Great leaders are born. Or are they? If that’s so, it means that half the population – the female gender half – is particularly challenged to achieve leadership status and be accepted as leaders. Are they really not born leaders or we the problem? Maybe it’s time to rethink what leadership is and the qualities required to be a great leader. Maybe perception is the problem. That, and bias and resistance to change.
Think about it. Think about the kind of leader you’d be inspired to follow. You may already be that person. If not, becoming that person is within your grasp.
While you don’t need all the traits identified as leadership qualities, you’d be surprised at how many you already have and how, with a little tweaking and a shift in how you think about them, they can propel you forward and upward. In other words, you can develop the skills to become a great leader and change a few minds in the process.
You can lead if you are:
Intelligent: You’re smart. Period. And by the way, there are different types of intelligence and each one brings value.
Capable: You have marketable, transferable skills even if you need help identifying them. You wouldn’t be employed for long if you weren’t capable.
Understanding: Great leaders are sensitive to the people in their teams. It makes them want to help others to achieve their goals and others respond to them.
Decisive: You can make decisions, even the hard ones. You do it everyday. Nothing wishy-washy about you even if you have to fake it to make it. You get the job done.
Open: You listen when people talk. You create an atmosphere where lines of communication are open. That’s a safe environment. You help people reach their potential, which already makes you a great leader.
Emotional: Rather than derision, the ability to know yourself emotionally and be able to connect with others in an emotional way is a skill to be celebrated. It gives you the edge when it comes to reading people successfully.
Honest: Your honesty goes a long way to building relationships. Relationships are important to you. That’s why you’re a great team builder. People know you’re a person of integrity. That’s inspiring.
Creative: Goes hand in hand with curiosity. Don’t worry if you think you don’t have a ‘head for business’. Creative people make great leaders because they’re flexible and adaptable. They think outside the box – a really powerful tool for solving problems and developing strategies. They know there’s more than one way to get there from here.
Conscientious: Meticulous detail person? As a leader, you can provide thoughtful, impactful feedback and direction to your team. Things don’t get lost in the process when you’re in charge.
So now that you know you have what it takes to lead, how can you develop the skills you need to lead?
See yourself as a leader. You can’t expect others to see you in a leadership role if you don’t see it first. Find women in leadership roles and invite them to mentor you. Attend presentations and seminars where women are keynote speakers. Develop a network that includes successful women leaders. Act like a leader.
Develop confidence. Read, take a class, find a counselor, offer to lead or present seminars, take on smaller projects and form a team to achieve results. You’ll gain confidence with each success and learn from your mistakes. You’re building an arsenal of skills – mistakes are a big part of that.
Assess your skill set and update/refresh where necessary. Train, attend seminars, and fill your education gaps. That’s something you should be doing on an ongoing basis.
Define your style. Women are often caught between a rock and a hard place. They’re advised to assert themselves and called aggressive when they do. When they speak up, they’re considered pushy and when they’re quiet, they’re often overlooked. By identifying who you are and how you operate best, you prevent others from defining you.
Start early. Be the mentor you’d like to have. Get involved in educational institutions, programs and organizations you can mentor young girls in the skills they need to become leaders down the road.
You have to empower yourself before you empower others. That’s difficult in a society where you’re that half the population that’s underrepresented, and in a culture that undervalues your contributions and undermines your qualities as leadership material. But it’s not all negative. Things – and attitudes – are changing, perhaps with the speed of glaciers, but changing nonetheless. The more women seek, ask for and take on leadership roles, the more ‘naturalized’ the whole process will become. Think about that.
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