Women who focus on trust and results can find their voices

Throughout the 10 years I’ve had the privilege of leading Great Dames, women have asked me how they can make their voices heard and ideas valued.

Sharon Kelly Hake Guest Columnist

I understand the question, because, like so many women, I struggled to find my voice. I remember a time during my career when I felt underappreciated, underpaid and unheard – despite working very hard at my job. I had some great ideas, but I couldn’t seem to break through with them. The more I tried unsuccessfully to find my voice, the less confident I became about sharing my ideas.

I had a defining moment when I went to my boss to ask for a promotion. He listened for about 10 seconds, then stopped me and said, “This meeting is over. I don’t really care about what you want. I care about what I need.” 

Then he showed me to the door.

It’s funny how humiliating events can become some of our most teachable moments. My boss gave me a gift. After calming down, I realized that he had helped me frame my request and shape my ideas. By focusing on what mattered to him – not me – I could reframe my ask. A few days later, I made my way back to his office equipped with a better proposal. This time I embraced his most pressing needs.

I listened, then responded with ideas that addressed pointedly ways in which I could help find solutions to his problems. I suggested that I’d be more effective if I was authorized to expand my scope of responsibilities. I made the case that I needed more resources and a higher level to implement my ideas. In short, I found my voice and shared my ideas with him.

It worked. I earned the promotion and salary increase and got additional resources that led to work I was passionate about. I’ve shared this approach with others with great success. The lesson is to start with the end in mind, then build your case for support.

Here are eight ways to find your voice and share your ideas in ways that they will be heard and valued.

1. Start by building trust with the people with whom you’re engaging.

2. Focus on the impact of your idea as opposed to the idea itself. Ideas are cheap. Solutions are much more valuable.

3. Listen first, then respond thoughtfully. Start conversations by asking, “How can I help you?” Then frame your ideas around supporting others.

4. Make others care about the problem, then build a case that offers solutions.

5. Understand your strengths. Ask your friends and trusted colleagues what they feel are your strengths. Know what you bring to the table and you’ll be more in confident finding your voice and sharing your ideas.

6. Figure out the problem you want to solve, then find people who care about it.

7. Practice. Say your ideas out loud while driving or in front of a mirror. Share them with a trusted friend. Ask for advice. Doing these things will clarify your thought processes.

8. When you’re ready to share your ideas, own them. Proclaim them. And hold yourself accountable to ensure that something happens. Don’t leave your valuable ideas to linger without attention and support. Your credibility matters.

Finally, pay it forward by asking a struggling colleague how you can help her (or him). Listen to her ideas and ask powerful questions. Explore with her ways she can build trusted relationships with the right people to get her ideas heard, resourced and implemented successfully.


Sharon Kelly Hake is president of Great Dames Inc., whose mission is to connect and mobilize the kindred spirits of women with purpose.

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  1. I love the way that you took a negative situation with your boss and turned it into a learning experience. But I also wonder if he would have had the same conversation with a guy that he had with you. I remember also asked for a promotion and was told that I did not “have enough presence.” A big white guy who looked a lot like my boss was hired from outside, instead of me getting the job I justly deserved. So my solution led me to say — I will be my own boss. That’s what led me to start my own companies and commit to help others — especially women — ignite, fuel and accelerate their own passion. Sometimes, you can work through an organization. Other times, you just need to become a disruptive force — a Firestarter. And, damn, doesn’t it feel great to be a Great Dame!

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