Own your voice, flex your leadership muscle and embrace who you are

Like an elite athlete, as leaders, we push ourselves and our team members to set goals, focus on priorities and do what it takes to reach the finish line. However, it’s important to recognize that management and leadership are not mutually exclusive, especially when it comes to being a woman in leadership.

To be effective female leaders, we need to embrace and leverage the fact that the way we flex our leadership muscle may be different from the way men do it — but that’s exactly where the power is.

Here are three key areas to focus on to find and own your voice while flexing your leadership muscle:

1. Believe you can
Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” When I first started Girls With Sole, I was asked who the heck was I to think I could create a nonprofit from nothing. I was told it would fail, and that I needed to take the word “abuse” out of my mission statement.

Clearly, I didn’t listen, and moved forward with what I knew in my heart would be successful. I believed in my ability to make the organization work. A leader needs to think differently than a manager because when you start something new, you need to be bolder and more vocal in order to speak over the naysayers and inspire a team to build momentum and get things rolling in the right direction.

2. Develop a strategy that is your own, but still resonates with others
Respecting and admiring male leadership styles is a great thing to do, as we can learn and gain so much from our male counterparts. But to emulate them completely can be a mistake. In doing so, we as women leaders sacrifice our amazing strengths and personal power. Having a voice doesn’t always have to mean using words.

Developing and executing our own strategy — and leading by example to empower others — is the perfect way to foster a more interactive, stronger work environment. Creativity, collaboration and communication are innate strengths that women have, making us highly effective in our approach to leadership when flexed.

3. Be honest with yourself
about your leadership skills
Be brutally honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses as a leader — and make peace with your weaknesses. Surround yourself with people who are strong in the areas that you are weak. Allow yourself to change and evolve as needed. It has been pointed out to me that my personal style and the way I speak isn’t typical of the quintessential nonprofit leader. Honestly, I take that as a compliment.

Each of us is unique. Recognizing our individual skills makes us stronger leaders, identifies the awesomeness that we bring to the table and ensures our voices are not only heard, but also embraced.

Liz Ferro is founder and CEO at Girls With Sole. She’s also a 2018 Progressive Organization honoree.