by Stephanie Bickel
Have you ever gotten feedback that you were not ready for a new promotion or project? There was no additional feedback given by the hiring manager on what specific leadership communication skills were lacking. You may have heard you were just not ready to sit at the table, you weren’t engaging enough, you didn’t have enough gravitas, you were off-putting, you weren’t politically savvy, you can’t manage relationships, or you weren’t politically correct. The list goes on about generalizations people hear for not getting the position.
Unfortunately, that feedback isn’t helpful. You don’t really know what you did or didn’t do. Someone else was just able to show off their leadership and communication skills better than you.
If you aren’t getting the feedback you need from others, start with your own self-awareness. Communication for leadership success begins by understanding your own leadership style and how others may perceive you. Then, you can reflect on how to change your behavior to break through to the next level. What do you need to do differently tomorrow? What exactly does it look like to be more influential, or disagree a little differently?
Being self-aware about your own leadership communication skills can be helpful in all aspects of your life – professional and personal. Think about…what you need to do differently to be more inspirational with your team…how you can become a more trusted friend…what you can do to be a better parent.
Your leadership style is created by a set of habits or a set of behaviors that emerge over time. Typically, you fall into one of two categories, powerful or attractive, based on how you respond in certain situations. Neither is necessarily good or bad and there are positive and negatives attributes of each. Take our leadership style quiz to find out if you are a powerful or attractive leader. Each of these styles impacts your communication for leadership success in different ways.
Someone who is powerful is dynamic, confident, commanding, articulate, and influential. On the flip side, they can be intimidating, aggressive, arrogant, off-putting, not personal, and abrasive. They interrupt others and express that others are wrong and they are right. You can see how these leadership communication skills can be a blessing and a curse.
In contrast, an attractive style is associated with people who are quiet, differential, nice, easy to talk to, and great team members or mentors. They can also be perceived as weak, too passive, not a leader, or too detail oriented. Attractive leaders are also are known for using too many qualifiers or filler words, “uhs” and “ums”, that convey uncertainty.
These different styles can be perceived as more positive or negative in different contexts, cultures, and industries. An engineer may appreciate detail and process versus someone in marketing that appreciates creativity. Our styles are also changing all the time as our situations change. When our role is more senior, we act more powerful. When we have resources, we act more powerful. When we have knowledge, we act more powerful. Research also shows that the balance becomes more challenging for women and people of color compared to men. Powerful women can be labeled emotional while a man is intense, dedicated, and passionate. In addition, the more successful people of color or women become, the more their likeability factor goes down.
Research shows it is easier to go from a powerful to an attractive style and more difficult to go from attractive to powerful. The goal is to flex your style and leadership communication skills while staying true to who you are. Minor changes can make a big difference in changing perceptions. Keep in mind that while you are emulating others to expand your leadership style, it doesn’t mean you are inauthentic. You are pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and growing as a leader. Communication for leadership success involves trial and error. Be kind to yourself and don’t expect to flip the switch overnight. If this is difficult for you, it is helpful to focus on the behavior, not about how you feel. Your emotions will eventually catch up with the behavior.
During this pandemic, begin by focusing on your remote leadership and communication skills. How do you want to show up virtually? Start with how you dress, your lighting, and your background. Put your shoulders back. Look up. Project your voice with confidence. First impressions can go a long way in connecting and building lasting relationships with others.
When you have someone in mind or a picture of what success looks like, you accelerate your own growth. There are a few strong leaders that come to mind who are able to achieve the right balance between powerful and attractive styles. Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of Australia, is casual in that she walks barefoot and uses her first name. On the contrary, she is very direct, asks tough questions, uses piercing eye contact, is articulate, and uses declarative statements. Roger Federer, the professional tennis player, dresses formal, is prepared, is disciplined, and has a high intensity level. He compliments this with being engaging, appreciative, likeable, and honest.
Between your own self-awareness and emulating others you admire, you begin on a path to leadership success. Start small and win BIG to create a career you have always dreamed of!
*The quiz and information is based on the research conducted by Suzanne J. Peterson, Robin Abramson, and R.K. Stutman, and shared in the Harvard Business Review article, “How to Develop Your Leadership Style: Concrete Advice for a Squishy Challenge.”
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