How much do you trust your voice as a leader? If you don't, you're not alone.
When I speak to women in leadership roles one thing that comes up time and time again is that they don’t trust their voice. It’s almost whispered, a secret they don’t want to say out loud. They’re ashamed and not sure what’s going on.
It can feel hard enough to challenge the status quo as it is. Doing it whilst worrying about whether your tone is confident but not confrontational or if your opinion is valued, that’s where the self-doubt can creep in.
Not trusting your voice shows up with behaviours such as:
- Second-guessing yourself
- Being unable to find a way into the conversation
- Feeling your voice is lost or drowned out
- Staying silent
- Becoming defensive when challenged
If you identify with any of these behaviours, how do you deal with them? How can you start to trust your voice as a leader?
What is your leadership voice and why is it important?
Finding your voice is part of your leadership journey. It is more than speaking up when the situation presents itself. Your leadership voice is how you inspire and influence others through your authentic self. It’s also about how you communicate with coworkers, peers, superiors, and subordinates alike—it’s about building influence and your brand.
We all share a common challenge: Fear! Whether it is fear of failure, fear of not being accepted, or fear of public speaking, we all experience fear at some point in our careers. Training to build your leadership voice helps you to develop courage and conviction that are stronger than the fear holding you back. By exploring what your unique strengths are, you can build upon them and develop skills that transform fear into courage.
When you become more self-aware, you gain confidence and will be able to trust your voice more when you speak. As women, we must understand our uniqueness in how we communicate and craft our messages to be heard properly, in a compelling way that’s beneficial to our goals.
This isn’t an easy path, not everyone will take it. There are potholes and tripwires, and sometimes it will feel like you’re navigating through a fog. Occasionally you will be in complete darkness. Not everyone will be rooting for you. A couple here and there might actively work against you. Most will spectate. Likely all will have some level of scepticism. By focusing on the work and anchoring to the impact that it will have on the people you serve, you will begin to gain the trust of the colleagues you need alongside you in order to succeed.
Strengthening your voice
Leading change requires a strong voice. Trusting your voice as a woman traversing a maze of gender biases in the workplace takes added care and attention. Take control by focusing on impact, building trust, having a point of view, embracing feedback, and shifting power when the voices of others need to be heard.
Speak with confidence
As leaders, we must be aware of how we say things as well as what we say. If we want to be heard properly, influence others, and achieve our goals as leaders, then we must be aware and skilled at how we communicate as much as what words we use.
Be clear and direct about what you care about and why, and how that drives your perspective on a particular topic. This provides people with the right context when listening to your comments or questions, and it helps frame their interpretation of what you are about to say. It also builds transparency and helps others to empathise with you.
Practice: Even if you are worried about what people may be thinking, speak with a steady voice and an even tone. If you speak confidently, you come across as more prepared and diligent. Note that we all have unconscious speaking habits that could be holding us back, so the first step is to become more aware of them. For example, never begin your comment or question with, “This may be a stupid/silly question, but…” When you start with a statement like that, you’re already casting doubt on yourself.
Sometimes the best thing you can do to strengthen your voice is to elevate the voices of others. As a female leader, knowing when to hold power and when to shift power isn’t always easy, particularly in the moment. But when you use your position and influence to shift power to someone else who isn’t in the spotlight, you emanate strength and confidence. It doesn’t matter whether or not the person you choose to elevate agrees with you. Either way, you and others around you will learn something from what they say, and along the way, you will build champions, community, trust, and allies up, down, and across the organisation.
Practice: use amplification, a tactic where you repeat another woman’s key point while crediting her. You could also reach out to other colleagues in meetings and ask if they have anything else to add to a meeting, particularly if they are struggling to find their voice too.
Trusting your leadership voice requires a self-assessment of what kind of leader you currently are and what kind you want to be in the future and ensuring that you live in those values intentionally. Your voice doesn’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel, but it does need to be your own—something others can consistently expect and, most importantly, respect.
This is all about authenticity - your voice will come through most clearly when you are authentically yourself – playing to your own particular strengths and doing something you are passionate about. Who are you as a leader?
Practice: Although you can find inspiration from a wide range of leaders, pay particular attention to those who closely match your personality and values, and study how they effectively communicate.
Your opinion has value
What you have to say matters. If you feel like you stay silent remember that it can cost more to be quiet than to speak up - we think that by being quiet we might lose something but, what if that’s not true? What if by speaking up you share an insight that no one else has considered? I think as well that if we don’t speak up (or out) then frustration and resentment can build up.
If you feel like you aren’t effective during a meeting, take some time to prepare beforehand. If you’re clear on your point of view it allows you to set the tone, path, context, and content for the discussion.
Practice: speaking up whenever you can. Even if it’s a smaller internal team meeting, use that opportunity to either let junior female colleagues lead the conversation or brush up on your speaking skills. The more often you speak, the easier it’ll become.
Be open to new perspectives
As a leader of the change, you need to form a perspective, but you also need to have the humility, openness and curiosity to seek out evidence and feedback that might change that perspective.
One way to do this is getting to know your team and colleagues and building deeper relationships with them. This breeds trust and empowers you (and them) to build relationships that are open to those more difficult conversations. This can be useful if you feel defensive when you’re challenged.
Remember that as you move through your career (and life in general) you are going to be wrong, and that’s okay. But you can lower the frequency and impact of those errors by continuously asking for your opinions to be challenged by those around you.
Practice: Ask for your thoughts, ideas, and perspectives to be challenged. Look for opportunities to say “Here’s my perspective, what am I missing?” or just simply “Please challenge me on this.”