Four years ago, I took on the biggest leadership challenge of my life. Our company had just been acquired by a larger organization. Our owner and founder, Elise Mitchell, became CEO of both our company and our newly formed network, and she asked me to take over her duties as the company’s president.
Elise had grown our small organization into a national award-winning agency, so I had big shoes to fill. But I knew I couldn’t try to be her — I had to cultivate my own leadership style.
Similarly, women too often feel we need to lead like men or follow someone else’s model to get things done. We’re better served when we honor our strengths and lead according to our own values. Here’s how to gain authority as a leader without compromising yourself:
1. Get to Know Your Team Members.
Do your homework on your employees. What are their significant others’ and children’s names? Do their kids play soccer or take piano lessons? Where do they volunteer in their spare time?
People will be flattered if you take the time to ask about their lives outside of work, and connecting personally with employees makes them more loyal and passionate about working for you.
2. Identify and Empower Leaders.
When I became company president, I was intentional about selecting leaders who had long-term vision, could advocate for their clients and team members, and would drive great ideas.
Make note of people who have strong leadership potential, and nurture their talents. Provide them with resources and mentorship so they can pursue new projects on behalf of the company.
3. Lead Authentically.
Women often believe they must sacrifice certain parts of their lives, such as having children, in order to succeed in their careers. But that’s no longer the case.
Be true to your goals, and be honest about what you want — in and out of the office. Asserting your ambition while maintaining work-life balance will serve as an example for your employees.
Being a leader means realizing you can cede control, empower your people, and still be successful. One of the greatest lessons I learned in my career was how to give up control and trust others to do their part. It is so rewarding to see what that freedom can do for your team members, your company, and you.
And don’t be ashamed when you need to ask for help, whether that’s finding a sitter for a business trip or asking your team members to handle some things at the office when you’re away.
5. Don’t Assume You Know — or Need to Know — Everything.
It’s natural to want to make a good impression in a new leadership role. But don’t get hung up on needing to do everything perfectly right out of the gate.
Talk with your team members. Find out what kind of support they need from you, and be honest about the areas in which you’d like to learn more from them. That transparency helps establish and maintain an open, productive culture.
6. Foster Better Company-wide Communication.
As I took on this new role, one of my biggest goals was complete transparency — about our new direction in this company, our financial status, and our business wins and losses. I wanted to engage my entire team in building a strategic business plan.
It wasn’t dictated to them; it was developed by them. Doing so boosted collaboration, appreciation, and motivation, and it has driven my team members to become better stewards of the business.
You lead most effectively by respecting others’ opinions while honoring your own goals and intuitions. Avoid the trap of thinking you need to emulate someone else. You’ve earned this opportunity. Trust that, and be the strong leader you know yourself to be.
About the Author
Sarah Clark is the president of Mitchell, an award-winning public relations firm that creates real conversations between people, businesses, and brands through strategic insights, customized conversations, and consumer engagement.