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Be Authoritative Without Being Bossy
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Business Insights for Women
PNC INSIGHTS Magazine Spring/Summer 2014 Issue
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Avoid resorting to tactics that undermine your role as a leader.

Women managers often find themselves in a classic double bind: When they act in typically "feminine" ways, they're not perceived as authoritative. When they adopt more "masculine" traits, they're considered unfeminine and thus overly tough or bossy. (This despite ample evidence women and men are about equally effective as leaders overall.) Barking orders and banging on tables? Never good ideas, regardless of gender. Here are a few ways to convey authority without appearing to boss people around:

Don't worry about being liked. It's a common perception that in order to influence others, they have to like you (think Dale Carnegie). But it's far more important they respect you. You should be comfortable making decisions not everyone will like, as well as expecting that your direct reports be responsive and accountable.

Don't let your emotions rule. When employees see you getting angry or upset, they may feel that you simply don't know a more effective way to respond. That doesn't mean you should behave like an automaton. Concern and sympathy are appropriate; rage and tearfulness are not. Practice speaking in a calm yet firm tone.

Be direct. The less ambiguous your language, the clearer your message will be. Simply say what needs to be said, directly and straightforwardly. If you start out sugarcoating a request, you risk being misunderstood or not having it taken seriously. At that point, you have to repeat yourself (that is, nag) or be more emphatic (read: bossy).

Make room for silence. Just as it's important to be direct, it's key to speak your mind and wait for others to respond. By filling in pauses with excessive chatter, you create the impression that you can't hold someone's attention. Similarly, take time to consider your response to questions. You should assume your answer is worth waiting for.

Know what you don't know. Nobody has an answer for everything--and those who do rarely have the right answer. If you're confronted with a question or a situation that you're not sure how to handle, exit the conversation gracefully with a promise to think it over and circle back when you're ready.

By keeping emotions in check and taking time to consider what you say, you can influence others without resorting to tactics that in the long run can undermine the very authority you want to convey.

 


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