As a young woman in business, it may be surprising to find out that few people actually want the responsibility of leadership. Not everyone wants to be a boss. Many people simply do not want the responsibility. They do not want the pressure of calling the shots, steering the ship, putting their neck on the line and all those clichés. However, the weight of responsibility isn’t all leadership is about.
Leadership is about getting the most out of other human beings. It is about helping people do things they did not know they could. It is seeing someone gain a sense of worth and pride. That is the joy of leadership (not the scary part). For many women this is what draws us to lead and it is for these reasons women make extraordinary leaders. It is also why we need more of them in our businesses as our workplaces change and we no longer need obedient production lines, but rather creative, thoughtful and willing participants.
So how do we as women become better leaders?
There is a vast amount of leadership advice focussed on who we as leaders need to be. However, we should focus more on who we as leaders can help others to be. The truth is, no matter the leadership style we as leaders have, our teams all want to work for people who help them be a better version of themselves.
Collaborative intelligence is the crucial skill in business right now and for the foreseeable future. As our world and our lives become more complex and interconnected, none of us can get by working all by ourselves. The good news, for the ladies in the house, is that generally, women are naturally better at it. So harness your ability to be inclusive and make the most of your collective intelligence to build and lead teams.
This one can be tough. Women (not all) but many, struggle with not being liked. Some part of us seems to say we should be kind and nurturing (silly female stereotypes). The reality is not everyone will like you all of the time. If you are kind some will call you soft, if you are strong some will call you pushy, if you are decisive some will call you a dictator, if you are consultative some will call you easily swayed. So be who you are, lead in your own way and get on with it.
People don’t follow people, they follow people with a purpose. A powerful purpose has gravity - it draws people in. So make sure your business and your leadership has a purpose you (and others can believe in it). Make is short and memorable, not long winded. If you can’t distil it into a few words that fit on a Post-It® Note then it probably needs some refining.
Great leaders are insightful and incite-ful. They understand what motivates people and what makes human beings do the things they do. So spend more time observing how people behave. I always say our business looks at the gaps between what people say they do and what they actually do. And trust me there is often a discrepancy. Leaders who know what people want can incite them to do great things and luckily for women we tend to be naturally more skilled at this art.
Seriously, stop waiting until you are perfect -- learn as you go. Expect you will fail and then plan for it. This is critical to your ultimate success.
Change is really difficult and human beings, on the whole. We don’t like it. Whoever said that a change was as good as a holiday clearly had never tried to swap out their staff’s annual leave for a little change. If we expect that people are stubborn and resistant to change (and they are), then we need to work with who they are. The good news is human beings’ fundamental drivers don’t change. We still want to feel safe, valued, important and loved. We are also driven to look for easier ways to get things done. And yes, we are inherently lazy. If we make the changes we want to happen easier than the old way.
Blaming a lack of quality people is the easy way out. It is rare that 100 percent of your people are superstars. In fact, most businesses are working with people who are of average competence. (That’s not mean-spirited or negative, it is simple math). Instead, look to the systems, purpose and processes that bias towards the results you want to achieve. Create an environment that facilitates success rather than simply expecting it to emerge.
Okay ladies, nice does not always cut it (nor does it always get the corner office). Be decent, be respectful, be fair, be human and even humane, but do not always be nice. Nice is too polite, nice does not tell the truth. Nice does not expect more of people. It says it’s okay -- you can be less. Great leaders expect more because they expect to make more happen. They are not nice about it, they are empowering.
Great leadership is about making the most of the team you have and to do so, you need to learn to swim with the current of human nature. Women who want to lead need to understand who it is they want to lead and what drives them. It is wise to harness people’s innate drivers rather than trying to force yours upon them.
Trying to change people is exhausting, both for you and for them. Instead, great leaders build expectations and systems that help people make the most of who they are. They don’t simply blame their team when things are not working, rather they look for better ways and systems to help get things done.
They realize it cannot always be others peoples fault and make the most of the talent they have. In that way they lead thinking as well as people.
As women in business we need to make the most of our intuitive and empathetic skills to really understand our people and what truly motivates them. By understanding this we can design workplaces, systems and teams that can achieve the extraordinary.
Leadership, therefore, is not simply the ability to amass power but for unleashing the power of making a difference.
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