Rising to the top is not easy for even the most talented women. It takes savvy, grit, and persistence. It requires the belief in one’s future and the potential to reach goals. But beyond the obvious challenges that women encounter every day, more subtle yet influential factors that inhibit us from being successful are those internal barriers that deplete our effectiveness and rob us of the power we have but may not even recognize.
Every day many competent well-educated women struggle with their power. Their discomfort with the idea of being a strong woman as well as how to effectively demonstrate and sustain power without backlash results in a loss of power over time. That loss is our own leaky pipeline. It’s a slow leak that depletes us of influence and has a negative impact on our reputation and success.
It’s critical that ambitious women understand their leaky power pipeline. The subtle ways women give away their power affects their ability to reach leadership positions.
Here are the top 9 ways women give away their power.
The use of minimizing language.
Our choice of words has a dramatic effect on our ability to influence others and demonstrate confidence. When we use minimizing language, we lose our effectiveness and power.
The Harvard Business Review article, Replace Meaningless Words with Meaningful Ones, by Jerry Weissman advises us to replace weak, meaningless words with stronger ones. He talks about how a simple word replacement can change the impact of our overall communication.
Weissman advices us to replace the weak words “I think”, “I believe”, and “I feel”, for stronger options such as “I’m confident”, “I’m convinced”, “I expect”. These simple replacements can make a difference in how our message is perceived.
Pantene released a new ad campaign in 2014 that brought national attention to women’s tendency to apologize, even when not necessary. This campaign sparked much discussion about how women can learn to change this default behavior. Saying you’re sorry unnecessarily puts you in a subservient position. Women’s tendency to apologize and, in fact over apologize, is another subtle way we give our power away. Understanding when you apologize and your triggers to do so helps you stop your automatic response to say “I’m sorry” and eliminate the phrase when appropriate.
Letting others take credit for ideas
Many of us in the workplace have experienced this. You bring up a point in a meeting and it goes unnoticed. Later someone else, usually a man, will repeat your thought and people will applaud his great idea. When we stay silent and let others take credit for our ideas, we give our power away. I coach my clients to take back the credit. “Thank you for bringing up this idea that I proposed earlier.” Make a statement that will remind the attendees of your ownership of the idea.
The hesitancy to self-promote
Our hesitancy to advocate for ourselves is a lost opportunity to demonstrate to others the value we contribute to the business and the power of our talent and achievements. Because of our discomfort with self-promotion, our default behavior is to rely on our hard work and performance for recognition and reward. This results in a lack of visibility and subsequent lack of power. Recognizing that self-promotion is a vital leadership skill helps change our mindset. Understanding one’s value proposition gives us a better idea of how we contribute to positive business outcomes.
Not understanding or using our influence
Power comes from knowing the relationship between how we do our work and positive business outcomes, our value proposition. When we truly get how we affect specific outcomes, we appreciate the influence we have, not only on the business and achievement of designated goals, but in helping others be successful. There is power in using influence to build mutually beneficial relationships in our organization and in our industry. Offering to help others achieve their goals creates credibility that results in influence. Volunteering for special projects at work highlights our competence and influence.
Not leveraging relationships
Most women have no problem doing favors for others. In helping others we gain visibility and influence. However, we often hesitate to ask for anything in return. Leveraging relationships is a leadership skill and our difficulty with quid pro quo is lost opportunity and subsequent loss of power and potential influence. We lose the social capital we have worked so hard to earn. There is power in asking for what we want and need.
Being reactive not proactive
I am a great believer in the power of being strategic. The most powerful path to realizing our ambitions is a strategic one. When we keep the end goal in mind and develop a plan to reach that goal, it fuels our ambition and success. A reactive mode does not have the strength of conviction and promise that a proactive approach has. We give our power away when we leave things to chance or luck. Easily distracted, we also feel a lack of control over our career destiny.
One way to support and sustain your power is to build a strong network of people who are willing and able to speak for you. This type of network requires you to identify the people who have influence and power and build mutually beneficial relationships with them. They need to understand your value and believe in your competence. The best way to build influence and power in an organization is to have the strength of allies and champions behind you. When we fail to build this type of network and don’t approach our network strategically, we lose the collaboration and potential power of others willing to step up and be our advocates, help us sell our initiatives, and build consensus.
A desire to be liked.
The likeability factor is important in the workplace. It helps you build influence and motivate others. But what’s most important in establishing leadership and power is effectiveness. When women choose likeability over effectiveness, they give their power away. The message in Lois Frankel’s updated bestseller, Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office, still rings true today. If our primary focus is to be liked, we will not likely be viewed as a leader. We risk being a seen as doormat who waffles in our opinions because we are primarily seeking approval of others. Where’s the power in that? And yet, being nice is expected of women even in the workplace. Power comes from choosing a different path to leadership; being nice, effective, and powerful!