In the last 2 articles we looked at ten pieces of advice which are worthy of your attention if you wish to enhance your visibility and be appointed to leadership positions. My recommendations are distilled from my own experiences as well as from the suggestions received from the women that I have interviewed for my books. These are successful women in leadership positions in different fields of activity from Luxembourg and the Greater Region.

You will find below five more pieces of advice. As mentioned before, some advice will resonate more with you and some less. It is important to note that while writing these pieces of advice I thought specifically about our challenges as women, our needs and leadership experiences, all the time taking into account the stories that I had heard during these last fifteen years. In addition, I believe that most (if not all) of this advice applies to men, too.

  1. 11.  Vision.
Vision is a critical skill for a rising leader. If you are in charge of a team, department and/or organisation (or wish to become such a leader) you need to be able to envision the ideal future of the team, organisation, and market place – or even dare to dream of a better version of it. A wise leader should not dream alone, so you need to be able to communicate your vision, goal and priorities to your team, and do this frequently and with complete transparency.  People also need to believe in your dream and in your vision if you want them to give you support and devote their energy to help achieve the impossible. The formulation of the vision should go hand in hand with its implementation: thinking and doing combined. Giving your employees clear directions to follow with objectives and specific deadlines will be helpful, as well as making sure they have the capabilities to do the job you require them to do.

“No vision, no leadership”, said Herminia Ibarra, one of my favourite Harvard Business Review writers on the topic of female leadership whom I was privileged to meet during my studies at INSEAD.” Together with another researcher, Otilia Obodaru, she conducted 360 degree evaluations of 2816 executives from 149 countries enrolled in executive education courses at Insead and involved the participation of 22,244 observers. The results showed that both men and women tend to believe that the two genders have distinct leadership skills, with women outscoring men on some, and men outscoring women on others.

When men and women were asked to rate the behaviours’ importance to overall leadership effectiveness, the “male” behaviours came out on top. Regardless of country or culture, “inspiring others”, a component of the envisioning dimension, was rated as the most important to overall leadership effectiveness. Men agreed that women have greater skills at “supporting others”, which was rated at the bottom of the behaviours needed for leadership effectiveness. From all the leadership dimensions measured, the only component holding women back is envisioning, with women being rated lower than men for this capability. Women tend to believe that technical competence and control are more important in a high leadership position rather than being viewed as a visionary. This could be because women often seek to be recognised as competent in the eyes of their male peers. Consequently women tend to give more importance to detail as they feel they the need to present concrete data to convince doubters within an organisation.

Skill sets vary in importance according to different jobs and levels of responsibility. Technical and people skills are important for career advancement up to mid-level positions. But if you aspire to higher leadership roles, you must be aware that you will be expected to have a vision and to anticipate changes and opportunities in the market. Your success will depend on your ability to envision the future, to communicate it to your teams and inspire them to achieve the required results. Indeed, it is important that you take time to envision the ideal future of your team and company because visualising is tremendously important when planning the different steps you will need to take. In one of his motivational books called “How to get from where you are to where you wish to be”, Jack Canfield underlines the power of visualisation for individuals in their private lives, but this is also true for their organisations. He organised a party at which all the guests had to come as who they wished to be in 5 years’ time, visualising their future as if they were already in that moment. In addition, each guest had to bring ‘evidence’ of who they had become so that the pretence would seem real. Some guests even hired paparazzi to follow them to prove that they had succeeded in achieving their desirable level of fame and status. In my opinion, the ability to develop a vision goes hand in hand with self - belief.

  1. 12.  Communicator.
“If you don’t stand up and talk about your ideas, people think you don’t have them,” Winston Churchill once said. If you really believe in something and wish to make a difference, then it’s simply not enough just to keep believing and not giving up. Leadership is about influencing and getting your message across. It is essential to communicate your beliefs or project to other people and try to make them see your point and eventually follow you. Communication should not only be internal within the team, department, company, but also external, with business leaders and decision makers at all levels of society. Depending on the circumstances, you should ask “What kind of communication should I use?” and select the most appropriate to achieve your desired outcome.

Generally leaders are extroverts and communicate easily with their followers; however there are also introvert leaders who speak rarely but manage to still effectively motivate and inspire their troops.  I recently read a book called "True Prosperity" by Yehuda Berg and one of its sub-chapters is called "Leadership is Contagious." The book proposes that there are two kinds of speakers: the motivational professional charismatic speaker who makes people laugh, listen and learn. Then there is the not-so professional speaker, who doesn't make you laugh and isn't nearly as clever. The professional speaker inspires people to listen. The second not-so professional speaker inspires people to do something. She or he may not be the biggest expert or the most polished, but after the speech, everyone moves into action...they are motivated. The book was a reminder that a leader’s full-time job is to "inspire people to be more than they are" and in order to do so, you need to improve your communication skills.

How do you make sure that your message gets through? Here are a few tips generously shared by Peter Meyers (see also point 6).

  1. Do not be tempted to use too many words. Keep it simple and to the point.
  2. The point… make sure you know what it is. Ask yourself :
    1. “What it is that I wish to convince people who listen to me about? What’s my message?”
    2. Why should people who listen to me care about my message? Remember that people ask themselves automatically, consciously or subconsciously “What’s in it for me?”
    3. Why do I care about my message? What’s so important about it?
If you know the answers to the above questions, you have more chance to structure your message in a way in which everyone understands and feels emotionally involved with.

In addition, we know from independent research that 93% of a speech’s message is transmitted through non-verbal communication: 56% of that is body language (gestures, posture, eye contact) and 37% is from the voice (intonation, timbre, pace). Therefore, once you have the content of the message, special attention should be placed on improving your body language.

Last but not least, after managing some challenging projects internally, you must communicate your successes to the rest of the company. Don’t wait until someone comes to congratulate you - take control of broadcasting the message yourself, using some easy to understand elements such as precise numbers and concrete results obtained.

  1. 13.  Decision-making / problem-solving skills
Women generally seem to try to find consensus when making a decision, which usually means taking more time to ask everyone their opinion and trying to find a decision which will please all. Most women interviewed for this book mention decisiveness as a key strength which probably helped them advance faster, even if the chosen decisions were not always right. Never be afraid to be wrong, and take responsibility for your decisions, good as well as bad ones. Recognising and admitting our own errors of judgement – and acting fast to make corrections – is central to effective decision-making. As one woman leader mentioned: “Going public with mistakes is not necessary: that will usually be taken care of by other people. We also seem to learn at an early age whether to compromise or not. The more positive reinforcement we have while young from not compromising yet getting a desired result, the more leader-like we become.”

  1. 14.  Fun and sense of humour
Fun and a sense of humour seem to be needed to become successful. A number of very successful leaders and entrepreneurs mention fun as part of the job, even if not viewed as directly integrated into the working environment, but rather outside of it. Richard Branson, the British multimillionaire entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin empire said: “Have fun, work hard and money will come. When it’s not fun, move on.” Fun actually has a lot to do with your working environment because it influences your satisfaction and the quality of time spent at work.

I remember a few years ago, a good friend of mine and a very experienced businessman, told me that I should start smiling more, because when I was talking I was coming across as too serious –  as if I was trying to impose myself or to impress. I guess he was right. Having started my business at a young age and through dealings with more mature business people, I wished to project a serious and reliable image of myself, and unconsciously thought that smiling and laughing was not part of that. I was also dressing soberly. The fact was that I did not fully accept, but rather concealed my femininity. The reason is predictable – given the fact that I was regularly dealing mostly with experienced businessmen, I didn’t want people to think that I would try to use my “charms” to get business. On the other hand, being young and single, and knowing how competitive and jealous some women might be, I didn’t want to seem like competition to any of them. I just wished to become accepted in business circles as someone who knows and does her job professionally.

Heeding my friend’s advice, I began to smile more, and I noticed that people smiled back. As a result, nowadays fun as a part of business makes perfect sense to me. Through reading one of Goleman’s articles I found out that the relationship between leaders and followers is characterised by “mirroring”. Italian neuroscientists found that followers literally mimic or mirror their leaders via mirror neurons in the brain, meaning that leaders’ emotions and actions prompt followers to mirror those feelings, actions and mannerisms. This research suggests that the old carrot-and-stick approach doesn’t work so well anymore in getting the best out of people. Leaders need to be demanding in ways which foster a positive mood in their teams. The Italian neuroscientists found that there is a subset of mirror neurons whose key purpose is to detect other people’s smiles and laughter, prompting smiles and laughter in return. Being in a good mood helps people take in information effectively and respond skilfully and creatively. In other words, concludes Goleman, “Laughter is serious business”.

  1. 15.  Flexibility & adaptability
 Only those who are extremely pliable and soft can be extremely hard and strong. (Zen proverb)

Try to work as hard as you can to respect your hierarchy and follow the company’s mission, objectives and values. At the same time, it is not always necessary to agree with everything if it is not something you believe is ethical and correct. Learn to stand up for your own opinions and stay true to your ideas and values. Learn to deal with confrontation and negotiation; even if it causes discomfort, openly expressing and debating opposing views is sometimes essential to see the different sides of the problem and make effective decisions. This can be much more valuable than changing sides depending on your superior’s political games. It is important to be able to work with people you don’t necessarily agree with or who have different opinions, personalities, skills and/or working styles. Be open-minded, always be ready for new experiences and listen to the opinions of others.

About the author:

Daniela Clara Moraru is a serial entrepreneur, founder of Languages.lu and of the mobile app to learn Luxembourgish "365 Days Luxembourgish", among others.

In addition, she has been highly involved in the promotion of entrepreneurship and leadership, especially among women. She was a founding member of FFCEL (Women Entrepreneurs Association), Femmes Leaders du Luxembourg, as well as Inspiring Wo-Men, an initiative aimed at inspiring people to inspire others, which included the "Inspiring Woman of the Year", "Inspiring Man of the Year" and "Top Company for Gender Equality" Awards.

In 2013, Daniela Clara Moraru has been recognized as "Woman inspiring Europe" by the European Institute for Gender Equality of the European Commission.