Keeping It Real: Five Authentic Ways Women Can Lead More Effectively

Tue, 30 Oct 2018

Today more workplaces are consciously striving to become more diverse and inclusive. Yet women are still far too underrepresented among our leadership ranks.

Consider these facts. Of 2017’s Fortune 500 companies, only about six percent are helmed by female CEOs — and that was a record number.1 According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, only one in five U.S firms with revenues of $1 million or more are run by women.2 And only slightly more than one-third of all managers in American businesses are women.3

But the path forward is unique for each woman eager to take that next step.

If you want people to recognize you as an effective business leader, you can’t just model the most respected male leaders in your company — or even the most respected women leaders in your industry. You need to be the best, most authentic expression of you.

Here are five ways being authentically yourself can help you overcome the challenges — and relish the opportunities — of leadership.

Build genuine trust.
In his book, Smart Trust, Stephen Covey, points out that the most effective leaders — regardless of gender — are those that build trust. He asserts that “building a high-trust culture isn’t a soft skill, but rather a hard necessity — fundamental to creating a high-performing organization.” 4

There is nothing that builds trust more effectively than authentic leaders. Conversely, there is nothing that fractures trust more quickly than leaders whose motives are unclear or whose behavior is inconsistent. The more consistently and transparently you act, the more others will trust — and follow your lead.

Merge your personal and professional selves.
Some women think they have to act a certain way to be seen as “professional.” But you can still be professional and be yourself.

Don’t be afraid to bring into the workplace those things that make you uniquely you. Have a great sense of humor? Use it to ease tensions in the workplace. Friends appreciate your no-nonsense attitude? Don’t feel you need to overly sugarcoat things at the office. Like to compete and win at sports? Fire up some healthy competition across your teams.

You’ve spent years developing the traits that have made you successful in life. Put them to work at the office as well.

Own your awesomeness.
There’s no doubt plenty of women are competent. But they’re not always comfortable in expressing their confidence. In their book, Womenomics, authors Claire Shipman and Katty Kay provide both anecdotal and analytical evidence that men often over-report their abilities — while women often under-estimate them. That’s even more concerning when you factor in that success is as highly correlated with confidence as with competence.5

You need to find your own authentic way to own up to your strengths. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give credit to your team. But do learn to simply say “thanks” when complimented — and say “yes” that you’re ready for that next challenge.

Expose your failures.
Some women leaders feel the pressure never to make a mistake. But to be an effective leader, you need to be willing to take risks and to learn from failures, and to support others who do the same. Innovative organizations need leaders who are confident — and comfortable — enough to admit their weaknesses. The irony is that by admitting vulnerabilities, you often earn more respect and even more support for your future endeavors.

Differentiate on purpose.
In personal branding, like corporate branding, differentiation is key to success. But that’s not about being quirky for the sake of being different. To be memorable, you just need to be you.

One of the best ways to stand out is to stand for something. What are you most passionate about? What sense of purpose motivates you? Being driven by something other than your personal achievement or short-term gains — and authentically sharing those motivations with others — is a great way to lead by inspiration.

As you become more successful at leading authentically, you also help your organization become more likely to succeed financially. A recent Peterson Institute report drew a direct correlation between female leadership and corporate performance. It noted that companies in the MSCI World Index with strong female leadership generated a Return on Equity of 10.1 percent per year versus 7.4 percent for those without. It also found that those firms that moved from no female leaders to those with 30% representation also saw a 15 percent increase in revenue margin.6

That’s what you call a real win-win.

Webster Bank has long been a welcoming home for successful business women — both bankers and business owners alike. We are also deeply committed to furthering our own diversity and inclusion in the workplace and celebrating the authentic uniqueness of all our associates.


  1. The 2017 Fortune 500 Includes a Record Number of Women CEOs, Fortune, June 7, 2017.
  2. Women Business Owner Statistics, National Association of Women Business Owners, 2017.
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2017.
  4. Covey, Stephen M.R., and Link, Greg, Speed of Trust™, Free Press, 2006.
  5. “The Confidence Gap,” Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The Atlantic, May 2014.
  6. “The Best Reason Yet to Increase Women in Leadership,” Victor Lipman, Forbes, February 23, 2016.

The opinions and views in this blog post are those of the author, and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All credit facilities are subject to the normal credit approval process. The Webster symbol is a registered trademark in the U.S. Webster Bank, N.A. Member FDIC.

© 2018 Webster Financial Corporation. All rights reserved.