WIR Summit Power Panel

Do you know what the “Power Panel” is? It’s a panel of executive women in the retail space who spoke during a session on leadership at the Women in Retail Leadership Summit in Miami last month.

These ambitious, successful women who dreamed big and achieved their personal and professional goals while staying true to themselves include Miki Racine Berardelli, president, digital commerce and chief marketing officer at Chico’s; Gerri Elliott, director, Whirlpool, Bed Bath & Beyond, Charlotte Russe; Devon Pike, president, North America, Givenchy; and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founder and CEO, GLAMSQUAD.

During their session, the Power Panel shared personal experiences around five key leadership qualities that they collectively use and believe are instrumental to their success. The five leadership qualities discussed were:

  1. leaders are expert communicators;
  2. leaders deal with failures gracefully;
  3. leaders have emotional intelligence;
  4. leaders are keen negotiators; and
  5. leaders pay it forward.

This article is the first in a five-part series that will recap the Power Panel’s take on these qualities. First up is leadership quality No. 1: leaders are expert communicators.

“Communication is one of the most critical traits of leadership, but one of the least practiced because it’s so hard,” said Elliott. “Communication isn’t just about standing up and presenting; it’s about how you act, how you speak, and how you talk every single day.”

Elliott identified three communication tools you can use — power poses, power words and power voices — to help change perception, give you some added confidence, and make you acknowledge that you’re the most powerful woman on the planet.

Power Poses: Elliott urged attendees to watch Amy Cuddy’s famous TED Talk called “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.”. In her talk, Cuddy discusses “power posing,” which is standing in a posture of confidence.

“[Amy’s] research shows that if you hold a power pose for two minutes, you literally change your body chemistry,” Elliott said. “Your testosterone level goes up and your cortisol — the stress hormone — level goes down.”

Elliott told the audience members that they should hold a power pose for two minutes before every major presentation they have to give.

Power Words: Elliott said power words are words like “I created,” I founded,” “I led,” “I’m in charge of.” Interestingly, studies show that the more powerful women become in their career, the more humble they become. As a result, Elliott said they “lose the use of power words. The more powerful we become, we want to be more liked, so we use softer words.”

Power Voices: Elliott noted that women often use affectations in their voices when they’re presenting or having a conversation. “It might be something like uptalk or saying ‘I’m sorry, but,’ or it might be using a little bit of baby talk sometimes,” Elliott said. “It’s important to speak confidently.”

Berardelli noted that communication is near and dear to her heart. For starters, she studied communications in college and also received a Masters of Science in Business Communication at Northwestern University.

“Communication is the building block of relationships in business,” Berardelli said. “I don’t recall any instance or any relationship where I got what I wanted by not having built strong communication and a strong relationship with the person that I needed to get what I needed to get done, done.”

Berardelli added that being a good communicator also means having tough conversations with employees.

“This is something I’ve had to learn along the way because I’m definitely one of those people who likes to be liked,” she said. “But having the tough conversation actually helps everyone. It helps the person you’re having to have the tough conversation with — if you do it in a constructive manner — and it gets it our there so everyone can move forward.”

For Devon Pike, good communication involves making sure you can clarify your mission statement and tailor all of your communication to everyone on your team at whatever level they are so they clearly understand what your mission is.

“As a leader, it’s your responsibility to understand [your mission statement], know when it changes, be able to modify your statement, and define it in ways so that everyone on your team really understands what the big picture is that you’re all trying to achieve together,” Pike said. “This enables your team to become a more highly functional group. They can make decisions for themselves and it tends to be a much more agile team.”

For Wilson, repetition is key when it comes to communication.

“I think communicating mission, vision, values, culture, what’s acceptable, what we stand for, who we are, how we describe our company over and over is really important,” she said.

Next week, I’ll report on the panel’s thoughts on how good leaders can deal with failures gracefully.