Five Ways To Commercially Position Your 'Feminine' Strengths
Originally published on Forbes.
"A good communicator."
"A great listener."
"Great at stakeholder management."
These are the five most common qualities that my female clients describe as their top strengths. It's no surprise, given that over 2 million HBDI profiles have shown that women are far more likely to be dominant in the People Quadrant over Goals, Tasks or Vision Quadrants. Other research shows that, on average, women outscore men on people-related leadership capabilities.
Early in my career, as a woman in the corporate world, I was fortunate to learn two extremely valuable lessons about how to leverage my "feminine" strengths in a commercial context. These turned out to be absolutely crucial to my advancement, and I now instill them in the women I coach and mentor.
It all started the day my manager called me into his office to discuss the engagement level of the other new graduates in my cohort. Perhaps he assumed that as a female, I'd be more in tune with my colleagues’ emotions (and I also happened to be one of a small number of women in the cohort). Whatever his reasons, he made a good call because I provided him with useful insights into the pulse of the group, and even offered several recommendations on how to drive greater engagement. This marked the beginning of a mutually synergistic relationship where he received valuable "people insights" to help his leadership, and in return, he facilitated my exposure to senior leadership.
This early experience taught me my first lesson: Value leveraging your authentic strengths, even the stereotypically "feminine" ones.
But this lesson alone wasn't enough. Eventually, I became typecast as the "people person," which was to my detriment because many of my colleagues, particularly men, assumed that someone with "human-centered" leadership strengths wouldn't be commercially inclined. This bias became very apparent during my interactions in meetings where my "commercial" contributions weren't sought out or were overlooked. Even though most would agree that company culture is fundamental to financial performance, there still remains a widespread underestimation of people-oriented strengths.
It brings me to the second lesson: It's essential to contextualize to leadership how applying your people strengths contributes to your company's commercial goals, helping them connect them to "commercial dots."
Here are five common people-oriented strengths re-framed in a commercially compelling way (for use in job applications, interviews, during meetings or in performance reviews) to help you ensure that your strengths are valued:
1. Instead of 'I'm empathic...'
Consider framing that strength as a critical skill for business communication. Empathy and emotional intelligence are both required for deepening stakeholder relationships and building trust. This is essential for managing teams and collaborating as an authentic leader. It helps you to see someone else's perspective and understand how to motivate them to enhance engagement and performance, while also role-modeling positive, people-centric behavior to the team.
The ability to empathize with target customer segments also enables you to identify the right solutions to address their pain points and deliver exceptional customer experience.
2. Instead of 'I'm a good listener...'
Take time to understand the root issue, challenge or problem without jumping to conclusions based on assumptions. Using your core skill of active listening, you're curious and ask questions to piece information together in new ways. This helps you avoid mistakes and learn from previous experiences. The ability to listen is vital for effective relationships between team members and customers. I’ve seen how when people feel heard, they’re more engaged, more loyal and more likely to become advocates, and this drives performance and maximizes profitability either through employee productivity or through customer advocacy.
3. Instead of 'I have exceptional stakeholder management skills...'
Trust and rapport build loyalty and advocacy and are critical components of the successful delivery of any project or task. A key skill is your ability to manage stakeholders' expectations and the desired outcomes in an appropriate way. You're also able to use these skills to resolve disputes quickly, either when faced with challenging stakeholders or disagreements within the team. Driving positive relationships in the workplace is something you really enjoy and it has broader impacts on contributing to positive culture and breaking down silos.
4. Instead of, 'I'm a good communicator...'
One of your key strengths is your ability to communicate in a confident, coherent and articulate way, suitably tailoring your messages based on the audience — whether with employees, management or customers. You're able to summarize key points during meetings and ensure a message is understood by all stakeholders, which is essential during times of change and for ensuring decisions are reached efficiently.
5. Instead of, 'I'm a people person...'
You genuinely care about people and their needs, and this includes employees, team members and customers. You're deeply passionate about employee engagement and you are well aware of the performance and productivity impacts that engaged employees deliver. You are most motivated to improve internal culture and boost employee morale, which contributes to retention and reduced attrition, ultimately saving the company money.
You should never feel that you need to shy away from your authentic strengths to try to "appear" more commercial or more strategic, but it can sometimes help to frame these strengths in a way that is more commercial. People and culture should be strategic imperatives for any company, and if you can become more comfortable articulating your "feminine" strengths with confidence and with more commerciality, it will work wonders in positioning you as a valuable contributor to your company's strategic objectives. Because you are – so own it.