So, who better to talk to about leadership skills for women, than a training professional who has been at the cutting edge of industry training since 1994 in the military, industry and recently also the start-up scene?
The charismatic Ingrid Gartner-Steffen, runs her own personal development company, offering companies like Bombardier, TOTAL, Vattenfall and GASAG a whole range of training courses in both English and German at Theo-Heuss-Platz in Charlottenburg. I love the fact that she gets staff out of the office and into another environment. As trainers we were united, this makes a huge difference in terms of engagement.
We had never met before, but I had heard about her courses. I was welcomed in English and I learned a great deal. It was truly inspiring. We talked about the role of training and the bigger career picture for women, plus training approaches for leadership. We specifically talked about what women can do during their maternity leave to keep their career on track and their name and face on the radars of their team and employer.
So of course we started by talking about the challenges that women face, particularly when they come back to work after maternity leave. We discussed the fact that women normally come back to a slightly different role, fewer responsibilities and another status in the organisation. Ingrid’s take on this however is that it was less to do with excluding women, or new mothers and more a case of these team members being in the organisation for less hours now. You see, she explained, team meetings are rarely planned to exclude part time staff, but rather they are scheduled without thinking thoroughly enough about whether the timing is a good fit with the working schedules of the whole team.
Ingrid is quite an advocate of part time employees. She claimed quite clearly that part timers and job sharers provide clear advantages for organisations, on two fronts. Firstly, the productivity of two people working for 20 hours is likely to exceed a full timer working 40 hours per week by a long shot. Secondly, the organisation has more flexibility to compensate for employee absence through sickness or holidays, through overtime arrangements.
Communication is Key
The critical success factor behind effective job sharing we agreed, is communication and more specifically, a professional and thorough, regular handover. Now, finding a window of time for a face to face handover can be tricky but a video conference connection to my mind, whilst not being a pure solution is certainly a decent workaround. It is far easier for gaps in the explanation of status, expectations, priorities etc to rear their ugly heads through email or a status book, particularly when there is no face to face interaction. Email is fabulous but in this instance, a face to face exchange really does make a big difference, hence limiting team frustration and boosting your own acceptance as a valued and reliable member of the team.
So when it comes to leadership skills, we agreed that what women typically find more difficult than many of our male colleagues, is to blow our own trumpet. Now we are not suggesting that women go around bragging about their brilliance, but we don’t have to be embarrassed about our achievements either, no matter how small.
Ingrid shared a classic example that she covers in assertiveness training. Now prepare to cringe!
When asked “How did you got to be where you are now?” Most guys will fairly confidently put it down to hard work, commitment and being good at something or a specific project or development going really well. Many women on the other hand would confess to feeling slightly uncomfortable in this situation and will often distract attention by putting it down to luck or coincidence. Now it is true, there is nearly always a certain element of being in the right place at the right time but it normally comes after years of career commitment, networking and success.
I myself have caught myself saying that I have a
‘knack of getting people to relax enough to speak English’.
Instead really I should be communicating this as a skill or strength. After all, I am quite unique in this respect, but to me, well that’s just me being me. Otherwise known as the “Little Ole Me Syndrome” according to Claire Mitchell from ‘Big Girls Knickers’. It is exactly this type of assertiveness training that you can practice on one of the “open / public seminars” available through Gartner-Steffen.
Surely it makes sense to take control of your own personal development and carve your own career rather than being sculpted by your employer?
I was reminded about situations in my own management career, when the inevitable rumours following a manager leaving, would address the million dollar question. “Who’s going to take their job?” The guys tended to be fairly open about who would go for the position, whereas the women would often resist getting involved in the discussion, deny being interested or as Ingrid was fast to point out, worse still, ‘hope to be asked’. I mean come on ladies! Get real! You have to be dynamite for that to happen.
The guy versus girl question.
Regarding the question about whether men or women make better supervisors, I was a reminded of the German literature critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, who was once asked
“Which are the better writers, men or women?”
It’s the same with supervisors” claimed Ingrid Gartner-Steffen “There are good supervisors and bad supervisors”.
“So what is it that singles you out as a leader?” I asked. The answer it seems, after much discussion, comes down to one critical attitude – team orientation. If you genuinely want the best for your team, you will be perceived as their leader, whether you are their boss or not. So bring out the best in your team, motivate them, advise them, support them and pass on your knowledge and don’t stop there. Let them gain from your experience and lesson learned.
If someone did all of this for you, you would look up to them wouldn’t you?
Natural leaders often started practicing the skills they needed as an elected class representative in school. As a child I remembering being surprised at who was elected but they ended up being really great as a leader and looked out for us, although not always, if they thought we were whinging about something we didn’t get far, but that is exactly what counts, being able to evaluate, prioritise and of course to choose the right timing and language to communicate effectively.
Leadership is a love of leveraging people into success!
Finally, given my passion to help women on maternity leave not to lose their career drive, we talked about what women can do to nurture their careers during the life changing baby break. What can new mothers do, to keep on the radars of their employees?
The most important things are to
a) keep in touch and b) keep your skills up to date.
So although work friends will urge you to come in to see them, the new mother should be mindful of two considerations. Firstly, by bringing your child, you ‘appear’ as the doting mother, not the dependable team member. Secondly, in a work space, a baby can be quite a distraction. So go in by all means, but start as you mean to go on. Dress the part, go on your own, armed with your diary so that you can find out about training programmes whilst you are there. Close colleagues can always come and visit you for a play date with their own children.
Now remember, employers are only human and a lot of women will have left being convinced that they were coming back but never actually did. Bosses need reassurance too, so don’t be a stranger, demonstrate a clear commitment to your career and even if you go back for fewer hours than before, you will have shown that you are keen and that you mean business. This is turn, might well have a bearing on how much higher on the career ladder you are welcomed back, once you are ready.
Be prepared to pay and schedule your own personal training programme for your ‘personal’ success.
Remember that you can sign up for courses independent of your employers authorisation and funding if you are happy to pay for yourself. Career specific training are usually tax deductible too so keep the invoice. Details of the programs which they offer can be found at www.gartner-steffen.de where you will also find a flyer describing their current programs (in the download area). Their training areas are a lot more welcoming than your regular meeting rooms. For language training check out the byte sized bootcamp too which will raise your language skills in 3-6 months, meaning that you’ll be able to work anywhere, with anybody, doing what inspires you on an international level.
I hope that you enjoyed this blog. Why not join our ‘Professional English for Women in Technology’ facebook group, get to know the other women on a mission to make their career and communication more international. I love hearing about the challenges that you face at work and what you would like more ‘communication’ help with. Comment below if you have something to add, an example or an exception to what I have described and I’ll see you next Thursday for my pen knife post about leadership.