In many ways, to be a leader and to remain authentic to your young and female self is to walk on a tightrope between bitch and pushover.
Many people know very few young female leaders, or perhaps none at all. And, as the saying goes, people fear what they don’t understand. None of this should scare you, but there are some key elements to keep in mind. This list is good for all leaders, but they especially come into play for young female leaders.
1. Prepare for some stereotyping, but don’t get hung up on this too much.
Stereotypes aren’t personal (that’s the whole point!), but consider how some people feel about female millennials. One current strain of generational stereotyping suggests that millennials are unreliable, unprofessional, inexperienced, needy, and non-committal. Read more here.
Of course, females might take on an extra dose of skepticism because of long-standing sexism that suggests women are more emotional and fragile than men. Just know that these assumptions exist in certain circles and go about your business. If you don’t detect any stereotypes in a given relationship, so much the better.
2. Be consistent and reliable in your communications, decision making process, and treatment of individuals and programs.
This can’t be emphasized enough. Millennials suffer from the presumption that they don’t commit or follow through on their commitments. Even if someone does not yet fully understand you or the decisions you make, they can at least respect the fact that your process and style are clear and consistent. You are buying time to build trust on the substance and direction of your leadership later on, but this is not likely to happen right away.
3. Project confidence even when you don’t feel it.
You don’t need to make every decision perfectly correct to know your own abilities and move forward with confidence. This is more or less like the commandment to “fake it till you make it” but truly, it is that simple.
People need to see that you are walking the walk they expect from a leader. This does not mean that you need to arbitrarily assert your authority or pretend to know everything. These habits project overcompensation, not confidence. Which brings me to my next point . . .
4. Admit it when you don’t know it.
People expect you to be learning and filling in your gaps of knowledge at all times throughout your tenure, and especially at the start. Gather information from subject matter experts inside and outside your organization when you need that level of detail, and don’t hesitate to get input from long-tenured members of your organization. Listening to people is a simple way to demonstrate respect for them.
5. Integrate who you are into your work.
It sets you apart from the crowd, but that’s the least important of the reasons for this commandment. It’s easier to be consistent in how you communicate and it keeps you much happier when you are challenged by a new role. Most people will appreciate you as you are, and most have great B.S. detectors.
6. Practice great self-care.
Take time during the workday and especially after hours to disconnect from your email and allow time for exercising, meditating, reconnecting with friends or family, or relaxing through a hobby. Allowing downtime also forces your team to respect your time and space away from the office. They should get used to that for your sake, and for the sake of the entire organization.
You are here for a reason. Be Your Authentic Self. Stand In Your Leadership.