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Leadership and Your Professional Presence

Glass ceilings, “old boys networks,” and lower pay may still be looming in many corporate environments, but after hearing from the panel of speakers on Wednesday, April 18, participants left with the know-how to push those dated barriers out of mind. More than 30 CWIP members were captivated listening to Molly Baskin, Linda Liang, and Anna Wildermuth describe their methods for success as leaders in their specific fields, what it took to get there, and how they maintain their winning ways.

The meeting was moderated to pose questions that answered such topics as how to stand out as a female leader, how to market your personal “brand,” and how to have staying power in the upper echelons of a male-dominated organization.

Linda Liang, Ph.D., department chair of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology's Ph.D. Program in Organizational Leadership, opened the discussion with the point that women need to be “better at everything” and get experience needed in advance—beyond just a job's requirements. Liang's experience, with more than 25 years in industrial organizational psychology, has led her to see that women often get labeled, usually negatively. To combat this, we must showcase ourselves continuously in a positive manner, be supportive, make others look good, and “talk about your wins.”

  

Harvard Business School grad and management consultant Molly Baskin added that because women often have trouble with “soft skills”—one's social graces, management style, attitude, and habits in the workplace—knowing an organization's culture is key to moving higher up the corporate ladder. Baskin's 40 years of experience in business analysis and in banking and finance, and current position as managing director of The Ansley Consulting Group, means she knows what it takes to rise above others if you're aiming for a higher position.

“Résumés are often not strong enough,” Baskin said. Aside from listing your skills, “show where you want to be.” If there hasn't been a way to boost your capabilities on the job, Baskin said to get known through volunteer and nonprofit work. That, along with joining industry organizations, is an ideal way to network and get noticed.

  

Anna Wildermuth, of Personal Images, Inc., followed, by insisting that “women must know their brand.” Specifically, that means being authentic, confident, and looking the part but not changing yourself for a company. Wildermuth's invaluable contributions to the discussion of successful female professional presence were based on years of expertise as a recognized leader in the image and coaching industries. Author of Change One Thing: Discover What's Holding You Back—and Fix It—With the Secrets of a Top Executive Image Consultant, Wildermuth said that one way to get where you want to be is to look for role models in your organization, and investigate the successful ways of female CEOs in other companies as well.

They are certainly out there, but Liang brought up the point that there is usually not a “critical mass” of women in most companies to seek out as mentors. And being “quietly confident” will not get you noticed. Liang recommended picking visible projects. “If they don't know you, they won't promote you,” she said.

Organizational leadership is certainly a select group, and entering into it is a process. The panelists all spoke of the importance of learning to read a company's culture very quickly to assess if you're even a good fit. If you've been in one position for a while and want to move up, be sure to actually ask for what you want. Evaluate the risks of what you want to do next, present your ideas in a concise manner, and don't be afraid to “toot your own horn.”

Wildermuth drove home the point that even if you feel you can “walk the walk and talk the talk,” your appearance speaks just as loudly. Your clothes, jewelry, accessories, and makeup must confirm that you are invested in becoming a higher-up. She said it's getting back to knowing your brand and your ability to “pull the whole package together.”

Regarding social media as a way of beefing up your personal brand, Wildermuth noted that it can hurt you if distinct common-sense precautions are not heeded. On the other hand, options like LinkedIn can truly help you on your way up, providing your online profile is complete with a tasteful photo, elaborate and impressive work accomplishments, and complementary group and industry affiliations.

In Baskin's terms, “getting your ticket punched” along the corporate ladder to achieve your career goals can be done by finding the right balance of having the hard skills to get hired, the soft skills to fit into the specific culture, and the confidence to get where you want to be.

As the meeting end time came all too soon, Liang cautioned the group about avoiding “career derailers,” which she's seen prevent many women from becoming leaders. She gave the following tips to staying on track:

  • Work with change and be flexible;
  • Know how to handle difficult people;
  • Know how to handle feedback;
  • Develop connections;
  • Meet business objectives;
  • Work well on a team; and
  • Prove yourself—you are not “entitled” to your job.
Following the panel's 90-minute presentation, the moderator took questions from members. Even after the meeting broke at 8 p.m., many stayed to speak to Baskin, Liang, and Wildermuth personally, and to network with fellow CWIPers. Apparently, the lessons on improving one's brand and professional presence were taken to heart immediately as new acquaintances and connections became a new priority.

Marci Adilman Kayne is a freelance copyeditor/proofreader who has had a hand in perfecting copy for Chicago-based Fortune 500 companies, ad agencies, corporate marketing departments, nonprofits, and charitable organizations for over 25 years. A journalism graduate of the University of Iowa, she often participates in the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in Iowa City and has had the occasional humor article printed in the Chicago Tribune. Marci lives in Deerfield and is proud to have attended New Trier West High School with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. She is a new member of CWIP and can be reached at marcikayne@me.com.

Brooke Lang received an English degree from Governors State University in 2009. She is a freelance proofreader and enjoys shooting and editing photos in her spare time. She can be reached at brookelang1@gmail.com.

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