Annie Spano, the founder of Style Collective, has managed to turn a sour lemon (aka an office bully!) into her life’s work as an advocate for women everywhere. Read on to hear her active guidance on establishing yourself as a positive influence among the women around you!
Remember when Mel Gibson was electrocuted in the movie “What Women Want” and then had the magical ability to hear women’s thoughts? At first he thought it was a curse, but then he came to realize that understanding women helped him be a better person to those women. Don’t we all secretly wish that we had this ability to understand the women around us?
I’ve made a career out of positively influencing how women treat each other. My movement into this role was triggered by a female work-bully who found satisfaction in tearing other women down in the workplace. Her malicious attitude toward other women created a hostile environment consumed with low morale. I looked at this experience objectively and thought to myself that there had to be a way for women to work together to achieve success rather than competing against each other. And while you might think you need magical powers to hear women’s thoughts, it actually boils down to employing good leadership skills. Here are the principles that I’ve put into action as the leader of a community of 1,000-plus women.
Always lead with a helping hand.
We’re all busy, so when a girlfriend reaches out to you for something, don’t give her a rundown of excuses or share that you’re so overwhelmed before answering her request. You are only serving yourself by venting to her; it will make her feel frustrated, and she will be less likely to confide in you or trust you in the future. Whenever I travel for work and someone e-mails me with a question, I never reply saying “I’m about to board a plane and will answer you tomorrow” or “I’m so busy right now running around to meetings—can we chat tomorrow?” because it makes the other person feel like they are bothering you. Keep your stresses to yourself and put others first.
Ask questions instead of stating your opinion.
The most powerful stimulus for leadership and change is the art of asking questions. Keep an open mind and ask questions in a respectful, yet provocative, way. This is more effective than stating your opinion to others. Questions should be challenging and pointed, but not destructive. If you frame the question properly, you will discover so much more than you ever thought was possible and definitely more than if you approach the discussion with an accusation.
Celebrate her hard work and successes.
Women want to be recognized and appreciated for their hard work, achievements and dreams. We always celebrate the women in our community through e-mail, social media, blog features and a section on our forums called “girl boss moments” where the ladies can share their successes with each other. When you see other women doing amazing things, it inspires you to create your own success story. Take the time to tell another woman that you’ve noticed all of the extra hours she’s been putting in to reach a project deadline or that you think she’s a great role model for her kids. It’s a small gesture that will make a big difference.
Admit when you’re wrong.
This is easier said than done, am I right? If I make a mistake or something isn’t communicated clearly, I immediately turn the spotlight on myself to think about what I could have handled differently. Admitting that I was in the wrong or that I wasn’t putting my best self forward lends itself to empathy from the woman on the other end. Women are often instinctively nurturing individuals, so if you admit your mistakes, anger and frustration will likely shift to empathy and encouragement.
Avoid criticism and be open.
It’s easy to infantilize others, but this will limit or diminish the growth and potential of a woman. Again, you have to employ self-reflection to figure out what you are doing that is causing criticism from others. Reacting defensively is the easy option; it takes real self-control to step back, evaluate all perspectives with an open mind and come up with a solution that meets everyone’s needs and makes you a better person. It’s not about being right or knowing everything—striving for that is like wanting a dictatorship over others. Instead, allowing people to be comfortable to openly discuss their thoughts and opinions lets them lower their guard and focus their full energy on solutions. This approach will take collaboration and participation to a whole new level.
Don’t be defensive.
It’s so easy to feel like you are never enough and so hard not to take offense when someone pushes back or questions something you are doing. Don’t immediately jump to the defensive response. Instead, engage in thoughtful conversation to find out where the questions are coming from. More often than not, questions stem from miscommunication. It’s challenging to communicate via e-mail, text or anything online especially when trying to convey or interpret tone, so look to yourself first before criticizing others. More likely than not, the fault is with you. Besides, you are the only variable you have control over, so decide to let the defensiveness go and embrace an open and collaborative perspective.
Empower others to lead (because you can’t do it all).
There is only so much that I can do as one person, and it’s so important that I empower other women to lead within the group. Creating a culture of collaboration and openness allows others to grow and feel comfortable developing their own leadership skills. For example, while I would love to organize hundreds of meetups across the world, I physically can’t. I rely on the informal leaders who want to step up and lead the local groups by organizing events and meetups. I don’t force anyone to do this, but rather, show my appreciation and gratitude for those who become informal leaders. Making others feel good is the key to empowering them to lead.
Put others before yourself; be inspiring and be interested!
Relationships are created by connecting with people, and relationship building is a huge part of developing a strong leadership approach. Have positive interactions with the people surrounding you, and don’t just let those moments happen when situations come up and you can drop a kind word in passing—look for opportunities to encourage, empower and support the women in your world as often as possible. You will draw people in by being genuinely interested and caring about them. People will want to be in your orbit if you enlighten and energize them. Being around someone who is positive and encouraging is addictive. That energy will branch from you to those around you to those around them until your whole structure is alive with a dynamic force that can conquer any goal.
While work will still be accomplished when people lead like the work-bully I encountered earlier in my career, there will be little energy and usually no forward momentum. People will focus internally because they need to create walls to protect themselves from constant negative attacks. That strips a ton of energy that could be put into moving onward and upward. Be the positive force you want others to embody. Show them how to build themselves up by building up everyone around them, and they will build you up further in the process. In the end, none of us needs to gain insightful powers by electrocution. It’s really so simple that it’s easy to overlook that choosing positivity has a huge impact on us. And this impact naturally flows into the people around us. All it takes is deciding to lead with a smile.