• Khaulah Abbas

Warmth, Strength and a Balance of Both

"A strong woman understands that the gifts such as logic, decisiveness, and strength are just as feminine as intuition and emotional connection. She values and uses all of her gifts.” Nancy Rathburn

In many countries, women are socialized that being feminine means being demure, submissive and frail. Research has shown that people have a deep rooted belief that men are associated with leadership qualities such as authoritativeness, decisiveness and strength. While on the other hand, women are associated with nurturing qualities of warmth, empathy and kindness. These attitudes are slowly changing.

Two key qualities for successful leaders are warmth as in approachable and friendly and competence meaning power or strength. These attributes are primarily influenced through non-verbal behavior like body language, communication and image.Women can adapt several behaviors to increase the strength aspect of this equation in order to be seen as more confident, credible and compelling. 

Confident body language begins by standing tall, shoulders back, and head held high. Your mom was right when she said don’t slouch. 

A proper handshake and good eye contact, from the eyes to the forehead between the eyebrows, shows this is business rather than asocial encounter. You want to come across as self-confident.

Take up space when you are standing, feet about a foot apart. When sitting, keep your hands on the armrests or show you hands on the table.

Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman, author of 'The Silent Language of Leaders' says women should beware of falling into traps that are considered submissive and lacking in authoritativeness. Tilting the head is seen as a submissive gesture; it is good when wanting to show empathy when listening. However when wanting to show decisiveness keep your head straight.

Avoid excessive smiling as it may diminish from your credibility by give the wrong message. Imagine the impression you give if you are smiling as you discuss a breech in company policy. Many women have a habit of playing with the ends of their hair. This is akin to a mother’s pacifying a child’s by patting her hair for reassurance.

Communication is another area where confidence is shown through voice. A lower pitched voice is shown to have more authority than a high pitch. If you listen to news anchors, most women maintain a lower pitch with a variation in tone to avoid monotone.

We like to believe we don’t judge people based on appearance, but we do. The 80’s saw women with the power pants suit with the big shoulder pads trying to be ‘one of the guys’. While pants suits are back in style it’s not necessary to wear them to show strength. It is however important to be properly dressed for whatever job you are doing.

Warmth and strength are two key elements of successful leaders. This could be especially challenging for women because too much warmth leaves a ‘she’s so nice…” attitude and too over competence gives a ‘She’s so cold..”

A balance of both is achievable, resulting in a more confident, compelling, and capable leader.

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