In business, perception is reality. Understanding how your behavior can shift perception and support your career goals will change your life. Self-awareness is important, but acting on that awareness and changing how you communicate with others is the true key to success. Female leaders have the unique challenge of cultivating perception to avoid the typical stereotypes, walking a tight rope between the bitchy tyrant and the obliging child. The end goal: Be a confident and compassionate leader.

The best piece of advice I ever received was to ask myself a simple question: “Do you want to be right, or happy?” This has influenced my relationships and communication style in every facet of my life. Being right to establish superiority alienates others and staggers growth. It does not matter if you are technically correct, when you instantly react to a question or talk over a colleague, you imply that you aren’t listening. I have worked with many young managers who succumb to this type of communication pattern with others, but by modifying a few behaviors, they can shift the way colleagues and management perceive them and respond. 

Small changes can equal huge gains in the workplace. Try these three ways to improve your image and get ahead at work and in life: (These tips apply to male leaders, too!)

1) Watch your words. Certain words and phrases imply subordination; you must elevate your communication to elevate your status. Don’t fall victim to using “just” in your vocabulary. To find out how damaging the word “just” is, check out this article written by former Apple and Google exec and online entrepreneur Ellen Petry Leanse. For more words and phrases you should never use, like “you guys,” check out Brad Phillips blog.

2) Use “office housework” to your advantage. A culture of pitching in increases productivity and benefits everyone. But women are often the ones expected to take on additional tasks with little recognition or return. Rotate work such as taking notes, staying late to meet a deadline, or providing extra support to a new employee among colleagues so you, and no one else, gets stuck being “office mom.” For more on fighting gender bias and the value of helping out, check out this article in Fast Company’s “Strong Female Lead” series. 

3) Do not stake claim on ideas. There is nothing more annoying than a declaration of ownership of an idea. Workplaces require team buy-in to raise baby thoughts into full-grown brilliant visions. Invite collaboration, encourage feedback, acknowledge effort and share credit to spur performance across the board. As a team leader, you succeed when your employees feel like their input and efforts are valued. Check out this Huffington Post article for more on the power of collaboration.

A final thought on leadership: In his poem "The Place Where We Are Right," Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai writes:

The place where we are right

is hard and trampled

like a yard.

Don’t insist on having the last word; choose instead to have a lasting impact. 

Krehbiel is president of ACI Specialty Benefits.

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