Most of us are not lunatics. We have a reasonable amount of self awareness. It still irks a bit when you receive feedback, even if delivered nicely, let’s be honest, but anyone who is interested in their own self development always admits there is work to be done, right? Given these assumptions, how easy (or difficult) is it to find one’s own voice and stick with it, especially when others may be telling you you’re “too direct” or “too feminine”?
Well, you have to put some measures in place to make sure you are getting honest feedback about the ‘authentic you’; your real voice and tone.
Firstly, consider finding a mentor or coach. Using an independent person to help you shine a mirror on your behaviour can be helpful. It’s not always a comfortable experience, but hopefully, you’ll get the truth, and this way you can work on areas of weakness in your leadership. You don’t need to spend lots of money on this. In fact, over the years I have had several co-coaching relationships – usually with people from within my professional networks – and with whom I share values and common ground, so we can provide constructive and honest feedback to each other.
Secondly, create a diverse network of people you admire – by this I mean age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and people with disabilities – you will view life in a completely different way when seen through the lens of people from diverse groups, and this will make you a better leader. Make friends with people who challenge you, inspire you and maybe, even intimidate you a bit. I have deliberately surrounded myself in social and business circles by people who are intellectually superior to me, but also, whose behaviour and approach I respect and find aspirational. I feel like I need to be on top of my game when I’m with them, which pushes me to be smarter and more measured in my responses, more creative and confident.
Thirdly, use your intuition. Women have it in abundance. If your gut is telling you that the feedback you are getting feels like an attack, or is an attempt to put you back in your box or stop you succeeding…believe it. You will read stories from successful women every day that were made to feel like this at one time or another. If your gut says it’s not right, ignore it and do you anyway…politely, of course. One of my most used sentences is “Thank you for your feedback, however, I’m going to stick with my approach on this one.”
It doesn’t hurt to check the views and reactions from people around you. We’re not perfect, and not everything lands as we intend, but the face staring back at you will usually let you know how it’s been received – body language is everything. If you get it wrong, apologise. It really helps and means you don’t sever relationships.
Finally, it’s ok to be different. Working as an employee, I often sounded and looked different to the people around me. Sometimes, I was made to feel as though I would never be accepted until I looked and behaved in a certain way. Granted, I also had work to do on myself, but I’m thankful now for not conforming and just being myself. It has helped to set me apart in business and to be remembered. That’s a good thing.
By Rakhee Verma
Rakhee Verma left PwC in 2011 to pursue a successful career as a management consultant and interim director; helping her clients to fulfil their strategic and commercial objectives, with an emphasis on building successful growth. With clients in the private, public and third sectors, she brings a unique insight from across a spectrum of businesses and not-for-profit organisations. To contact Rakhee for a discussion about your needs, email firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Own’ your voice and style It can be hard in practice, but try not to define your ‘self’ in relation to gender stereotypes. Sometimes women can be viewed as being too ‘masculine’ if they are direct, or too ‘feminine’ with a fear of coming across as incompetent. Instead of spending energy on how people perceive you, find your own voice and be confident in your position. There will always be people judging, so you may as well act how it suits you.