Great leadership is built on a foundation of trust—and establishing trust begins with great interactions. That’s where the power of communication comes in. To be a successful leader, at any level in any organization, you must communicate with clarity and confidence, consistently. And that requires finding your leadership voice.
It can be challenging to discover and project your leadership voice if you’re new to the calling of leading others, especially if you’re a woman. Too often, women in leadership roles base their idea of a strong leadership voice on what they observe in senior leaders (the majority of whom continue to be men) or on what they are told by people they respect, whether a mentor, the boss, or a recognized author on leadership. While that might seem like a sound strategy, it actually has the potential to undermine your ability to lead effectively. If you model your leadership voice solely on the examples and advice of others, you might sound forced and come across as insecure or, worse, insincere.
In reality, there’s only one “right way” to uncover and claim your leadership voice: by being authentic. Every woman in leadership has a natural voice and style. Finding your leadership voice is first about understanding who you are, and then assessing how genuine and consistent your message is. From there, you can work on developing and asserting your leadership voice with conviction and self-assurance.
If you’re seeking to find or strengthen your leadership voice, the leadership training experts at Canadian Management Centre (CMC) highlights four critical skills to get you started:
Mind your three V’s. It’s not just about what you say. All leadership communication consists of three channels: Verbal—your actual words, as well as phrasing and sentence structure; Vocal—the volume, tone, pace and pitch of your voice; and Visual—your body language, facial expressions, eye contact, gestures and posture, as well as how you dress, how you style your hair, and your speaking environment. If you want to be seen, heard and accepted as a credible leader, the three V’s of communication must be in alignment and complement one another.
Overcome biases. As you grow into your leadership role, various people you respect will give you advice on how to behave to be successful. For women in leadership, it’s not uncommon to be told by one well-meaning advisor, “You need to be more assertive,” while hearing from another with the best of intentions, “You are too aggressive in your approach.” To sort through the confusion, try this exercise: Think about the times you have been told “Don’t be too__” or “You are too __.” Write each word or phrase on a separate sticky note. Then, put all the notes on a large board. Which of these words or phrases resonate with you? How do they impact your leadership voice? After considering these questions, ideally with a few people you trust, determine how to reframe them positively. How might some words of advice actually enhance your leadership voice and create value? How can you learn to speak up with courage and conviction, regardless of others’ biases?
Welcome feedback. Even after you’ve come to recognize your authentic leadership voice, there’s room for growth. Feedback is a valuable self-improvement tool. As a leader, make it your priority to create a feedback culture. This requires a clear understanding of what feedback is, and what separates feedback from griping. In terms of its defining qualities, feedback is positive, future-focused and developmental. It identifies gaps. It’s also interpersonal, specific and observing. You also need to understand how to solicit and role model feedback. And, finally, you must create a safe and trustworthy environment for feedback to happen.
By putting these communication skills into practice, you’ll find your authentic leadership voice and become adept at using it—with courage and consistency. In the process, you’ll naturally become a more effective and successful leader.
This article first appeared on amanet.org. All rights reserved. Used with permission