In Britain, when we talk of female leaders and female leadership we often think of Tory politicians or our nation’s longest serving monarch. Our earliest story books often served up tales of feisty women who ruled the age or were revered in their time. But why then do so many women feel that they can’t cut the mustard to become a leader, choosing instead the role of supporter or deputy?
Maybe it’s because neither the political leader, the monarch or the fairytale princess are our daily reality. How often do we stop and reflect on the female leadership and ingenuity that we see all around us on a daily basis: the woman who manages to juggle the school run, the woman who cares for relatives, the woman who holds down the 9-5 whilst keeping her family fed and clothed. These I believe are our great – and often unsung leaders – of our time.
Am I a leader? I’m not sure – I have day-to-day responsibility for running a team and I have done that over the years with many individuals. Is that enough to make me a leader? I for one don’t think so.
Is there a manual I can copy and paste? Can I read a self-improvement book? Probably, and of course. But you know what, to become a leader who is comfortable with that description takes experience.
This is what I’ve learnt over the years:
Gender doesn’t define good leadership. Often we’re told women are more collegiate and empathetic, but my favourite and most awe-inspiring leader was a man. He taught me to really listen to my colleagues and he also taught me that sometimes there is nothing that can be said to make someone feel better. If that’s the case, stay quiet and just be.
Admit your frailties. I want to do it all, so as a result my diary is a mess of meetings and events that I have committed to with little thought and care for travel time or downtime. I am also aware that I have at least 20 ideas a minute and that I drive my team insane with constant suggestions and thoughts. I’m also aware that sometimes one idea is enough; sometimes somebody else needs to come up with the idea in their own time; sometimes I need to say no to that event.
Be You. How hard is that? The answer is very. Admitting that sometimes days are hard, work is overwhelming or you need a break helps your team. It encourages them to be honest with you and allows an environment where freedom of expression is encouraged and thrives.
Don’t steal anyone else’s glory. You are as good as your team. They know that, and if you don’t, then you’re in for a fall. I’ve been there when my ideas have been claimed by someone else. That feeling of hurt and surprise doesn’t go away. It also ensures that next time you need to offer 110% percent, summoning up that extra energy or loyalty doesn’t come easy.
Honesty is the best policy. Say it as it is. How ever British and awkward we may feel, sometimes plain speaking is required. If you don’t address the issue now, it will just get bigger. If someone is struggling then acknowledge that. Change the work, reduce their workload or give them more time. That might help, but sometimes you win by admitting it’s over. That job or role may not be right for you, or them. Admitting that can often free someone to find their real passion.
Be kind. Rank, status and salary mean very little when all is said and done. I categorise people by the way they treat others when they think no one is looking. However grand or important you feel, you are never too important to be courteous or helpful.
Smile. It’s true a smile does make you feel better and it does make those around you feel better too.
We go to work to earn, learn and be social – the best leaders in my opinion allow every individual on their team to thrive and find the path that works for them. Remember that being a leader is a privilege.
As Maya Angelou said:
‘Try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud’