Lisa Skeete Tatum, Founder and CEO of Landit, is refreshingly unapologetic about what she wants women to achieve in the workplace, and how she’s helping them get there.
“We create a personalized playbook for women to move their career forward ─ world domination to unlock the talent of women around the globe,” she said. “Our mission is to democratize career success by giving everyone the tools and access they need to reach their objectives.”
Speaking at the recent SAP Ariba Live 2017 event held in Las Vegas, Tatum turned the infuriatingly vague advice women often get (think: “just be yourself”) on its head with hard facts about the meaning of authenticity in women’s behaviors throughout their careers.
Three ways to polish your executive presence
Entitled, “Harnessing the Power of Personal Brand and Executive Presence,” Tatum’s session was a fascinating primer on what women can and should do to accelerate their professional growth. A self-described engineer obsessed with details, Tatum didn’t stint on explicit behavioral and relationship-building tips for women who want to be heard, recognized and promoted.
Studies show executive presence accounts for 25% of what it takes to be promoted. But contrary to common wisdom, there’s nothing innate about executive presence.
“No one is born with executive presence. It’s an acquired skill,” said Tatum. “The three components of executive presence are how you act, how you look, and how you speak. The most important factor is gravitas, followed by communication, then appearance. You need to have confidence, meaning grace under fire, be decisive, have integrity, speak truth to power, and have emotional intelligence.”
Some of Tatum’s recommendations were obvious: be approachable, don’t lie, know your subject inside out, and work on high-profile projects. Others might not be, like sitting near the most powerful person at the meeting, or looking for speaking opportunities outside of work aligned to your personal passions. She emphasized the importance of communication skills in establishing a strong executive presence.
“The top communication traits are superior speaking skills, the ability to command a room, forcefulness and assertiveness, the ability to read a client, boss or room, a sense of humor, and the ability to banter, along with the right body language,” said Tatum.
Above all, Tatum urged women to arrive with a sustainable point of view, as well as questions and ideas to contribute. “Don’t walk out of a meeting not having said anything. Be well-prepared to ask thoughtful questions, and think before you speak,” she said.
No minutia was unplumbed, including forbidden opening lines during conversations such as “actually, just, can I take a minute?, sorry to interrupt, and I may be new but…,” all of which Tatum labeled instant personal credibility-killers.
You are what you wear and do
While good grooming and polish tops the most influential appearance factors, Tatum went deeper, encouraging the audience to “make sure your clothing projects your personal image. Be the best you can in that particular uniform. If you want to be seen as creative, wear clothing that projects that image. Be a badass every day.”
Tatum also advised women to keep track of their accomplishments on a weekly basis so they have the back-up to negotiate for the advancement of their ideas and position at the company. “Do not signal that you can’t advocate for yourself or others, or you won’t get what you need or deserve, and you risk never catching up,” she said.
Curate your online brand
With 78 percent of professionals searching online for information on new colleagues or prospective hires, a woman’s online presence shouts volumes – a concise brand statement, results-oriented accomplishments and regular updates proclaim who someone is and what they stand for. If you’re not posting content and comments, you have no presence.
Know and invest in yourself
Tatum said research shows 66 percent of men and 58 percent of women agree that promotions are based on whether candidates look and act like C-suite executives. The trouble is, men are 47 percent likelier than women to receive feedback from male superiors. The onus is on women to seek out feedback, and invest in themselves to gain new skills and broaden their network.
“Join organizations that expose you to new ideas and people. Connect with other professionals and educators who share your passions,” said Tatum. “Build your board of advisors because a strong network is invaluable for success. You can’t keep it informal. You have to formalize it.” She added that more than mentors, sponsors and close friends, having a personal coach is the secret sauce.
Tatum was also honest about the unique challenges women face compared to men. While she urged women to fail often, she admitted there is more lenience towards men who fail than for women. Women must be particularly careful to avoid being perceived as high-pitched or shrill. Being likeable but not perfect is a balancing act when women can be judged by a different set of rules compared to men. Women must start by believing they have something of value to say.
The Landit platform has been dubbed “LinkedIn for Women,” something I have mixed feelings about. It’s meant as high praise, equating Landit to what’s arguably one of the world’s strongest business networking sites. That said, women will know they’re fully accepted as equals in the workplace when our gender isn’t used as an adjective qualifying a title, accomplishment or website destination. We’re not there yet, but world domination is a worthy aspiration.
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