I was once at a talk and got advice that really stuck with me:
Women should walk into a meeting with an all-white suit and they should start crying if anyone upsets them.
Harriet Rubin, author of The Princesa: Machiavelli for Women, tells professional women – albeit in an outrageous way – that we need to embrace and harness our feminine qualities rather than hide them. And if that catches people off-guard, then maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Being genuine to who and what you are instills confidence and can infuse you with power and influence. I find this to be particularly true of women who lead international teams.
In fact, when thinking about the many successful women I have worked with in the global workforce, they share the following three qualities that I think are key to their success:
1. They don’t blend in. You’ll often hear that its paramount to have a global mindset and be able to adapt to culture when leading international teams – heck I preach that all the time! This is true. But the fact is, that’s more important for men than for women. For men, if they ignore cultural nuances, it can be perceived as arrogant. For women, they get some slack. For example, women don’t need to cover themselves completely or act subserviently in certain cultures. Instead, they can dress the way they normally would and find that perfect balance between assertive but friendly behavior. This will garner not only slack, but respect. Now, I’m not saying to walk into a meeting wearing a tank top in Dubai, but women don’t always need to bend the way they do business to fit diverse cultures.
2. They care about their appearance. All the successful women I know dress very elegantly and classically. Their clothes are expensive and their suits are tailored. I know this sounds very superficial but this characteristic helps them gain credibility abroad and among their male counterparts. The care that they put into their appearance communicates that they are someone with influence who should be taken seriously.
3. They exercise. Some of the women I know may do it because it helps their appearance—but that’s really just a fringe benefit. Research shows that people who exercise are more productive. Being active boosts brainpower, gives you more energy, makes you more alert, and lowers stress. These are all vital to being successful professionally. And looking attractive and fit will only help you in the international business world.
Being a female leader of an international team can be tricky but I’ve found that the women who don’t try to be someone else—act like a man or morph into a different nationality—have the most influence and experience the biggest success.
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