A deliberate approach to women’s leadership

By on September 30, 2014
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Women can achieve what they want by knowing what they want and creating a framework in which to achieve these goals.  Smart companies understand the benefits of having female leaders and have created a culture that allows women to realise their ambitions.

“By combining the skills-sets of men and women, companies can create a more holistic leadership team better equipped to manage the challenges of running an organisation,” explains Joyce Lebelo, Partner and Managing Executive: eLearning at LRMG. “This holistic approach could bring about a powerful contribution and eliminate any blind spots that could be experienced by a male-only team. It’s a win-win,” she says.

In a world where women’s success in the workplace is often still jaded by their ability to manage their male peer’s perception of them, it’s up to women to create the career path they want. Lebelo refers to a book called Pushback by Selena Rezvani which highlights four steps that will help women successfully and effectively negotiate for the things they want.

“These four steps could in fact apply to anyone who is looking to improve their negotiating skills, an important skill both professionally and personally,” says Lebelo. “However, when it comes to negotiating in the workplace, women end up accepting less – lower salaries, less senior positions, limited flexibility – simply because they haven’t clearly articulated their desires and they haven’t stood their ground. The data around women’s earning potential and the number of women in leadership positions supports this.”

The first step outlined in Selena Rezvani’s book is to prepare psychology. “Emotions can break down your negotiation prowess, so prepare yourself mentally. Know your strengths and weaknesses,” writes Rezvani.

Speak to colleagues or do an on- line personality assessment to better understand your negotiating style, you can even go as far as role playing the conversation with someone you trust. Know clearly what your goals are and how you can achieve them, what is expected from the other party and what you can give in exchange.

“Position it as a win-win and have confidence in the value that you bring. Know that you are successful not in spite of, but because of who you are,” advises Lebelo.

‘Do Your Homework’ is Rezvani’s second step in learning how to negotiate. She says that when women do their pre-negotiation homework, they enter the room with a different confidence, sit with a little more authority and argue their case unapologetically.

“There is homework to be done before we get to the negotiating table,” explains Lebelo. “People are often inclined to think about issues from their own perspective, but ensure you understand your negotiating counterpart’s perspective and goals. Gain access to information by speaking to people within your network, build relationships by asking questions to gain different viewpoints and additional information. Understand all the potential objections so that you’re in a position to address them assertively and confidently. Go as far as preparing a script; write your story down and include hard facts.”

Rezvani’s third step is to be prepared to “manoeuvre through the conversation” and it involves everything from asking for the best possible outcome and being prepared to make some concessions if necessary, to building rapport with your counterparts.

“Being assertive is the most overused term when it comes to women and leadership. I believe it’s more about tactical manoeuvring than it is about being aggressive,” says Lebelo. “Also, understand the value in silence. Speak slowly with deliberate pauses, giving your counterpart time to consider your request.”

Once your negotiation is finalised, summarise the results in writing and distribute to all affected parties. The fourth and final step in Rezvani’s negotiation process is to follow up.

Lebelo explains that this is the time to reflect on what you have learned from the process – what were your weak points and what the strong points were. “Use this information to develop a long-term view towards future negotiations. Celebrate your successes and don’t become despondent if you did not achieve the desired outcome. See every negotiation as an opportunity to learn more about the process and to develop important business relationships.”

Women’s leadership is a two-way conversation, and the responsibility to create a gender equal culture lies on everyone.  Employers can encourage women by creating a culture where all employees feel safe, valued and connected. “Flexible and inclusive policies that allow women the ability to be more agile in the workplace so they’re able to make a more valuable contribution show a fundamental respect for the benefits of having male and female role models,” she says.

As a mother to five children, Lebelo recalls a time soon after the birth of her second child when she returned to work part time for three months. That same year, she was awarded the Top Business Development Award. “My boss trusted that if he gave me the flexibility I needed I would not only perform but that I would exceed his expectations,” recalls Lebelo. “I’m not saying we need bespoke policies for women, but a holistic view of what it takes for an employee to achieve success will ultimately drive growth within the organisation.”

Lebelo knew what was required of her to achieve her goals. She was prepared professionally and personally, with support networks in place, and ultimately, she was true to herself and her desires. “Women must be willing to find themselves and find a balance that works for them. Once they have a clear understanding of what it is they want, a deliberate and sustained approach will help get them there,” she concluded.

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