You are the architect of your life. What are you building? How high do you want to go?
An old commercial used to say, “You’ve come a long way, baby!” Women certainly have come a long way. We are demonstrating outstanding leadership qualities, no matter what level of education we have obtained. Let’s explore how to be the best leaders possible, whether in the corporate world, at school, with a professional organization or church ministry.
Good female leaders have the ability to both lead and follow. They are visionaries who can influence individuals to “do things”. They have a high sense of integrity and use wisdom in their decision making. Leaders are not always popular but will act for the greater good, and they hold their ground when necessary. Leadership also means being humble enough to make corrections if they find a better solution.
Critical leadership characteristics include the ability to stay focused on the final outcome while giving support to co-workers. It incorporates the heart as well as the head in decision making and problem solving. Leaders see themselves as resources, not just “bosses.”
What is Leadership? It is a “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others to accomplish a common task “. A competent leader demonstrates power by her ability to create, inspire, motivate and transform. Not all leaders are in actual designated “leadership positions.” We all have the opportunity to be an effective leader every day, in whatever capacity the day calls for, whether at home or with those who have a broad influence in our world.
Feminine Power: At times, women believe they must develop the characteristics that work for men if they want to operate in a leadership position. Although we can learn valuable lessons from the male perspective, we were not meant to behave like men. Women have a distinctive way of processing information, motivating and multi-tasking all at the same time. We can provide a congenial atmosphere where employees feel appreciated and listened to. This is an important key to loyalty. We do not need to forsake our femininity for ambition. We can be successful in our own right, walking in the flow of our God-given talents.
The male approach is more often defined as someone who is willing to take charge, is competitive, and is able to understand and play company politics. Female attributes include intuition, a care/share attitude, open communications, and establishing and maintaining relationships with others. These are important leadership strengths that will benefit everyone. Female intuition is an asset that enhances one’s ability to sense approaching problems and opportunities. This does not mean forsaking the need to take charge or compete for business, as those traits are very important. However, work from your feminine leadership side.
Femininity in the workplace used to be associated with positions such as secretaries, clerks and nurses, stereotypes with ranks and titles that men did not consider as leadership positions. Nowadays, a professional administrative assistant is responsible for many aspects of the company’s success. Female characteristics were linked to clothing, emotions, concern about hair, makeup and fingernails, and were confused with the woman’s ability to perform in leadership roles. Getting married and having children was also added to “feminine performance factors”. Oftentimes, women still play down their femininity to avoid these misconceptions, but this is not necessary or productive.
Women are still underrepresented in leadership roles, even when they began their careers with the same degree of education, intelligence and commitment as their male colleagues. Women often find it necessary to conform in one way or another to the male mold. There is power in your genes to move up in the corporate ranks without losing your authentic self.
Use the following list of characteristics for powerful female leadership as a guide and worksheet. Take each attribute and score yourself for where you are now, then write the steps you believe will get you to the place where you truly want to be.
AFFIRMATIONS/APPRECIATION: Sincere praise and appreciation shows confidence in your abilities and position. Single out those who have gone the extra mile and make them feel so good about what they did that they can’t wait to do it again. Recognize them at the next department meeting or send a letter to the general manager or company president letting them know of their contributions. Seeing this recognition can encourage the entire staff to seek new opportunities to go the extra mile. A motivated staff is a powerful staff! Take care to notice positive behavior and make it a regular part of your entire business. The more you thank other people for doing things for you, the more things they will want to do. Now that is admirable leadership!
APPEARANCE, DEMEANOR AND YOUR PERSONAL BRAND: Clothing should help you move up socially and in business, not hold you back! Appearance can work for you by projecting a polished, confident image, or work against you by having scuffed, run down shoes, wrinkled clothing or unkempt fingernails. Signs that show a lack of concern for appearance can indicate low self-esteem, carelessness or that there is no motivation to go any further in life. You always want to be recognized as the polished, intelligent and articulate professional rather than remembered for an appearance inconsistent with your position. Dress for comfort but also to exhibit respect, power and confidence. Remember, anyone in any position can be a leader!
Professional demeanor includes:
1. Demonstrating a high energy level, which is infectious and makes people want to be around you.
2. Exhibiting a professional appearance. If you “appear” organized and well put together, then others will usually assume that your business is as well.
3. Being well spoken. Check your speech patterns, tone of voice, enthusiasm, and strength of your delivery. Ask a couple close friends or associates how you can improve.
4. Accepting compliments graciously. When you turn away a compliment, you are essentially saying that the person giving the compliment is mistaken and that you don’t deserve it.
5. Smiling with a confident demeanor and erect posture that says you are someone people can feel comfortable doing business with.
ATTITUDE: Negative or fearful thoughts keep us stuck. Self-absorbed individuals tend to dominate conversations and see others only as a means to get what they want. This is not only unattractive, it is detrimental to one’s own personal development. Self-absorbed people tend to have poor relationships whereas a leader who instills a can-do attitude into a team can move mountains!
COLLABORATIVE: Women are finding that collaboration provides powerful synergy. Effective collaboration includes leading by example and never conforming on an issue just to please others in order to succeed. Women are usually highly collaborative and have clear reasoning skills. They like to create a sense of “community,” help preserve memories, and be part of something bigger than themselves.
COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE: Without commitment, there can be no success. Without commitment, tough times can pull you away to an easier path. Great leaders lead by example and build trust in those who work with them. Trust allows others to disagree when necessary and not just echo what everyone thinks the leader wants to hear. Although you must listen to, and respect, other’s opinions, that does not mean giving in or compromising your values. Great leaders INSPIRE those around them. The key is commitment.
COMPETENCE: You know you have the ability to get the job done. You are the confident leader who produces results.
CONFIDENCE: One major example of confidence is being secure enough to apologize when wrong. People often need a confidence boost, and that boost increases their self-esteem. People tend to treat us the way we treat ourselves, so speak and act with confidence. Great leaders are humble AND confident.
CONSISTENCY: As women, when hormones are raging, it is sometimes difficult to be consistent in our behavior. There is nothing worse than wondering what kind of mood a boss or co-worker will be in when you arrive at work. Keep in mind that employees don’t like being treated like “light switches,” where the boss turns them on when he or she wants something, then ignores them until something is needed again. This sends a clear message that they are being taken for granted and that the leader or manager just doesn’t care. Once people receive this message, they become “turned off” about going the extra mile.
CONFLICT – DON’T AVOID IT, EMBRACE IT: Leaders resolve conflict by analyzing, listening and working through the situation. Conflict can generate new ideas that leaders can then bring to the table. It is possible to be strong and female while confronting conflict. A woman who received a promotion knew that one man would not support her, so her first thought was to avoid dealing with him. When she discovered that he was starting a new project for the company, she wrote to him pledging her department would do anything they could to support the project. She turned the relationship around. Be creative and powerful in your conflict resolution!
CONVICTION: Leaders must maintain a strong backbone. Stand for what is right, even if it is not looked upon favorably. Be confident in your convictions and major goals, willing to take the risks necessary to support them, and establish respect.
COURAGE: Successful female leaders must develop courage to ensure their team has the resources they need, and to resist conforming to a leadership style that isn’t their own. Be willing to lead collaboratively if that is your style even if it is not the one modeled at the top.
COURTESY AND RESPECT – TREAT PEOPLE POLITELY: Women excel at seeing others as genuinely worthy. Treating people poorly suggests a tremendous lack of integrity. We cannot lead well if we do not know what is going on in the trenches, where business connections are made and deals are sealed. People do things because they either want to, or because they have to. Kindness, courtesy and respect make them want to do things for us. They are motivated to go out of their way to help solve problems and accomplish our goals. Being nice to other people makes them feel important and respected. It is one of the most critical aspects of a quality leader.
CRITICISM—CONSTRUCTIVE OR DESTRUCTIVE: Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end, you will be wise.” In meetings, a cooperative, open-minded and constructive approach to problem solving accomplishes so much more than angry, defensive behavior. Several years ago I determined that if the criticism was constructive, I would listen first, and then work to improve where needed. If it was given in a destructive manner, I would consider the source and move on.
EMPOWERING OTHERS – GIVE THEM FREEDOM TO EXCEL: Empower means “putting power into,” and it can also mean “bringing energy and enthusiasm out of.” There is something liberating and energizing when we have been entrusted with a major responsibility and given the freedom to fulfill it. When the right person has been matched with the right job, the conditions for exceptional performance have been created. Expect Success! Positive expectations show your belief in their ability to succeed. The strong leader will set the mental and emotional atmosphere for the whole organization. Project a positive attitude no matter how distressing the situation appears. Strive to be in complete control of yourself and your emotions at all times.
High stress levels have been traced to a national trend toward controlling behavior. Controlling people concern themselves not only with their own thoughts and actions, but insist others think and act in certain ways as well. This is a losing battle as there is usually more than one approach to doing things.
In a study with several thousand people, individuals were asked to describe their best bosses. Over and over the respondents said things like, “I rarely talked to her” or “He left me alone” or “She gave me total freedom to get the job done how I saw fit.” Step aside and let competent workers do what they do best. Keep your door open, instruct and guide, but do not micromanage. The first step in empowering people is to refrain from doing anything that reduces authority, energy and enthusiasm.
INSPIRE: Inspire Others to Peak Performance. A transformational leader is one who excites and inspires people to perform far beyond their own expectations of themselves. They practice behaviors that cause their people to feel stronger, happier, more confident and committed. Just think what a contented staff can accomplish for your company and career!
INTEGRITY AND TRUTH-TELLING: Our integrity is revealed in our daily actions and reactions on the job. It originates from the heart, not from a desire to gain an advantage over others. An example would be to never pass the buck to cover up our own mistakes. We must be accountable, admitting our mistakes and seeking to rectify them. Even when we are discouraged and tempted to give up or compromise our integrity, we stick to our principles. When tempted, remember this quote by an unknown individual: “A person’s wardrobe tells you what he or she does, but their walk in life tells you what they are.” When people are asked what trait they most want in a leader, integrity and honesty generally top the list. Studies have shown that women bring to boardrooms an increased focus on ethics and positive authority. When the people around you know that you are a person of integrity, they know you can add value to their lives and not worry about your motives. They trust you. In everything you do involving other people, you are shaping and influencing their perceptions of you and the position you hold in their minds.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE: Women are known for jumping in and doing what needs to be done. Feminine leadership is about inner strength. Think of all of the great historical leaders from Cleopatra to Catherine the Great. They weren’t unfeminine but rather great leaders with an extensive world view.
LEADERSHIP STRATEGIES and OUTCOMES: The impact of a leader has no bounds! An ancient quote from Phillip II of Macedon still holds true today: “An army of deer led by a lion(ess) is more to be feared than an army of lions led by a deer.” Why? A lioness is involved, firm and confident, and scouts new opportunities for provisions. They take position for battle AND they take care of their own. Deer are peaceful, passive… and run away when frightened.
NURTURE AND INSPIRE: You can be a great leader without degrading others as you move forward, whether in a career or as a coach. Always be mindful of other’s feelings and never jump to conclusions about their behavior. No one knows what challenges they may be dealing with. Show that you care by finding out what is happening with them.
PASSION: Passion increases willpower and determination. It gives you the will to move on when you want to quit. It changes you. In the end, your passion will have more influence than your personality. It makes the impossible possible. A leader with great passion and few skills always outperforms a leader with great skills but no passion. Your best chance at success is through doing work you love. If you are not happy in your chosen field, consider switching to one for which you have a genuine interest or passion.
PERCEPTION IS REALITY: The perception people have of your performance capabilities exerts a great influence on how they think and feel about you as a leader. Sometimes a reputation for being excellent at what you do can be so powerful that it alone can make you an extremely persuasive individual with those around you. They accept your advice, are open to your influence and agree with your requests. People act on the basis of their perceptions of you. If you appear, by your mannerisms, wardrobe, grooming, and communication skills, to be a high-ranking leader or a person of influence, they are much more likely to help you than if you were perceived to be a lower level employee.
POWER—BE COMFORTABLE WITH YOURS! Power struggles are evident everywhere, whether in running a household or managing a business. These struggles often don’t show up in an overt manner but in daily activities like meetings, decision making and conversations. It is a strongly motivated attempt to acquire control, authority or influence over a person, situation or thing. This is not a very becoming trait and does not show strength of character. Women would be well-advised to consider the good of the whole. Ask for what you aspire to, whether it is asking for a raise, more resources for a project, or for a second chance. It is amazing what you can accomplish simply by asking for what you want. The key is to believe in your request and that others want to help you. They will “feel” your true beliefs by the energy you project.
SATISFY THE DEEPEST NEEDS: The deepest need that each person has is for a sense of feeling important, valuable and worthwhile. Everything that you do in your interactions with others affects your self-esteem, and theirs, in some way. Give to others first what you want for yourself.
SHARE, AND ASK FOR, INFORMATION: Women are naturally good communicators. Quality leaders should also be a good followers and careful listeners. It is in expressing oneself honestly that we earn trust. We tactfully clear the air so discord and resentment does not get a foothold. A good way to destroy a project is for the members to not communicate. Be the catalyst to unplug communication channels.
VISIONARY: Create a shared vision. Keep your organization focused on what is most important and communicate it in a meaningful, memorable way. Share the vision in terms that the team can visualize. See everything you do in terms of the larger picture, for the greater good.
CHARACTERISTICS OF POTENTIAL LEADERS: If you are considering promoting or hiring a highly-skilled individual who lacks loyalty, he is disqualified. Don’t even consider taking him on the journey with you because in the end, he will hurt you more than help you. What does it mean for others to be loyal to you? Probably the same traits others require of you as well.
1. They accept you with your strengths–and weaknesses.
2. They represent you well to others. Loyal people may take you to task privately and hold you accountable for what you are capable of achieving, yet they never criticize you to others.
3. They are able to share the ups and downs as you journey together, making the trip less lonely and much more fulfilling.
4. They share your dream. Many people will share part of your journey but a special few will want to come alongside and help you reach the finish line.
Write a job description for a great boss and use it as a guide for your own leadership qualities: One who gives honest feedback, is patient of other’s mistakes, does not overload employees, and realizes they have lives outside of work. Are you the kind of boss you would want to work for?
Making things happen in and through others will depend entirely on your ability to lead them. Without leadership, there is no teamwork and people go their own way. If your dream is big and requires the teamwork of a lot of people, those you select to work with you will need to be people who are trustworthy, loyal, and can develop the ability to influence others. That is what leadership is all about. When you think about it, all leaders have two things in common: They are going somewhere, and they are able to persuade others to go along with them. Thomas Jefferson once said, “No duty the executive has to perform is so trying as to put the right man in the right place”.
Leaders must see farther and more quickly than their teammates. They anticipate what is going to happen next. They get the team moving in the right direction ahead of time, and the team is in a position to win.
As the old saying goes, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life! Plant seeds of exemplary leadership and watch them grow!
There IS power in those feminine genes. You can light up your world and everyone’s around you!