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Your Leadership Style: Denying the Doubters

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Politics and law are two of the most competitive and brutal career choices for women, especially for women of color. Vice President Kamala Harris managed to excel in both fields thanks to strong leadership skills and pure perseverance. In a series of interviews leading up to her inauguration, she admitted to being told many times in her career that it “wasn’t her time” for a job or advancement. Her laughing response was, “I eat ‘no’ for breakfast, so I would recommend the same. It’s a hearty breakfast.”

Earlier in her political career, Harris served as San Francisco’s district attorney and then as California state attorney general and senator. As she aspired to each new position, there were questions on her qualifications and abilities. She overcame each challenge and showed those who initially said no that she was able to succeed despite their doubts.

Harris learned how to ignore naysayers so well that it earned her a place in history. Whether she was your candidate or not, any woman with a dream to succeed in her chosen field can learn from her advice. Besides politics, there are other male-dominated fields such as law, finance and technology in which woman find themselves constantly being questioned, doubted and turned down for opportunities and promotions because they’re being judged by a leadership team that favors males.

In a corporation or government organization, never accepting no for an answer can earn you a reputation as difficult to work with. Instead, some strategy is involved. According to broadcast journalist Gayle King, it’s important to know how to be insistent without being obnoxious. You must first understand who you’re dealing with before you can come up with the best way to turn their no into a yes. Gaining insight into psychology and learning how to deal with different personality types is key when it comes to overcoming obstacles in the corporate world.

One of the times many women hear no is when asking for a raise. According to Barbara Corcoran, a New York real estate mogul who appears on the TV show Shark Tank, most companies have a set of stock answers they give when most employees ask for more money. These range from times being tough to raises not being in the budget. If you know you’ve earned a raise by going the extra mile and taking on additional responsibilities, request a meeting with your boss. Go in prepared to discuss all the extra work you’ve taken on. To back up the argument that you deserve more money, find out the average pay for your job in your area. If a first attempt at getting a raise is unsuccessful, continue to do extra work and ask again in a few months. Corcoran calls this “polite persistence” that can eventually pay off. 

Entrepreneurs have a bit more leeway when it comes to navigating around obstacles in their path, according to Corcoran, but they still must learn how to be persistent without coming across as obnoxious. Successful entrepreneurs must be resourceful, passionate about their business and have a competitive spirit that keeps them going even when problems arise. They don’t let their egos or emotions get in the way.

Take jewelry designer Kendra Scott, who built a billion-dollar business from her spare bedroom through determination and hard work. She even took her newborn baby along on sales calls to local boutiques before landing deals with major retailers such as Nordstrom’s. When her business suffered heavy losses during the financial crisis of 2009, she took a big risk and opened her first store to sell her products exclusively. Kendra Scott Jewelry has since grown to a $1 billion business with more than 90 stores as well as a thriving e-commerce operation.

Overcoming major challenges often requires great personal sacrifice and suffering. The most passionate entrepreneurs persist. Leah Solivan, founder of online labor marketplace TaskRabbit, was rushed to the hospital with colitis during critical negotiations to keep her company afloat. She negotiated for the last $3 million of the $50 million she needed from the emergency room, refusing to take no for an answer even from her failing body. Most of us will never experience that type of situation, but it’s a good example of the enormous persistence that many successful women have in common.

Being persistent and not taking no for an answer doesn’t mean that women should imitate the aggressive behavior that often works for men. Due to social biases, most people judge women harshly when they come across as being too assertive. According to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, women leaders must develop their own leadership styles that are true to their own personality instead of trying to mimic male styles.

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