Categories: Women in PM
Senior healthcare executive and author Jackie Gaines shares advice and support for experienced and aspiring women leaders.
Today’s project leaders have their work cut out for them as they navigate through the pandemic and face unprecedented levels of chaos. There’s little room for mistakes, uncertainty lurks around every corner, and people are anxious and worried. Still, this is the perfect time for women leaders to let their skills shine, says Jackie Gaines, an award-winning senior executive with more than 40 years of leadership experience.
As command-and-control style of leadership is increasingly being replaced with a culture of collaboration, creativity, emotional intelligence, and engagement, it’s never been more important for women to embrace characteristics and abilities they have always brought to the table.
“Women leaders don’t need to mimic masculine behaviors to do a great job,” says Gaines, author of Wearing the Yellow Suit: A Guide for Women in Leadership. “Not only do we have everything we need to lead on our own terms, our natural abilities and characteristics are exactly what organizations need now more than ever.”
Gaines offers advice to women leaders—advice that men can and should also embrace:
Act like the leader you strive to be. If you aren’t in a leadership role yet (and even if you are), think of each day at work as an audition for your future career as a leader. The better you act the part, the more likely you will be “cast” in the role someday. This includes not only your attitude, accomplishments and work ethic, but how you present yourself each day.
Don’t confuse busyness with productivity or progress. Even if you’re the world’s greatest multitasker, resist the pull of distracting activities such as cleaning out your inbox or organizing files. You may pat yourself on the back afterward, but meanwhile you’ve put off that important but complicated project that you need to deliver. Remember, going after significant projects is what gets you noticed—and now more than ever, your concentrated efforts could make a lasting impact on the success of the organization.
Be who you are. Whatever you do, don’t try to act like a man or anyone else, for that matter. Mimicking the attitudes (and dress codes) of your male counterparts won’t get you where you want to be, Gaines says. But stepping into the “real you” is freeing and enhances your effectiveness in any role. So be yourself—from your personal style to your personality—and let it show, even if only over a Zoom call!
Speak your mind. You don’t have to be aggressive to make your point of view known. For leaders, assertiveness is an essential skill for success, and it’s a skill every woman can develop. Gaines recommends what she calls “respectful truth-telling,” which simply means expressing your feelings and needs in a direct and honest way. This is a good way to get the respect you desire along with what you want.
Let your nurturing side show. Don’t underestimate the power of nurturing in moving an agenda forward. People will accomplish amazing things when they believe they are valued for their work and encouraged to grow. “Don’t hesitate to be your warm, encouraging, uplifting self at work. A nurturing leader can unlock that human potential in an organization and take it to a whole different level.”
Keep cultivating strong relationships. “When the going gets tough, surround yourself with positive relationships in the workplace as well as in your personal life. Your network will inspire you and recharge your batteries when you feel burned out or discouraged. And they will celebrate with you when you and your organization achieve new milestones.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. “Women are typically very comfortable reaching out to friends for advice, company, or someone to listen,” says Gaines. “This serves us well in business because we are more willing to say, ‘I need a hand,’ or, ‘Can I please get your input on this?’ After fighting for our career advances, asking for and receiving help when we need it is a common practice.”
And help others in return. Because women are wired to nurture others and help them succeed, roles like mentoring and helping team members integrate meaning and purpose in their work come naturally. They also offer a safe place to vent frustrations and work through challenges as a woman leader.
“Mentors can play a significant role in the successful onboarding of new female executives,” Gaines says. “New female leaders are usually in the minority and bumble around for months, sometimes years, before they connect with other female leaders in the organization. A planned connection could increase the comfort level in the early phase of employment and ease the transition into and understanding of organizational culture.”
Gaines concludes: “Women should feel proud of the attributes they bring to any organization. Our touch is unique and doesn’t have to be masked or perceived as a sign of weakness. We are effective leaders being fully who we are…leading our way.”