manager woman is leading the meeting

Assertive vs Aggressive: 5 Tips for Women Walking the Tightrope

The one question that I get asked the most as a women’s leadership coach is how to walk the tightrope and find balance between being aggressive and assertive in the workplace. This also happens to be one of the main themes in my book, Leading Gracefully, which presents a whole new roadmap on how women can achieve that sometimes elusive balance.

hardcover of book leading gracefully

One of the biggest challenges women face is something called the “double bind” which are the confusing messages they get about how to behave in a work environment. Women are told they need to be assertive, but not too much, otherwise they might be seen as a “bitch” or “difficult to work with” or an “Ice Queen.” However, if they are too accommodating, then they might get labeled as the “Nice girl.” Each of these polarities make up two ends of the Leadership Tightrope and both sides of this spectrum have pitfalls and force women to choose between being respected versus being liked, which ends up being a zero sum game.

The Nice Girl vs The Ice Queen

What happens when you get labeled as the nice girl? Sure, people may like you because they know you’ll be responsible, take care of all the office housework and not mess up their Starbucks order, but when it comes time to assign challenging projects or take on more responsibility, you’re most likely not going to be top of mind for people. On the flip side, when we’re on the other end of the Tightrope, people may not necessarily like working for you or with you because you might come off as cold and unemotional. Sure you are respected, but what happens when there’s a fire? Will you hear about it? Most likely not, because people are most likely intimidated by you and could be afraid of an aggressive reaction. There are trade offs on either side of this Leadership Tightrope and they are both bad for women’s advancement. And this is one of the main reasons we continue to see a leadership gap in organizations today because it seems as if women are damned either way, so they either check out, opt out of their careers, or worse yet, burn out from having to constantly manage their image and perception.

assertive ice queen at office

So it’s really easy to give up and say, “well there’s not really much I can do and men need to change the way they stereotype women.” My answer to that is – yes and no. Do men need to check their gender bias at the door? Absolutely? Do organizations need to make sure men have the tools to do so? Yes. However, women can also work on their effectiveness by finding balance between being the Ice Queen or the Nice Girl through practicing Feminine Leadership. When practicing feminine leadership, women are able to take back control of their impact through building self-awareness and leaning into the strengths they bring to the table. 

Defining Assertiveness

Let me start my defining assertiveness. Being assertive means being able to clearly and confidently communicate your ideas, influence others, and contribute fully. It means being direct, being able to make decisions and having the courage to speak up when you don’t agree or have a strong opinion about something. Now the way we do this can be the difference between being assertive and being too aggressive. The tone of voice we use as well as our body language and facial expressions make up about 80% of what people perceive of us. To be able to be assertive means our body language is aligned with our thoughts and we are able to articulate them with confidence and ease. This means we feel calm and centered in our body. It means that our body language is open and receptive. We are able to listen deeply and acknowledge others. We allow others to express their opinions and give others credit for their input.

boss woman at workplace

How does this differ from being aggressive? When we are aggressive, we tend to leave our emotions at the door. There isn’t much empathy or kindness in the way we speak, we might be rude or indifferent and our body language might be more closed rather than open and receptive. We might roll our eyes or cross our arms for example. We might not listen well to others or rudely interrupt. We might be demanding and not really give people the credit they deserve. Although you are direct and vocal, the tone of voice you use and the energy behind it is very different. It is much more controlling and dominating and makes people feel intimidated, afraid and uncomfortable.

Here are five steps you can take to be more assertive and less aggressive:

1. What is my current impact?

Self-awareness is the key to personal and professional development, so we start there. Most of the time, we don’t have any clue about how we are showing up and how others perceive us. Depending on your level, you may or may not be getting feedback about your performance or leadership style. So it’s imperative that you develop self-awareness and ask yourself, what is the impact I am having on the people on my team, on my peers, direct reports, or others I interact with on a daily basis. Begin noticing how people react to you and whether you are creating a healthy or toxic environment around you through your actions and behavior. Are you a team player and get along well with the majority of your team or do you complain and act a victim? Are you able to communicate your ideas well or are you more emotional and volatile? How do you handle stress? Begin noticing your impact and be honest with yourself. If you don’t like what you see, that’s okay. You can’t change what you don’t see, so this is the first step in choosing behaviors that bring you to the desired impact you want to have.

be self-aware

2. What is my desired impact?

Once you’ve given yourself an honest assessment (or taken a 360 Leadership Assessment), you can ask yourself – What is the desired impact I want to have? Do you want to be more collaborative with others? Do you want to build more trust with your peers? Do you want to improve a relationship with someone you work with? Do you want to be a more assertive and less aggressive woman? Write down the types of impact you want to have on the various groups of people you work with (peers, direct reports, manager, customers etc). This will give you a goal or objective to work towards and you can then work backwards to figure out what qualities you need to develop in order to get to your desired impact.

3. Practice Centering

At the center of the Feminine Leadership model is the quality of Centering. If you’re wondering what that is, think about how you feel after a yoga or meditation class. You probably feel more grounded, present, calm and relaxed. That is what we mean by Centering. Most of the time we are in some kind of stress response during the work day. We have to run from one meeting to the next, constantly put out fires and handle many demands. All of these put stress on the body which significantly reduces our ability to think clearly. When we are in a stress response we might respond more emotionally or aggressively. However, we can quickly get out of that stress response by practicing a Centering exercise (there’s a great one I recommend in my book), or you can find an easy practice that you enjoy like deep breathing exercises or going for a quick walk around the block or listening to relaxing music. Find a practice that works for you and do that before you respond to an email, resolve a conflict or walk into an important meeting or presentation. 

4. Choose a leadership capacity(s) to develop.

Once you’ve Centered, you can then ask yourself – what leadership quality do I need to use in this given situation so I can have my desired impact? You can then refer to the Feminine Leadership Model to ask yourself what qualities will help you get to your desired impact. If you tend to be more aggressive in your leadership style, perhaps you need to practice more empathy and humility in order to achieve your desired impact. If you tend to be more shy and withdrawn, then perhaps you need to be more direct and become assertive in how you communicate your ideas and opinions. Pick one or two leadership qualities from the model that you think will help you balance out your impact and commit to working on those for the next few months. Use the specific exercises outlined in my book to help you do so or book coaching sessions with me directly if you want further support.

woman in balance and calm mood

5. Ask for feedback.

A great way to know whether you’re on the right track is to tell people you work with that you are working on a specific leadership quality. This will help you stay accountable and get feedback on your progress. Not only will you be acting as a role model for self-development, but you’ll also be getting valuable feedback on the changes you’re trying to implement in your leadership style. This insight can be pivotal to your success when you’re working on behavior change because it gives you the positive reinforcement to keep going and also helps you gauge if you’re on track to achieve your desired impact.

one to one meeting at office

You Are Always at Choice

One of the most valuable things you can discover is that you are always at choice at how you show up, whether you lead others or just lead yourself. Whether you’re a manager, an entrepreneur or a mom, you can practice these leadership skills to better manage yourself and others with more ease, grace and effectiveness. Sometimes all it takes is the willingness to look at ourselves honestly in the mirror and ask ourselves some tough questions. But in the end, doing the work to improve your effectiveness can mean the difference between staying stagnant in your career or moving upwards, making more money, and being more successful in your endeavors. For women to move up the ladder and close the gender gap, we must learn how to assertively and confidently communicate, offer our opinions, and contribute our gifts fully. I hope these steps will help you not only be liked but also respected by the people you work with and relate to.

female in leadership combating the covid19 (2)

Female Leadership is Proving to be the Secret Weapon in the Battle against Coronavirus

Women leaders around the world are showcasing the type of leadership that is proving to be most effective in handling the current COVID-19 pandemic. Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland have had one of the more successful responses to the pandemic. From Jacinda Ardern to Angela Merkel, women are once again proving that female leaders can lead equally, if not better, than many of their male counterparts especially in times of crisis. 

In this post, I’d like to take a closer look at the specific leadership skills global female leaders are embodying as a lesson for all of us in how to lead gracefully in times of great hardship and challenge. Click here to read more.

 

strong confident woman

4 Practical Ways to Build More Self-Confidence for Women in Leadership – Part II

 

Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. Christopher Robin

In my last post, we looked at the definition of self-confidence and why it’s so important for women looking to move forward in their careers. If you need more evidence of why confidence is imperative for women, we know that a lack of confidence in millennials can prevent them from  entering the workforce. And since they are now the biggest segment of the workforce, it should be in everyone’s interest to ensure these issues are addressed in companies through women’s leadership training through offering leadership development, mentoring and coaching opportunities for up-and-coming female leaders.

In this post, we’ll introduce four practical ways you can begin working on how to gain confidence, build inner strength and be free of that pesky voice that tells you you’re never good enough!

1. Write down the words of your Inner Bully

Now it’s also important to know the primary job of our Inner Bully. The job of our Inner Bully is to keep us safe. It wants to protect us by reminding us of our past failures and limitations so we won’t repeat the same actions that have caused us pain and humiliation in the past. But although it thinks it’s keeping us safe, it’s unaware of the damage it’s doing in the process, especially to our self-confidence. It’s like the operating system on a computer – it runs in the background so you can’t see it but it runs the entire thing.

 

woman working on herself

 

So how do we control the Inner Bully? We have to update our operating system.

The first step is to identify the voice of our Inner Bully. We are going to bring the Inner Bully into our conscious awareness so we can begin reshaping our beliefs into more positive ones. 

Take a moment now to think about your Inner Bully – what does it say to you? What are the words it uses? What is the dialogue? What are those limiting beliefs? 

Pick the main one, the one that is usually right there, and jot it down in your journal.   

2. Get in touch with your Inner Cheerleader

Now that we have identified the words of our Inner Bully, the next step is to replace those words with the words of our Inner Cheerleader.

Our Inner Cheerleader is the part of us that knows that we are good enough, we are smart enough, capable enough. It is the part of ourselves that is confident. Think about your best friends. Every time you are sad or not feeling particularly confident, you will probably call a close friend or family member and they will remind you of how wonderful you are. And you would do the same in return. What we have to learn to do is to do that same thing for ourselves especially when we notice the Inner Bully becoming loud.

So we are going to get in touch with our Inner Cheerleader as the second step to learning how to boost self-confidence. This exercise is a favorite with women who attend my workshops and keynotes because it helps them immediately connect to their power and authenticity.

To do that, I’m going to ask you to close your eyes for a moment. Bring to mind a peak experience from your past – a moment or a time in your life where you accomplished something big where you felt like you were at the top of the mountain. Really visualize that moment in time and bring it into your mind’s eye.

 

 

Think about the qualities you showed up with to reach that moment. Who were you being? What did it take to get there? Think about the qualities that got you there, and who you had to be to get there. What words come to mind?

 Open your eyes and write down the words that came to mind. What qualities did you exhibit to reach that moment? Write those down in your journal. Then turn those words into phrases or sentences. These phrases will begin to make up the dialogue of your Inner Cheerleader.

 3. Replace the Inner Bully with the Inner Cheerleader

Every time you notice your Inner Bully voice, you’re going to replace it with the words of your Inner Cheerleader from Step #2. I recommend starting out by first:

  • Keep a tally of every time you hear your Inner Bully getting loud.
  • Notice how many times a day it speaks to you.
  • In what situations or contexts does it tend to come up?
  • Do this for at least one week.

woman keeping the balance

 

In the second week, begin replacing the words of your Inner Bully with phrases you came up with from your Inner Cheerleader. You’re going to use this confidence building activity by practicing self-compassion and kindness with yourself. You’re going to talk to yourself like you talk to your best friend and it’s going to help you remember how amazing you truly are.

4. Practice Makes Perfect

As you continue to replace the words of your Inner Bully with the words of your Inner Cheerleader you’ll begin to notice the volume of your Inner Bully go down and you’ll be able to turn up the volume of your Inner Cheerleader. Over time the voice of your Inner Cheerleader will become a part of your inner Operating System. But in order for this to become truly a habit, you will need to practice to get good at noticing each time your Inner Bully rears its ugly head!

If you want further exercises to help you practice, check out the additional exercises I’ve developed featured in my book Leading Gracefully.Leading gracefully

With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world. Dalai Lama

 

What Results Can You Expect?

I usually recommend at least three to six months to begin noting a shift in your inner dialogue. Be patient and realize that it’s taken you a lifetime to develop an Inner Bully, so it will take some time to undo that programming. But if you approach these exercises with the same dedication and discipline required to lose weight, learn a new language, or develop any habit, you’ll begin to see changes over time. The goal is to eventually turn down the volume on your Inner Bully and turn up the volume on feeling more self-confident, have more self-esteem, and more inner trust.

 

happy woman walking

 

As you complete these exercises:

  1. What do you notice?
  2. Does your Inner Bully become less loud?
  3. Are you feeling more confident?

Leave your comments in the feed below and share how these tools worked for you!

the devil wears prada movie scene

Ice Queen Syndrome – How Faux Confidence Can Hurt Women in Leadership

Queen Bee, the Ice Queen. We’ve all met one or worse yet, worked for one. I recently came across a slew of articles analyzing the role of the these characteristics in the office ecosystem. It’s a topic I’ve discussed at great length both in my book, Leading Gracefully and at speaking engagements across the US and abroad. So, why did these articles in particular catch my eye? They weren’t about the problems associated with being pegged as the Ice Queen, they were about embracing her!

Needless to say, I was shocked. Women have been forced into these stereotypes for decades because of discriminatory work environments, and that’s not a tradition I think we should embrace. As I began reading the arguments posed by pro-Ice Queen authors, I realized that the core of the argument in favor of being the most unapproachable person in the office was about exuding confidence.

Let’s get one thing straight: Women should not have to trade likeability for confidence.

I developed the Feminine Leadership Model based on leading with the ideal balance of our masculine and feminine traits, but confidence is neither. Women can embrace feminine qualities that make them kinder, more caring, and more empathetic – all the while carrying themselves with the kind of confidence that will get them the respect they deserve. And let’s be real, being icy and bitter only exudes faux confidence, at best. I teach my female clients that showing empathy, leveraging your vulnerability, and letting your colleagues know you care are all real ways to become a more effective leader. These methods are all antithetical to being the office Ice Queen, and lead to a healthier and more successful team dynamic.

Discriminatory and male-dominated work environments may be to blame for the existence of the Ice Queen stereotype but, by and large, the victims of the aggressive and bossy female leader are other women. And in fact, one of the top complaints I hear from my clients are stories of how their female bosses actively working to sabotage their career. Typically these are stories of female bosses who micro-manage which makes it difficult to gain the skills necessary to advance or don’t advocate on their behalf, limiting their visibility which hurts their chances for promotions. This practice hurts the overall cause for those of us who are interested in closing the gender leadership gap.

I believe it is vital for women to strengthen their professional relationships with each other in order to close this gender gap. Here’s a passage I include in Leading Gracefully: “When we become less judgemental, and more forgiving of women who may be slightly different than us, it can lead us to work better together – and give women the boost that they need to face the myriad other challenges they have to face in the workplace.”

The Future of Work: The Art of Collaborative Leadership

The way we work is shifting. We see that in subtle ways and other times in not so subtle ways. Even traditional companies like Deloitte are investing in people development, realizing that it is the best resource they have to stay ahead of the curve. Those with a real competitive advantage intuitively understand innovation and creativity as essential to meeting market demands and crucial in facing our collective sustainability challenges. The future of work as we know it is shifting from an outdated directive approach toward collaborative frameworks that inspire us to engage in new and different ways with our work and with each other.

Read the rest of the article on the Huffington Post here.

The Male Perspective on Women’s Leadership

I recently had the pleasure of being featured on the Dose of Leadership podcast with Richard Reirson, who I can only describe as one of the men who “gets it.” He understands the need for more women in leadership because of the unique perspective they bring to the table, along with the great range of leadership skills that he thinks is much needed in the corporate world. I must admit it was refreshing to speak to someone who supports not only having more women at the top but an attitude that men can also learn a lot from women, especially about how to bring more heart into business.

Listen to our full interview here: http://www.doseofleadership.com/monique-tallon/

 

 

Got Vision? Three Tips to Effectively Communicate Your Ideas and Inspire Your Followers

We all know that vision is one of the cornerstones to effective leadership. Yet despite this well known fact, I’ve worked with many leaders who struggle to effectively communicate their vision, and I am always surprised at how often many leaders overlook this important step. After much analysis, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two types of thinkers: Big Sky Thinkers and Detailed Thinkers, and depending on where you fall on that spectrum, it could determine how well you communicate and execute your vision.

In my new book, Leading Gracefully: A Woman’s Guide to Confident, Authentic and Effective Leadership, I offer a short quiz to my readers so they can quickly assess which category the fall into. Lucky for you, you can find that quiz in my free workbook, 15 Exercises to Feminine Leadership Mastery, that you can download from my website. Once you’ve taken the quiz, you’ll have a better idea of whether you’re someone with great vision but lack in execution, or someone who gets so focused on execution, that you forget to take a step back and get people on board with your vision first. Both steps are crucial to leading well-performing, collaborative teams that produce great results.

Here are 3 tips that I offer in my book, Leading Gracefully that both men and women can practice to ensure they don’t fall into the trap many good intentioned leaders fall into.

1) Decide on Your Goal: Is your goal to motivate and inspire your team to follow your vision? Or is it to execute flawlessly on a strategic plan? You can’t have one without the other; as a leader your job is to inspire your people into action and be clear in your expectations, delegate effectively, create accountability, and deliver results. But depending on whether you are a big-picture thinker or a detailed thinker, this may not come as easily or naturally as one would think. Make sure you do both and preferably do the first before the latter. Each requires a different strategy and approach.

2) Be Assertive: If you’re a Detailed Thinker, make sure you’re taking the step back to assertively communicate your vision before forging ahead with the to-do’s. Many women in particular get stuck here because they tend to get wrapped up in the “proving my value” mentality, taking on tasks and going into execution mode to show they are capable of producing results. Those who are promoted to a higher level of leadership (usually Director level or above), also might struggle with letting go of the “doing” and embrace the “being” required of leadership, which starts with assertively and passionately communicating your vision and getting buy-in from key stakeholders before moving into action-planning.

3) Learn to Delegate: If you are a big-picture thinker, once you’ve communicated your grand vision it’s important to follow through with clearly set expectations, roles, responsibilities, direction, and delegation. Execution does not mean taking everything on yourself. Perfectionists (and many women, again for reasons stated above) have a difficult time with this. The fix: stop micro-managing and start empowering your team to take ownership of their areas of responsibility. You’ll be surprised at the results you get.

To learn more about how to effectively communicate your vision and other tips to be a great leader, check out Leading Gracefully, available on Amazon.