Women physicians routinely ask me, “What will happen if I show up as myself?” They don’t want to be seen as too outspoken, too quiet, too (fill in the blank), out of fear of being passed over for interesting assignments or roles in leadership. As women leaders, we hold ourselves back when we buy into any of these three common myths.
Myth #1 of Women Leaders: I must lead like a man to be taken seriously.
Women face social stereotypes that undermine their credibility as leaders. Women leaders are expected to be competent, not warm. Yet, women are expected to be warm and caring, so how can they be good leaders?
Truth: To be trusted, women leaders need to be seen as competent and warm. You are competent and will be seen as warm when you ask questions, make eye contact, and, if you’re feeling it, smile!
Myth #2 of Women Leaders: “Women can’t be themselves and make the difference they want to make.”
Each of us has ideas about what it takes to be a leader. We base our assumptions on the role models around us, many of whom are males. And if we don’t have these attributes, we assume we cannot be an effective leader.
Truth: Extensive research has shown there are no key strengths that make good leaders. Good leaders are aware of their strengths and leverage them. For example, if you are an introvert, you will listen more, and bring out the best ideas on your team. What you believe is a weakness may represent a strength, when used correctly.
Myth #3 of Women Leaders: Tooting your own horn is unprofessional.
Many women were taught it was impolite to talk about their talents and successes. But believing that promoting yourself is egotistical makes it hard to be seen as, or advance as, a leader if people don’t notice what you’re capable of.
Truth: Tell people what to expect from you: your capabilities, what you value, and how you work with others. Then live up to it. You will be seen as confident, not boastful.
Whether you get noticed, and for what, is critical to accomplishing your most important goals. Changing the culture requires that first you see past the myths and not be afraid to be yourself. You have a lot to contribute!