by Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, author of “Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life“
Charlene Ryan had never been political, but the polarizing candidates in 2016 changed that. For the first time, she worked to elect a candidate and even donated money. This year, she feels ready to increase her influence in business as well as her community, but where to begin?
The first step is to lean into her circle of women friends. The 20 women now in the US Senate – from both sides of the aisle – have made news by meeting for dinner every quarter to work together. One of their most notable agreements prevented a government shutdown in 2013. One commentator joked, “The women are the only grownups left in Washington.”
In business as in politics, women know how to work together to increase value for everyone, and the more influence we have, the more good we can do. Here are a few useful strategies I’ve learned from the smart, amazing women co-authors of my book, “Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life“.
These strategies will increase your ability to advance your goals in any arena:
1. Look closely at how you feel about exercising power.
Although the doors to power have been open for decades, women haven’t been stepping through. Co-author Gloria Feldt says when power is defined as “power over,” women want no part of it. When she redefines it as the “power to” work with others, women feel quite differently. With this simple paradigm shift women can “choose power over fear to lead authentically as women.”
Today, many women and men are willing to step up and act. Feldt’s nine power tools help women understand who they are so they can define their own terms. Women have plenty of ambition, but too often fail to use it to develop their plan, and take responsibility for working it.
2. Build your power by speaking in public.
“Delivering a presentation that achieves its purpose can be empowering,” says co-author Lois Phillips, PhD. Success requires planning, so start by deciding: What do I stand for? What do I believe? Am I willing to take the heat for asserting my ideas?
By speaking up, “A woman is transcending conventional attitudes toward the woman’s role and the woman’s place,” Phillips says. That’s OK. Claim your outsider status as a badge of honor. Draft your bio carefully and let the emcee establish your expertise so you get the respect you deserve.
3. Plan ways to keep the floor and make yourself heard.
Men are accustomed to talking over women, says gender communication expert and co-author Claire Damken Brown, PhD. To combat that, strategize with other women to get the message out.
For example, if another woman acknowledges an interruption by saying, “Now, let’s hear more of what Elaine was saying,” she is more likely to regain the floor. When a man offers Elaine’s idea as his own, her ally could say, “Thanks for supporting Elaine’s idea. Let’s ask her to give us a few more data points.” There are personal strategies to help a woman recover after an interruption, but she is much more likely to succeed with allies.
When you do have the floor, make sure you don’t numb your audience with every detail. Keep it simple, and offer one word, one sentence and then one paragraph to keep the attention of the audience.
4. Gather Your Nerve and Take Your Rightful Seat.
“Women have been trained to hide their skills,” says international speaker and co-author Lois P. Frankel, PhD. She urges women to claim the seat they deserve at the table, regardless of how many men are present.
“Think strategically but act tactically,” says Frankel. While it’s tempting to roll up your sleeves and jump into an assignment, ask yourself some questions first, such as, “Will doing this add value? What is the most efficient way to do it? Should I be doing this or is someone else better suited? What might be a better idea?”
5. Strategize and Use Your Feminine Leadership Skills.
Bringing dissenting sides together, knowing when to push, when to pull, and when to stand your ground is typical of feminine negotiation styles. These so-called soft skills are in fact hard to learn and apply, according to-author Birute Regine, EdD. Considering all sides of an issue, listening attentively, empathizing and keeping your focus on the big picture are feminine skills that help women develop beneficial policies.
The quarterly dinners of Democrat and Republican women senators are an example of this willingness to work together. “The women are an incredibly positive force,” one woman confided to a TIME reporter. “We work together well, and we look for common ground.”
Women like Charlene Ryan get involved when they want to change something. That’s great! When you learn a great change technique, apply it in your own life and share it with another woman. Let’s create a world in which every woman claims her power, sees her advice and expertise valued and respected, conquers her internal barriers, and works together with other women and men.
Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, is an author of “Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life” and urges women to connect to help each other create a better world. She is a clinical psychologist, motivational speaker, and women-empowerment expert who devotes her energies to helping women achieve the lives they want. O’Reilly is the founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc., and for seven years she has interviewed inspiring women for online podcasts available on her website.