Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

Finding Your Voice

As a leadership coach, I have worked with numerous women and men at transition points, as they take on new responsibilities or when they hit a leadership bump along the way. While most coaching occurs in a one on one setting, it can be especially helpful to provide feedback and guidance real time.

Leadership Bumps

A few years ago I coached Karen (name changed to protect privacy) a smart, experienced, diligent new VP at a Fortune 50 company. Karen worked hard and prided herself on building strong, cohesive teams and was regarded a top performer by her colleagues. She felt that she wasn’t viewed as a true peer by senior management, despite her many successes. According to Karen, she didn’t think her ideas were being valued and wanted to figure out why. I suggested that I sit in on some of her work meetings so I could see her in action.

Karen came well prepared and ready to share her thoughts for a how to approach a new project. She clearly articulated her views, but I quickly noticed that she ended most sentences or thoughts with a question, essentially leaving her idea lingering in the air. The other participants kept the meeting moving and 10 minutes later someone repeated Karen’s suggestion in an affirming, strong manner. Heads nodded and people lauded the suggested approach. Karen looked surprised that this person had essentially repeated Karen’s initial suggestion, but now people were agreeing and building on the idea.

Being Heard

When we talked afterwards, Karen was disappointed and wanted to know my impression thoughts of what had just happened. I asked her whether she was aware that she finished many of her sentences with a question and why she thought this was necessary. She quickly responded that she is a consensus builder and wants to make sure that everyone is on board during these meetings. I relayed what I had observed: the constant questions made her appear uncertain and didn’t engage others. While Karen had a great idea, she had posed it as a question instead of a firm solution for consideration. We discussed how she needed to know her voice and present with authority, while still leaving room for dialog. Within a short time, Karen found that the new approach had a positive impact on being heard at meetings.

The lesson for all of us: make sure that you know your voice.  If you can’t hear it, neither can others. 

Janet Walkow is the Executive Director and Chief Technology Officer of the Drug Dynamics Institute at The University of Texas and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

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