As an experienced senior leader and a new female executive, you are always looking for ways to improve your ability, leadership skills, and effectiveness. EWF International’s mission is to improve workplace gender parity, especially the effectiveness and representation of women in senior leadership positions. We assembled this career advice for new executives to support you in your new role and help you be the best leader possible.
Strengthen Your Non-Verbal Communication
First impressions are made in a matter of seconds, often before you have the opportunity to speak. As a new executive, what you say is often as important as how you’re seen. More than 70% of communication is nonverbal. Your appearance and body language often speak louder than your words, especially if your verbal and nonverbal communication don’t seem like they match. It’s important as a senior leader that you present yourself with confidence and authority to reassure and inspire those around you with your leadership. This is the essence of strong Executive Presence.
To make a strong first impression in-person, pay close attention to the details, such as your handshake and your posture. These are often overlooked and are the foundation of your presence. Stand up straight with feet, shoulder-width apart. This posture visually reinforces your strength and steadfastness. In conversation, slightly lean in and use active listening cues to show your attentiveness and engagement. When you speak, maintain a scan of eye contact with all listeners, smile, keep a deliberate cadence, and project your voice, so it’s heard loud and clear by all listeners. Additionally, your makeup, clothes, hairstyle, and jewelry should reflect your position’s seniority and your industry’s level of conservatism.
While many in-person notes on non-verbal communication translate to virtual interactions, there are some differences and additional considerations. For more information on strengthening your virtual communication skills, see our other articles on Virtual Presence and Building Influence Virtually.
Earn Your Organization’s Trust
Earning the trust of those in your organization is critical for career success and especially important for new leaders. You can start by taking an active role in supporting those below you. Build bridges for cooperation on your team and help them resolve conflicts with expediency. Continue your support by providing a forum to gather and review concerns. Provide honest feedback and, when necessary, help your team identify potential challenges and develop contingencies.
You can create trust by showcasing your applicable experience with your organization. Find a problem to solve – one that makes your leadership’s or teams’ lives easier. Bringing your experience to a pressing issue important to those around you gives you an immediate win for everyone. Share your good decision-making skills as support for why you are a trustworthy leader.
Consistency is crucial to developing trust. Be thoughtful and considerate about the promises you make. Follow through on what you say, even when it’s a difficult, uphill struggle. When necessary, plant your feet and make a stand for what’s right. Going to bat for those in your organization, even when it doesn’t work out, should leave no doubt that you did everything possible to keep your word.
Focus on Long-Term Vision
It’s easy to get caught up in your organization’s immediate problems and daily challenges and lose focus on your perspective. As a new executive leader, you must see beyond the upcoming days and weeks. Focus your long-term vision to look strategically at the coming months and years. With a clear long-term vision, you can help recognize and plan for changes, anticipate developments, and be the compass for your organization as it navigates the changing landscape.
Utilize your long-term vision to determine your organization’s course for success. This course will give you the rubric necessary to create metrics you can use to measure your success. Also, use your long-term vision to prioritize activities and dig into how your organization’s day-to-day operations help shape its success. Long-term vision can also help you recognize and seize opportunities to improve your organization.
Find an Honest Feedback and Accountability Platform
One of the critical pieces of advice we hear and give to new leaders of any level is to find a platform for honest feedback and accountability. This platform can come in many forms, and you are not limited to one. Often the most common way to find honest feedback and accountability is through a mentor. Here are 10 Questions to Ask to Find a Good Mentor.
As a senior leader in an executive role, finding a suitable mentor can be more difficult. Often a more impactful approach is through a peer advisory group. An executive peer advisory forum will match you with other executives in non-competing industries that can relate to your challenges, provide deep insight, help you develop an action plan, and keep you accountable. If you are a woman entering a senior leadership position, we invite you to learn more about EWF International’s Peer Advisory Forums for Executive Women. Our forums feature monthly, moderated meetings with other successful women executives like you.
An alternate accountability partner for a new executive can be their board. An executive committee comprises experienced business people and offers a well of professional knowledge and wisdom you can tap. The first step is to identify and build relationships with board members who can help you grow. Your relationship may not evolve into a formal mentorship, but it will allow you to explore your board member’s professional network to improve yourself further.
Gain Key Stakeholder Buy-In
It’s important for executives of all stripes to ensure they’re on the same page with their key players. Keep your team of vice presidents, directors, and managers in the loop with you and each other. Err on the side of over-communication rather than under-communication. Try a variation of the “listen, restate, and confirm” model of communication with your key players.
For long-term success with your key players, get strategic. Spend time with your key players reviewing your vision and benchmarks. Discuss, compromise, and develop goals, processes, and KPIs that make sense and are mutually agreed upon with your key players. This insight can provide new executives with a more holistic view of what is possible and how to measure performance and discover needed changes realistically.
Stay Grounded and Supportive
As a new executive, you will likely feel a natural sense of impostor syndrome. Over time that will lessen, but you also don’t want it replaced with a sense of overconfidence. Especially as you continue to steer the company to greater performance, it can be difficult to avoid falling victim to your hype. That’s why having a platform for honest feedback and accountability is so important. Your peers can help you stay grounded and keep you focused.
As an executive, you have a long history of experience and expertise that has helped you reach your current position. New executives need to pour that expertise back into their organization’s talent. Always be on the lookout for opportunities for you to share your knowledge and experience to improve your company. For new executives, try to approach your position as a support position. Meet with your peers and look for ways you can help make their jobs easier. How can you support the various branches of your organization to improve the whole? Doing that will improve your organization and help build your influence.
Gain intimate insight by asking the How and Why questions beyond the What, When, and Where. Through this, you can learn the ins and outs of your organization better than most, which will help you be more effective in your role. When you ask these questions, listen more than you speak. Genuinely seek insights from those around you. Also, be direct with your problem-solving. Dive into problems and help direct your key players in finding the right solution. If you have been keeping close with your key stakeholders, you will be able to develop a reasonable, agreeable action plan that will further your company along its strategic vision.
It’s essential to keep working on yourself and refining your leadership style. Find a constant learning platform, put what you learn into practice, and continuously review and adjust what you implement.
EWF International, A Resource for Accomplished Female Executives
EWF International has been helping career women be their best for over 20 years. This article demonstrates how critical it is for senior leadership to engage with a platform that provides honest feedback and accountability. EWF International’s Virtual and In-Person Peer Advisory Groups for Women Executives connect experienced women professionals from across the country in a supportive, non-compete environment dedicated to providing you the resources to make you an exceptional executive.
Beyond our executive forums, EWF also offers resources for executives to develop their teams. These resources include corporate leadership development programs and our Emerging Leaders Program for driven early- to mid-career women looking to advance their careers. See how EWF International can partner with you and your organization to drive the results you seek.