I’m often asked what it feels like to be a female executive and how I rose through the ranks in an arena that is concentrated with male talent who, no matter what, seem to rise through the ranks. This line of questioning never fails to take me a bit off my game, because I don’t have a good answer.
The reality is that I never think about being a female executive. I only think about being me, doing what I do and doing it the very best way I can every day. I can’t think of a time when a male overshadowed me or kept me from being successful.
When I reflect on this, I almost feel guilty because I’ve heard so many stories from strong women whom I deeply respect about their journey and the times they’ve been overlooked in their career and how they had to fight to gain their position.
My childhood was not ideal and, as a result, I gained a ton of grit that caused me to believe in myself and not allow psychological boundaries to get in my way. I’m certain this fostered my belief, from a young age, that I am no different from a man and I should never fall victim to minimizing what I can do as a human being. In my mind, my ability has just never been a gender-based conversation.
When I hear women’s stories, I’ve often wondered if I am just plain lucky or if intentional behavior paved my way to where I am. I’m fairly certain my career trajectory and experiences are the result of a combination of facts that are related to my behavioral approach, circumstances in terms of right time and place and a pinch of luck.
I really find meaning in supporting others through their personal journey and, as we celebrate women’s history month, the time is right for me to share some important behaviors that have helped me carve my career trajectory.
I’ve always thought I was good enough to do anything I wanted to do. I’ve never questioned my ability. One way to foster this today is to focus on your strengths and consider leading with them. For example, if you’re a people person surround yourself with people who are tactical and vice versa. Lead with your strengths, always. I’ve definitely questioned whether I have enough experience or knowledge in certain areas, which sometimes comes with time, but I’ve never questioned my actual ability. Allow yourself the opportunity to stretch, even when it’s uncomfortable. This can be painful, but it will make you more limber and capable of moving beyond the norm.
I’ve never been afraid to speak up with my observations or questions. In fact, typically when I hold back it takes the group a few passes to get to where I was from the start, thus making me wish I would’ve spoken up in the beginning. I’m not saying this to be full of myself, but rather to encourage women to trust their inner voice and share it openly and often. How do you speak up? One way to speak up, without sounding aggressive, is to offer an observation or opinion and ask others in the conversation to weigh in and validate what you’re thinking. Creating an inviting environment for others to share thoughts is a great way to allow yourself the same opportunity. I really believe that your voice is like a muscle. It’s weak if you never use it, but it’s always there. Once you start using it the muscle builds and gets stronger until, all of sudden, it’s easy. Use your voice. Build that muscle!
I’m someone who really despises being the center of attention. I feel really uncomfortable when all eyes are on me. That said, I know there are times when I need to make a deal with myself to put my best self forward, to initiate introductions, be assertive, grow my network, engage in the moment and let myself shine. When the time and place are right, doing this is essential to creating and pollenating your personal brand as a professional. It’s hard, but sometimes having self-confidence is the key to being successful. Allow yourself to toot your horn with your boss about a project well done. Perhaps it was under the radar, but why not give yourself some credit? Allow yourself to push through shyness to meet that important executive in your company. Allow yourself to be a speaker at that industry event. I know it’s hard, but gosh-darn-it, you deserve to shine and you’ll be proud of yourself for it.
Boundaries have always been really important to me in life, and I’ve never had an issue setting the parameters of my relationships at work. I love to laugh, joke and have a great time, but I know where to draw the line and what might be perceived as inappropriate. I know that when you engage in off-color behavior at work, you begin to be perceived as someone who operates under the line and this can put you at risk, because those who are doing wrong don’t like to do it alone. Setting boundaries at work typically starts with how you behave. It’s important to set a consistent example of your expectations from the start. When situations escalate, I like to take people aside individually and address behavior in a non-confrontational but direct manner. It’s so easy to pull someone aside and say, “Hey, I thought things got a little out of control at that meeting and I want to set a better example moving forward.” I have yet to find a person that responds to such a request negatively. When needing to set boundaries in a group environment I’ll speak up and say, “I love that we’re all really passionate about this topic, but let’s calm down, be respectful, stay focused and get back on track.” It’s okay to push the pause button and give people time to take a breath.
I believe it’s a good practice to provide honest feedback. Not the kind that wounds or causes emotional harm, but constructive feedback with a positive spin. I’ve learned that so many people are oblivious to their own behavior and how it’s interpreted. When someone makes you feel uncomfortable, quickly push back, give them feedback and provide an opportunity for that person to self-correct. If you never push back on bad behavior, it will only get worse. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you simply because you’re afraid to provide feedback. On the other side of the coin, when someone makes you feel good, demonstrate that you’re grateful by thanking them. Taking the time in the moment to make someone feel special is always worth it.
Work is a choice. Repeat: Work is a choice. You are not stuck in your dead-end career or toxic work environment. Believe in yourself and believe in your future. In my career, I took advantage of every opportunity that came my way. I raised my hand for every extra project. I leveraged lucky moments to my advantage. When someone above me resigned, I quickly asked to be considered for the job. If I didn’t feel that I had upward job mobility or professional development, I looked elsewhere. I wanted to be in a place where I could grow my career, and I didn’t allow myself to be stuck. I was unafraid of interviewing for new positions, even when I wasn’t looking. It’s important to keep your interviewing skills fresh, because you never know when the right opportunity will present itself.
In summary, remember that it’s not what happens; it’s all about how you handle it. As a female leader, I focus on leading people and making solid decisions in all situations: the good, the bad and the ugly. If you focus on the right things, at the right times, the world will respond in a like manner. Trust me, I’ve been through it and this advice works! If this was helpful, please provide a comment below and let me know what else you’d like to hear.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn and written by Anne Buchanan, Chief Human Resources Officer at Guitar Center.
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