The following is an excerpt from a panel discussion featuring Mary Mawritz, PhD, assistant professor of management and a fellow within Drexel LeBow’s Institute for Strategic Leadership, that took place at the 2015 PA Conference for Women – which was sponsored by LeBow College of Business. Aliza Licht moderated the panel.
Q: Is there one skill that is essential to career success?
Dr. Mawritz: Having a really high level of self-awareness, which is captured by the idea of emotional intelligence, is very important to a successful career. Understanding yourself, your desired lifestyle and what you’re looking for in your career is very important; it might be compensation, work-life balance, promotions, etc. You have to know who you are and what you want.
It’s also worth noting that the more you understand yourself, the more you will understand how people perceive you – which is also essential to career success.
Q: What skills are essential to being an effective leader?
Dr. Mawritz: This builds on what I was saying about self awareness –I would say it’s a combination of taking a situational approach to leadership as well as being authentic.
I think it’s important for a leader to understand that you need to acclimate to the situation at hand. You, yourself, are a unique person, and every single person that you interact with is a unique person. Every interaction that you have as a leader with your subordinates is unique. You need to understand yourself in order to understand how to be the most effective leader that you can be, but also understand the particular person and the particular situation that you’re dealing with.
I think it’s essential to take an individualized approach, where you think about the person you are dealing with in terms of their skillset, their developmental needs, the coaching that might be necessary, the task at hand, and then figure out what type of leadership style will work best for that situation, as well as what will work best for you in terms of your own strengths, weaknesses and values.
When I teach classes on leadership, I often teach about leadership styles or behaviors that are effective. I tell my students they need to put all of that information into a leadership tool belt. Think about research on leadership, the books that you might read about leadership, the things you hear in the media, and use all that information to understand what’s effective. But, you also need to understand what works best for you and the current situation at hand.
Q. Are there any key factors that prevent women from achieving career success?
Dr. Mawritz: The biggest thing is something we can control – showing ourselves in a confident, competent manner. Unfortunately, there are socially constructed norms, gender stereotypes, that result in women feeling the need to downplay their certainty, or speak in certain ways that make it seem like we don’t know what we are talking about.
For example, women are much more likely to use qualifiers or ask questions instead of making definitive statements. So, if you think it’s cold in here, you might ask, ‘Isn’t it cold in here?’ Instead of just saying, ‘It’s cold in here.’
Women also tend to apologize more. There’s actually research that shows that men interpret apologies as taking blame. But when women say ‘I’m sorry,’ typically they are not saying ‘It’s my fault,’ they are just showing sympathy, if you will.
Society is beginning to see women differently these days. It’s becoming more acceptable for women to show masculine characteristics – to be more aggressive or more dominant, but that’s changing very slowly. So we still have these socialized norms that we play into that make it difficult for women to act as confident and as competent as they may, in fact, be.
Of course, there are a number of factors that play into your ability to rise the corporate ladder as a woman, but I believe these are the most important because they are what we can control. And so, I encourage you, when you find yourself in a situation like a job interview, or up for a promotion, don’t be afraid to play up the fact that you deserve that job or promotion – because we know our male counterparts are very likely to do that.
Women are also much less likely to negotiate salaries, which plays into the male/female pay gap. But part of that is our own doing, because we fail to promote ourselves. And so, I think the biggest thing you can do is portray yourself in a very confident manner and don’t play into those social norms that say women shouldn’t act confidently.