workplace of ‘you don’t speak up enough and you’re not being heard.’” It becomes vital to communicate the value of your ideas to others in your organization. You want to reach a level where people recognize that you have the ability and the power to take on more responsibility.
Thinking and communicating strategically. Sooner or later those in leadership positions will see something that needs to change or come up with an innovative product or procedure that could benefit their team or business. Women need to build a case for such ideas, to talk about profit and risk, to create a business plan, and to analyze so that senior leadership will support them in making that plan happen, Evanston said. As they strategize to achieve goals, it’s also essential to understand and work toward the company's goals. It’s a definite mind shift from being an individual contributor to being a leader in an organization.
Strengthening your relationships and networks. As women leap into this new phase of their careers, they will need strong relationships and a network to turn to. They will deal with corporate politics at one point or another, so allies in their organization are necessary. In addition, it’s more likely their team will support them if they know they are supported. And women who work and align with other women in a positive way will have more power to get things done, Evanston said.
Women who gaining expertise in these three areas will be able to generate a new way of thinking and leading, Evanston said. They'll accumulate skills in business acumen, vision, knowing the value of their decisions, and calculated risk-taking. In the process, they'll find their voices and build reputations as authentic, trusted, and valued leaders.
Jan Arzooman is a proofreader, copyeditor, and writer in AMA’s creative services/marketing department.