As a woman, are you able to embrace ‘power’ as you move up the hierarchy? Some tips to handle power with ease!
By Jaya Narayan
Leaders are expected to deal with challenge and adversity. Some situations that you may face as you rise up the hierarchy may include downsizing, mitigating business conflicts, re-structuring teams, shutting down offices and / or expanding turfs. Prameela Kalive, Senior Vice President at Zensar Technologies states, “For me being powerful is a state of mind”.
Position, charisma, relationship, information, expertise are sources that yield power. Being comfortable with power may require you to deal with your innermost fears. The need to be popular, not wanting to be singled out, being misunderstood or losing relationships may be the unintended consequences you need to work with.
Do men exert power differently compared to women at work? According to Krishna M, Senior Director in a multinational organization, “In my experience the key differentiator between men and women in authority is their ability to achieve results and influence change. Stereotypically men are expected to be result focused while women are projected as people focused. In my many years of working with both, I really do not think this is the case”.
Do men exert power differently compared to women?
Embrace power graciously
1. Articulate it: Tara Krishnaswamy, a senior leader in a multinational software organization says, “The power I have is making decisions on (who and how) we engage with and what outcomes I can help drive for the company. I have the authority to follow through and deliver these outcomes with my team. That includes taking risks with some projects that may or may not succeed, pulling out projects that are failing, engaging the right people on these projects and both setting up effective teams and dismantling ineffective ones.”
To determine the power you hold ask yourself these questions:
– What decisions can I make without seeking approvals?
– What outcomes are expected of me?
– What can I approve – example employee compensation, rewards and / or team budgets?
– Am I allowed to negotiate (including making commercial commitments) on behalf of the organization?
2. Make it unique: Every leader has a distinctive individual style. “My ability to ‘connect’ with people across levels, hierarchies, age and backgrounds, with ease has been my core strength which is what I use in tough situations,” shares Prameela. Emotional intelligence, collaborative leadership and being persuasive are great assets that women leaders can and should leverage. If your leadership style is naturally more ‘feminine’ (as the word is defined traditionally), there is nothing to be ashamed of. Pulling up a team member for non-performance or communicating negative feedback can be carried out with honesty and grace. As long as you stay away from using power to derive personal gains over organizational, you will be respected.
3. Plan and prepare: Tara has learnt to deal with difficult situations through careful thinking and meticulous planning. Taking a rational approach helps soften the surge of emotions that adversity can bring in you. “No matter how many times I do it, asking people to go is the hardest part of the job. It wrecks me emotionally and I lose sleep. During these times, I align to the business need, use logic to evaluate the various options and plan for the contingencies that may arise”, shares Tara. Being convinced yourself that you are taking the right action, helps enormously.
Taking a rational approach helps soften the surge of emotions that adversity can bring in you.
4. Gain acceptance: At senior levels, a certain degree of drive to achieve an end goal is expected.“I have noticed that women who are vocal or aggressive are resented by peers. While this is never intended, sometimes it does cause those repercussions only reinforcing perceptions”, shares Krishna.Be aware of how you are regarded. This is especially a challenge for female bosses since women are accused of being ‘too soft’ or ‘too harsh’. While the bias is troubling, leadership style issues can also be to do with oneself. At times as we grow in the hierarchy we tend to stay in our own world, thinking that what we are doing is great and nothing needs to change. Use feedback mechanisms to become more self-aware.
5. Seek role models: Observing people in power (men or women) can help you internalize the must dos and never dos. Witnessing others solve tough business problems or deal with troublesome employees can teach you a lot. Tara invites you to find amazing people and spend time with them, “It may be over lunch or a cup of coffee twice a week but just do it!”
Powerful people have the uncanny ability to make things look easy. Women today seem to be redefining leadership and power. Being in a position of power can help open up new opportunities and expand your horizons.
*Photo credit: Rainforest Action Network (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License)
Jaya Narayan is a alumnus of TISS, Mumbai and has over 15 years of experience
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