Coco Chanel once said, “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.” While the kind of advice to women has changed over the years, what hasn’t changed is just how much of it is given. Nowhere is this more evident than in discussing women’s leadership. Sheryl Sandburg encourages women to be at the table, to lean in and take a more leading, rather than following role.Others advocate for the transformational possibilities of “Power Stances:” sitting or standing posters believed to increase testosterone levels and lower the stress hormone, cortisol. These are said to positively affect the way you do your job and increase your chances of success.And then there’s women’s speech. Women are advised to sound more forceful by removing hedges such as the word, “just,” by using more second person, and fewer first person pronouns, and making declarative sentences instead of asking questions.
Phew. It’s a lot to track.
While most of these recommendations can be helpful (and we admit to adding to the chorus ourselves) the number and nature of these instructions are enough to baffle even the most talented and intelligent woman. In our view, though, what seems to be lost in the discussion of what it takes to succeed is what we describe as doing what the role demands. Doing what your role demands means moving your focus off of YOU and your leadership style and onto what is needed from your role in any given setting. As a leader, you live in a world of constantly changing contexts- one moment you are having a development conversation with a direct report, another you are working with a customer, and in yet another you are presenting to the board of directors. Each situation demands different things and therefore asks different things from you. When the situation requires decisiveness-you decide. When what’s needed is silence so others can emerge, you stop speaking. When the context requires emotional detachment, you detach.
Doing what your role demands of you means the power of your leadership is predicated on your service to your role rather than the power of your personality.
Doing what the role demands is more than just knowing the parameters and scope of your role. It means deploying your personal power together with your positional power in contextually appropriate ways.
Doing what the role demands involves these 5 leadership behaviors that we teach in our P2Leaderlab programs:
- Focus on what you have to give, not on how you’re showing up or being evaluated. Not only does this place the interests of others above your own, but it also takes you out of your “emotional” brain, and into your “executive” brain. By not worrying about how you’re showing up, you free yourself from your fears and anxieties, and are thus able to access your best thinking.
- Focus on the future. Don’t get blinded by immediate results, but always consider the long-term consequences of your decisions. While some decisions are clearly best for you and your team at a given moment, what will it mean for the larger organization in the long term? Always evaluate your actions in terms of how they fit into a larger system.
- Focus on others’ leadership. Don’t just make your team successful. Make them into leaders. It’s easy to define successful leadership as having a highly functioning team. But doing what the role requires means more than having a team that gets results; it means developing your team into leaders who in turn lead teams who get results. In the military, this is called third generational leadership.
- Focus on your audience: know who they are, what they need, and what problems they are trying to solve. When influencing others, don’t just focus on what you want to say, or the point you want to make, but connect your needs to theirs. If you want to be influential, you have to be able to know what’s in it for the other, and be able to communicate it to them on their terms.
- Focus on the greater good to lift you past your limitations. No matter how much we may love our job, there are many things we have to do which we don’t like, aren’t very good at (yet), or which pushes our buttons in some way. Not many people like giving critical feedback, or worse, firing someone. Some people would rather go to the dentist than have to make a presentation to the senior management team. Some people loathe having to disagree in public. Others hate having to work with a colleague who rubs them the wrong way. Luckily your role forces you to do these things. Think of the role the way marriage therapist David Schnarch thinks about marriage: it’s a people-growing machine. Executing your role faithfully and successfully will propel you past your personal limits and make you a better person.
So here’s our advice. Be yourself, sure. Lean in, by all means. Find a power stance, why not? But above all, keep your eyes on the bigger picture. Do what the role demands, and let it guide your choices, let it pull you past your personal limitations, and let it define your leadership.