“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
These are words spoken by British philosopher, writer, and speaker, Alan Watts. And while the message may be more than five decades old, it has never rung more true to our modern society. As the world undergoes a massive period of transformative growth and change, we’re met with a decision: to fight it, or join the dance.
Throughout the 90s, women had been part of the workplace for some two decades. But despite their inclusion making belated strides towards equality, women have historically been the ones making concessions. Women have long been led into believing that in order to obtain higher positions of authority, they need to adopt the leadership styles of men before them. However, as we step into a brand new age, millions are waking up to an important realization: this is simply not the case. The opposite, in fact, is true.
Since 2015, we’ve witnessed modest, yet promising, improvements made towards female representation and gender equality in the workplace. The number of women in C-suit executive and senior vice president roles have each grown by 5% and 4% respectively according to recent data presented by McKinsey. What this indicates is that while women are slowly breaking through, individuals are still inhibited by regressive thought patterns and gender traditionalism. To accelerate the process, it’s time for men to learn from great female leaders both past and present. Here are 8 leadership lessons worth remembering from women leading the charge.
1. Collaborate, don’t control.
As a leader, collaboration pays off in dividends. Not only is it substantially more valuable than flaunting your authority in the workplace, but it also encourages individual employees to connect and work together out of silos. Nina Jensen is the Community Outreach Manager for 8×8. With extensive experience in community outreach and cultivating new business growth, she shares, “During these uncertain times, it can be easy for your team to lose motivation. If your team members are facing burnout caused by working from home, be understanding! A lot of people are under more stress now than they have been in a very long time, if ever. They are worried about their safety, their family’s safety, and the added challenge of adjusting to working from home.
If you can offer an empathetic ear, hear out your team, understand what they need, and help them out, they are much more likely to stay motivated during this time,” she shares. Jensen believes in the importance of offering compassion rather than chastising employees. She goes on to say, “When people don’t feel heard, they often lose motivation and passion for work. Scheduling one-on-one meetings with your team can get a dialogue going about what needs to be done to reach their performance goals. Being a supportive, collaborative leader will take your team and company further during these uncertain times.”
2. Lead by example.
Fabienne Fredrickson is the founder of Boldheart. A business consultant for over 20 years, she believes in the value of leading by example. Having mentored hundreds of leaders, she says, “Subconsciously, team members often emulate the characteristics of their superiors. Always exhibit characteristics and perform actions that you would like to see your team do. While you are monitoring and supervising your team, they are also watching you.”
Fredrickson claims that it’s far more effective to lead by example than to dish out instructions and expect compliance. She elaborates, “Try to be respectful, enthusiastic, hardworking, considerate, and dedicated. You also need to have good work ethics while maintaining a positive attitude. These are all contagious behaviors that are bound to be emulated by your team. Setting rules and going contrary to them not only encourages your team to break them but also undermines your position. Saying one thing and then doing another is bound to undermine the authority of a leader.”
3. Focus on empowering others.
Western society is largely individualist. As such, we tend to focus so deeply on being independent and self-reliant that we forget to uplift those around us. Karla Rivershaw, Head of Marketing at Turtl, shares that the best leaders she has worked with are those that take great pride in empowering those around them. “Rather than taking the work of their teams and presenting it as their own, the best leaders ensure that their team receives the rightful recognition and visibility within the business surrounding their contributions.
This does seem to be a trait that I have witnessed more in women leaders than men and is certainly something I embrace today with how I manage my own team. While of course I am ambitious and want to do well in my career, I believe a true marker of success as a leader is having a successful team. Ultimately, by empowering your team and giving them a platform to stand upon, you motivate and inspire them, driving them towards greater success. So it’s a win-win.”
4. Maintain strong relationships.
Colleen Hilton is the co-founder & CEO of Thrivelution. An entrepreneur spearheading three established brands, Hilton believes that strong relationships are a vital component of successful leadership. “Establishing and maintaining strong relationships with individuals at every level is pivotal to success in leadership. Men often focus on relationships with people who can present an obvious advantage to them and forget that to be in leadership we have an obligation to be connected with team members at every level,” she shares.
Her message is clear: each and every team member plays a defining role in the prolonged success of any business. She continues, “To be in leadership is to serve others. And in order to serve well, leaders must be intimately aware of the challenges and opportunities that exist at every level of an organization. Intimacy is established through authentic relationships.”
5. Pivot into new spaces.
Perhaps one of the most relevant lessons to learn amidst a pandemic is how to pivot into new spaces. Mary Lemmer is a leadership expert, TED speaker, and the founder of Improve, a company committed to improving lives through improv comedy and behavioral research. She shares her unique insights on how exactly to pivot when times get tough. “To prepare yourself to pivot into new spaces, practice listening to others, making your own observations, and then thinking creatively. In improv comedy, we call this “A to C’ing”…taking the original idea – in this case, the current product/space/business model – thinking of something that relates to what you’re currently doing, and then thinking of something that relates to that idea.
This gets us out of our typical line of thinking and has us thinking really outside of the box. For example, if your current business is selling insurance to small businesses, then B might be selling cars to small businesses or selling insurance to farmers, and C might be car dealerships on farms. Though you may not implement these specific ideas, it gets you more active in the creative part of your brain, reducing the judgemental part of your brain, and leaving you more open-minded to new ideas.”
6. Place value on effective communication.
Melitta Campbell is a business coach for women, former communication consultant, and host of the ‘Driven Female Entrepreneur’ podcast. Having interviewed over 50 women about what it takes to succeed in business, she discovered that one tenet reigned supreme: effective communication. “When coaching leaders on effective communication, I consistently saw that men and women view communication slightly differently. For most men, communication was equal to ‘information’. Which is, of course, part of it. But many missed the second part: ‘interaction’; what you want people to do with the information you share. Understanding the two together is important if you want not just to communicate, but connect with people and inspire them to act.”
She elaborates, “I saw that most of the male leaders I worked with felt under pressure to have all the answers. They would only communicate once they thought they had all the facts. This has the potential to keep people in the dark for too long, especially in times of rapid change. Women, on the other hand, were more willing to share what they knew, even when there were gaps in their understanding. This openness and willingness to be vulnerable was a powerful way to draw people to them, build credibility, and create a safe space for open communications.”
7. Cultivate high emotional intelligence.
In making sharp decisions, there’s something to be said about emotional intelligence (EQ). The ability to manage your emotions in a way that defuses conflict and solves problems is invaluable in our divisive, modern society. Holly Berrigan, Founder of MYSA Natural Wine, believes that the world can accomplish much more through empathy, self-awareness, and high EQ. She shares, “Women are famous for having more empathy than men. And today, the world really needs more empathy and nurturing than ever before. It’s great to ensure that your colleagues feel heard and understood, but emotional intelligence goes beyond this point,” she explains.
Berrigan believes that emotional intelligence demands deep inner reflection, and continues, “by making yourself aware of your own potential bias or privilege in spaces that are being discussed, you’re well-equipped to translate your empathy into motivation and productivity. Some men can mistake empathy with being easy on someone or ‘giving them a pass’, but it’s actually far more about communicating that you see and understand the person you’re working with. This includes their whole person and not just their work persona. Understanding that they may be (and are likely) struggling in some area right now and making space for that in the workplace often leads to more motivation and productivity because it takes the worry off of them. We all know that we get more done when we are less worried and feel seen and appreciated.”
8. Be a dreamer.
Life is only as good as the dreams we get lost in. While many may convince you to “be realistic”, Kendall Cherry has other ideas. The founder and creative director of The Candid Collective, she believes that daydreaming is a productive way of planning for the future. She says, “Ever since we were kids, we were told to dream big. To ‘shoot for the moon – if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’ But as we grew up, something happened. We learned to put ourselves into tiny boxes and expectations that other people had for us. And before long, we stopped daydreaming.”
Many are united by this experience: one in which the vision we have for our own lives can be promptly sullied by the tampering, unsolicited ‘advice’ offered by others. “If you had an innovative business idea? Forget it. Go back to corporate or to the traditional career path. When I started to dream up my own company, I knew that I wanted it to be the kind of place where people could build the business that they dream about from their corporate cubicle. Being a dreamer doesn’t mean you’re blankly looking up into the clouds, or sitting around and waiting for things to happen. There is so much action that comes with it, but the difference is that this action is strongly based in a plan. And it’s not just like every other career plan you’ve seen out there. Daydreaming is one of the most productive activities you can do out there because it’s what you actually want, and that’s worth its weight in gold.”
The wisdom and insights from each of these female entrepreneurs are undoubtedly inspiring, and leave a lasting impression. Their leadership experiences impart an important lesson: in an ever-changing world of over 7 billion busy individuals, each of us has a responsibility to cut through the noise and stand up for what’s right. It is you who will stand up for female excellence in leadership, and you who will make the change. Each life, regardless of gender, nationality, or race, can make a profound impact on the world. It all starts with you.