Did you know that there are more men called John leading FTSE firms than there are women? Men called Dave also outnumber women by a ratio of 2:1. This really does put a spotlight on the gender gap problem in the corporate world. We know that women makeup half of the UK workforce but do they make up half leadership positions? No, is the answer. The proportion of senior roles held by “the fairer sex” is around the 24% mark.
Despite the obvious gender gap, we have seen many successful female leaders over the years from a wide range of sectors, including science, politics, design and music. But success is only the tip of the iceberg and under that iceberg are numerous factors that make a woman an effective leader: Dedication. Hard work. Discipline. Disappointment. Persistence. Sacrifice. Failure.
It can be difficult for women to be an effective leader because of long-standing stereotypes. For instance, while a man might be “assertive” a woman is “bossy” or “a nag”. So what do successful female leaders do that works?
1. Effective female leaders work on their business, not in their business
I heard some fabulous words of wisdom from a fellow woman in business last week. When discussing the importance of self-care she said, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. And it is so true. The most important relationship we have in life is the one we have with ourselves. You cannot be an effective leader if you’re too stressed or overwhelmed to lead others.
On an aeroplane, before take-off and during the health and safety talk, the air crew always tell parents to put their own oxygen masks on first if the cabin loses pressure. This is because, after a few minutes, the brain starts to lose function. You should always put your own mask on first because, by the time you’ve helped everyone else, you may not know how to help yourself – the same goes for leadership.
2. Effective female leaders never ever give up
Despite losses, difficult sacrifices and failures, effective female leaders don’t give up at the first hurdle – or the second, or the fifth, or the tenth … you get the idea.
If you want to be an effective leader, you will need to have internal strength to help you persevere when times are tough. Sometimes people will fight against you and you have to know what is right, what your vision is and keep moving towards your goals.
“Giving up is the only sure way to fail.” – Gena Showalter
Marie Curie, renowned for her discovery of radium and polonium, was not awarded the Nobel Prize after a single year of scientific experiments but she did not give up and worked tirelessly until she made a breakthrough. Even after personal tragedy, Marie Curie continued to challenge the laws of science and achieved a second Nobel Prize in 1911.
3. Effective female leaders take responsibility for failures, not just successes
People talk about “born leaders” but I think it’s a myth. Leadership is a learning process and to evolve and learn, you need to pay attention to the things you have done wrong and not just the things you have done right. Equally, you need to celebrate the small successes. Small goals and small rewards will keep you feeling productive rather than pooped.
4. Effective female leaders give credit where credit is due
All relationships need to be nurtured. This includes both business relationships and personal relationships. When you interact with others, how do you want them to feel – inspired and motivated or stressed and unhappy? If somebody does something well, let them know about it. Be conscious of the achievements others are making. The smallest things can make a big difference in building working relationships that will last for a long time. True leaders encourage and develop talent.
5. Effective female leaders listen with intent
A good leader will never believe that they already know everything. If you want to be an effective female leader, you have to care about what people say. Leadership involves asking a lot of questions. One of your biggest responsibilities as a female leader is finding out what others need so you can serve them. And, if you are loyal to them, you will receive their loyalty in return.
You should give people an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings. It’s up to you to ask your team what areas they think need improving. This is the only way you can address the concerns of those you are leading.
6. Effective female leaders are authentic and true to themselves
The best and most unique thing you can offer is yourself.
7. Effective female leaders feel the fear and do it anyway
Sometimes you have to stick to your guns and make a leap of faith. If you never step outside of comfort zone, you are never going to experience the successes you’re dreaming of. The chances are you already know what you want to achieve and even how to make the steps to achieve it but those steps are frightening and so, instead of taking purposeful action, you let them sit on the back burner and continue to wonder why you aren’t as successful as you want to be.
“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.” – Ellen DeGeneres