Women Leaders Are The Present, And The Future
The future of work is exciting. It’s exciting because it’s democratised. Technology, business models, supply chains, processes, talent, even leadership itself, is democratised. Traditional gatekeepers who once prevented innovative companies, and people, from succeeding are now irrelevant in the networked economy.
In this reinvention of society and work, the once-coveted traits of leadership such as ‘experience, hierarchal decision making, command-and-control’ are now redundant, and potentially offensive to a workforce that’s choosing meaningful work over monetary slavery. We are reclaiming our personal and professional power and leaning into a more collaborative, accessible way of working.
Today, through the power of technology, social media and distributed leadership, each person has the opportunity to change the world, make a difference, and lead. We are all leaders and we don’t need titles to lead. A big shout-out to one of my favourite authors, Robin Sharma, who introduced me to this idea through his book, The Leader Who Had No Title. It taught me how to influence people positively, to lead by example, and to be really bloody good at what we do and be recognised for it.
As Martin Luther King Jr said, “If a man is to be called a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven played music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
Women are better suited, mentally and emotionally, to be the leaders of today and tomorrow. There are many studies (such as 7 reasons women executives make better leaders or Women make better leaders) that demonstrate how we possess greater emotional intelligence, create more empathy, inclusion and trust at the workplace, and have a much greater ability for work-life integration than men do.
All this is wonderful, and yeah, go women! However, I must confess, this used to terrify me, and still does sometimes. The pressure and expectation I felt (totally self-imposed) to demonstrate leadership (and leadershipy skills), be iconic, change the world, and write my own playbook for life and success was nerve-racking, to say the least.
Being a leader without a title is about mindset and daily habits.
It’s really as simple as that. There’s no silver bullet, there’s no magical crown of leadership, there’s no single ‘aha moment’. A tremendous, fundamental shift is what’s important.
The first shift is naturally in the mindset. I am surrounded by many inspiring, enlightened women and men who are all leaders without titles. Some are CEOs and founders of great companies, but I still believe they are leaders without titles, because they never needed a title to validate their leadership behaviour. This is what I’ve learnt from them about having a leader’s mindset, and through my own journey of leadership.
Lead by example: Inspiration and motivation, over the carrot-and-stick approach, is old news. However, it’s not enough to inspire through words and well-meaning sermons; what all leaders do is lead by example. Like Martin Luther King Jr. said, be the absolute best street sweeper, if that’s what you do. When you take your own craft and career and seriously, you are automatically creating influence and credibility.
How can I help you? The old style of working and leadership was based on power, domination and hierarchy. It’s a twisted way of seeking external validation. That’s why the leaders of yore needed cronies, and absolute obedience. Leaders without titles find value and meaning in empowering others, and in giving back. Ask this simple question at work and in your business, to your employees, colleagues, peers, bosses and partners: “How can I help you?” And then, help them. Even when you can’t offer help in a tangible way, encourage and respect those you meet. Let me illustrate with my own example. A lot of people reach out to me on LinkedIn and on Twitter, seeking digital marketing advice. Most are genuine folks, and I always help to the best of my abilities. There will always be something you know well or better than most, and it’s an amazing thing to pay it forward.
Time is your most valuable asset: I think most women are overly generous with our time, because we are naturally empathetic, and are problem-solvers. However, a big part of leadership is learning to value your time and saying ‘no’. In a business world that demands innovation, performance and agility, women need to evaluate how they choose to spend their time--both at work and at home. Invest time with people, projects and content that’s positive, a learning experience and inspiring. Anything else is a distraction. My personal experiment to push this mindset forward is: I am going to give up TV for eight weeks starting next week. I love TV, but I know I can spend that time reading, watching better content, investing more time with people who are a significant part of my personal and professional journey. Be ruthless with how you choose to spend your time and see how much more you’ll accomplish.
This mindset shift is a conscious, gradual one, supported by the daily practice of key habits. You’ll notice the key habits I propose are actually the ones you know are ‘great to do’, but probably feel are too busy to do, on most days. However, these habits are the ones you need to live a world-class life and to be a successful leader. Hopefully, once you change your attitude towards time, finding time for these habits will be easier.
Be healthy: Whether you are a mum juggling a career and family, and feeling constantly exhausted, or an overworked, underpaid professional who's juggling two jobs and has no time to exercise, I implore you to spend 20 -30 minutes devoted to your health every day. Exercise four times a week, eat healthy and sleep deeply. As Robin Sharma says, “Refuse the habits, lifestyle and circumstances that weaken you.”
Commit to 60 minutes of learning: Only lifelong learners can thrive and influence the world around them. The pace of change in business, society and technology is mind-boggling; the amount of noise and clutter in the world is deafening. The key is focus and consistency. Block 60 minutes of your day, five days a week--either at once, or in two 30 minute blocks, but let that time be sacrosanct. Set learning milestones and deadlines for yourself. If this sounds like a gigantic pain, initially it is! However, I guarantee you the sense of accomplishment, clarity and confidence it’ll give you will be well worth your time.
Connect, compliment meaningfully: It’s easy to be on auto-pilot, rinse-and-repeat mode five days a week. It’s an unfortunate reality for most of us; it can be mind-numbing and soul-crushing because it’s so relentless. My solution is to reach out to at least two people every day in a meaningful way, either to genuinely compliment them, ask or give feedback or make a connection that grows my professional and personal network. It positively affects your own day, and also of those you reached out to, and expands your knowledge and perspective.
Do more than what’s expected: Everything worth doing lies outside your comfort zone. It’s where innovation and wisdom lies, and it’s how you build a strong personal brand. In today’s business environment, reputation and personal brand are important. When you establish competency, reliability, and excellence as cornerstones of your personal brand, it has a resounding impact, and often opens up the most unexpected opportunities. I do more than what’s expected, by being judicious in what I choose to apply myself to, and then doing that fully. Chose quality over quantity; learn when to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Women often undervalue their own achievements, and are more self-critical about their shortcomings, but that’s often a misplaced perspective that hampers leadership ability. Being a leader who doesn’t need a title requires tremendous self-belief, a deep desire to be of service, and daily practice. Let today be the first day of your journey to great leadership.