“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will only be leaders.” - Sheryl Sandberg
If I asked you to name several great leaders would what are the first few names that would come to mind? It’s a conditioned response that we think of male leaders when asked about those who are great.
Jeff Bezos. Howard Schultz. Sir Richard Branson. Bill Gates.
I’m sure we’ve all heard of these leaders who are considered the definition of great and what they do is common knowledge. They have proven success and credibility. They’ve earned their pinstripes.
Sandra Day O’Connor, Former Supreme Court Justice. Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook. Mary Barra, CEO, General Motors. Maxine Waters, U.S. Representative. Michele Buck, CEO, Hershey’s.
Maybe reading the names of these leaders who are both fierce and female is a reminder of names you are familiar with, or perhaps some of them you’ve never heard of. You see, male leadership has been entitled to a seat and a voice at the table. Meanwhile, despite education, experience, skill, capability the best of the best female leaders have had to earn their voice in the same forums. They have to earn a voice that is perceived as confident being careful not to be cocky. A voice that challenges status quo while being careful not to come across as a know it all or disrespectful. A voice that is direct without being seemingly abrasive. A voice that is listened to and received vs. just being part of the background noise.
Female leaders seek respect more than they seek reward
They seek success beyond survival. They are driven by proving the naysayers wrong but in a way that does not compromise their values or their purpose. Female leaders are very conscientious of ensuring they help to show the next generation what’s possible. They become focused on being an example that unlike the lyrics of the song “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” by James Brown, it’s a world any of us desire it to be if we are determined enough to make it so.
The Importance of Mentorship
The role of mentorship for females can be a game changer. That’s not to say that a female has to have a female mentor. A female leader may simply need a mentor willing to take notice of her strengths and provide her with purposeful feedback and development. This would also allow companies to identify those female leaders with true potential and engage them differently in preparation for succession or newly designed roles.
Confidence as a Competence not a Competition
Women must never allow fear, uncertainty or lack of confidence to influence them to engage in professional battle with other females. Women don’t need anyone but themselves to give them permission to lead and lead from the helm. Women don’t need to ‘cut the line’ of female leaders in order to have presence or success. When women see each other as just leaders so will others see them that way.
“You’re not in competition with other women. You’re in competition with everyone.” - Tina Fey
As females, women often feel enormous pressure to fit in like ’one of the boys’, to hang out and drink as they drink, to speak as they speak, to find humor as they find humor. Women must find pride in their individuality as they’ve created it and help others see the value in their differentiated presence.
Women feel pressure not to fail, not to make mistakes. This pressure comes from the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) feedback that women must be better to be viewed just as effective as male leaders. Women must wear their wedge heels, their stilettos, their ankle boots, their sandals with confidence in every step about who they are and what they bring to the table. They must embrace failure as opportunity to learn and show other leaders how it’s done.
“My best successes come on the heels of failures.” - Barbara Corcoran