What do you see as the key challenges for female leaders? Hmmm – a very interesting question I have just been asked. Others are better equipped to speak of structural challenges… Instead I have taken the inside out approach.

1 Waiting until we feel confident

Research shows that success correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence. Women have a tendency to wait until we are fully confident before we take action.

A Hewlett-Packard review of personnel records of men working at HP found that they applied for a promotion when they thought they could meet 60% of the qualifications listed for the job. Women only applied when they believed they met 100% of the job requirements!*

2 Our communication can lack power

There are linguistic crimes that women commit that reduce the power and authority of our communication.

  • We overuse ‘sorry’. Women say ‘sorry’ to connect, show empathy, and soften our requests, as well as for genuine apology. Men tend to hear ‘sorry’ as ‘she stuffed up’.
  • Upwards tonality at the end of sentences, making our statements sound like questions, and leading to unconscious doubt in the mind of the listener.
  • Hedging phrases confuse the listener. While both genders are guilty (eg In my opinion …, I guess … I’m not expert on that but ...), women tend to use hedging language to soften communication. Instead hedging reduces our power.

3 We favor demonstrating warmth over competence

There are two primary dimensions of social judgment against which we measure our leaders – warmth and competence.  Research suggests the ideal approach for leaders is focusing first on warmth and then demonstrating competence.**

Women often overuse ‘warmth’ and a dual focus on competence can increase credibility amongst followers and peers.

Of course these challenges do not apply to all women, nor are they exclusively challenges of women. What do you think? Please join the conversation here.

Have an Extraordinary day.


PS Thanks to so many of you who have asked how to get a copy of ‘Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders’. After a short hold up with distribution in Australia, we hope to have the book available next week. Stand by for news…


* If you want to read more this is an excellent article:

** Great HBR article ‘Connect then lead: To exert influence you must balance competence with warmth’ by Amy JC Cuddy, Matthew Cohut and John Neffinger. Harvard Businss Review July/August 2013



Related Blogs

Found this blog useful? Here are a few recent posts on related topics that might also help you:

Communication to Save the World

Sparkle Up: The Confidence Opportunity

Cut the hedges: A simple strategy for communicating with confidence, power and influence to increase your leadership effectiveness

Drop ‘sorry’ to increase the power of your leadership communication


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