This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.
I once led a day-long program on trust-based selling to 26 men and women at a global market intelligence firm. We were knee-deep in a conversation about empathetic listening as a primary driver of influence. One of the women—a strong and articulate leader—pulled me aside to ask a question that got me thinking about a serious issue that faces anyone in a leadership role.
We had been practicing in trios, and this woman had realized that she listens with empathy with her family much more than with her colleagues. Her question boiled down to this: “How can I do this trust-building ‘stuff’ at work without appearing weak?”
What a great question.
In my experience, finding this elusive balance point—between feminine and masculine, yin and yang—is both a challenge and an opportunity for both women and men in business.
I have come to believe that the answer to this question is two-fold:
One way to interpret this is that if you’re an empathetic mom, so be it and don’t hide it. Rather than suppress what you naturally do well, bring it forward in a way that’s contextually relevant.
I know for me that being real doesn’t always feel immediately comfortable because it requires risk-taking—as in, risking appearing weak even if I understand intellectually that I won’t. I also know that my best business relationships are distinctly marked by authenticity (mine and theirs). And I know that the more I try to be someone I’m not, the more exhausted I am at the end of the day.
My conclusion: The fundamental question isn’t, “How can we do this trust-building ‘stuff’ at work without appearing weak?” but rather, “How can we model the courage of a leader by being who we are?”
Small edits, big difference.
(This is an edited version of a longer article that was originally published on Forbes.com.)
This week, take stock of your own leadership strengths. Consider the following traits: assertive, decisive, knowledgeable, accessible, open, humble, and fallible. Which ones do you naturally lean on? Which ones need more development?
Read about how vulnerability and authenticity advanced the career of a well-known U.S. news broadcaster, or brush up on the links between listening and influence in Chapter 3 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.