I was talking to a coaching client during the week who has been told she needs “to find her voice”.
My first reaction is that we need to change the environment so that everyone can find their voice. Those of us who lead situations, teams and companies need to be setting a leadership tone that is more inclusive, that supports people to speak up and speak out. Surely this is a situation that all of us have a role to play in fixing?
“Female executives, vastly outnumbered in boardrooms and C-suites and with few role models and sponsors, report feeling alone, unsupported, outside their comfort zones, and unable to advocate forcefully for their perspectives in many high-level meetings.” (Read the full Harvard Business Review Article here)
That said, there are some things my wonderful client could focus on, so I’ve put this list together:
- The art of the “pre-meeting”. When facing an important meeting or agenda item, it is incredibly useful to spend time with the key stakeholders to ensure you’ve practiced your pitch, that you have an understanding of the key concerns and have an opportunity to address them ahead of time. This helps to bring out the really big points of contention well ahead of time and will build confidence for the “main event”.
- Be clear on your purpose. If you are clear on your personal purpose – what you really are trying to achieve in the world – then you will be more able to find your passion during a meeting or conversation. Let’s say that your personal purpose is to “help people achieve their potential” then you will be more likely to step in to a conversation where this is an overlap with this purpose, and hopefully get a bit fired up when doing so. People want to see your passion, they want to know what you stand for. Don’t keep it to yourself, let us see your fireworks!
- See yourself from another perspective. Ask a trusted colleague to pay attention and give you feedback. When did you do well? When could you have held your ground more? When did you hold back when you really could have stepped in? Ask someone who really believes in you to help you see your strengths, validate your gifts and push yourself just a bit more.
- Be kind to yourself AND be courageous. Behaviour change is hard and it can feel safer to stay unseen, so be kind to yourself while you start to take the steps to exercising your voice. Take small steps, be courageous, evaluate, seek feedback, adapt. Most of all, keep going. You will hit some roadblocks, your ego will say “see I told you so!” Don’t listen – greatness doesn’t come from staying safe!
Once you get the confidence to speak up more, you can help to add your weight to the the change we need to create inclusive workplaces and help others find their voices too.