By Dr. Nancy O’Reilly
We’re all leaders. We’re all born with significant talents and abilities to become leaders. That’s why I’m amazed to hear women say, “I’m not a leader. I can’t do that.” My challenge has been to create a path for women to say wait a minute; what are your dreams; what do you want to accomplish in this lifetime? Are you content to follow others and do what they say? Or do you complain about what’s not being done or how it’s being done, knowing you could do so much better? I bet you could and can, but first you must put some skin in the game and have the courage to take responsibility for the outcome you create.
Passion Forces Women to Speak Out
Usually when women step up to take charge or speak out about something, it’s because of some life crisis: they’ve lost a child to a rare disease or an alcoholic driver, or they see something dangerous in their community that needs to be fixed. My Leading Women co-author, Dr. Lois Phillips says that women who would never dream of running for office will swallow their fear of public speaking and stand up to make their case before city council about the need for a school crossing to protect their children. Often these same women will take a larger stand and eventually run for higher office. In her chapter, she addresses “The Power of the Podium” and explains how to use public speaking to achieve your goals, also warning about push-back from society when you take on the still-perceived non-traditional leadership position.
Speaking of push-back, there’s probably no greater push-back than the defeat of Hillary Clinton’s run for president. You’d expect it to result in women taking a step back and waiting to see where the next stage of society’s evolution or devolution goes before taking a step toward leadership. But the opposite is true. Women are digging in, joining one another and helping create more future women leaders for public office. The Chicago Tribune reports the wave in Illinois and other regions where women have stepped up and reached out to elect more women across the board and the parties.
More Women Have the Courage and Poise to Lead
This movement is showing that more women believe they can lead and are getting the courage to do so. My co-author, Sandra Walston describes this process as a learned skill in her chapter, “How Women Can Hit the Bull’s Eye with Courage (Every Time).” Sandra says that it’s important to identify your true self and apply courage from your heart, rather than from your ego. In this way, you’ll pursue the fulfilling career you really want, rather than embarking on something false for the sake of prestige and being admired or envied by others. Sandra explains that the word courage comes from the French word “corage,” which means heart and spirit. Leading from this authentic place gives you the self-confidence to pursue your passion and the grit to confront obstacles along the way.
All of the Leading Women co-authors agree with me that leading as a woman from your true self is essential to living a successful life. My co-author, Linda Rendleman is a motivational speaker, who founded one of the first women’s magazine and online networking organization years before anyone else thought of it. Now she leads her social profit organization, Women Like Us, to help other organizations change the lives of others.
In her chapter, “Poise, The Final Ingredient,” Linda defines poise as understanding, patience, and composure to confront the obstacles of the world. She points to role models who embody poise for her: Audry Hepburn who saw her role at UNICEF helping children as the most important role in her life. And Mother Theresa who didn’t view her Nobel Prize as a personal honor, but as recognition that poor existed and needed help. These inspiring women leaders looked to their hearts and their authentic selves to direct their lives and both made an enormous impact on the world around them. Linda takes it a step further and provides exercises for discovering your own values and applying them to the missions you hold most dear.
The Best Leaders Know How to Listen
The best leaders are those who listen and nurture others. These are traditional women’s strengths. When looked at in this way, nothing is more traditional than women leaders. Controlling and directing isn’t leading. Inspiring others to pursue their natural course is real leadership, because everyone is empowered to follow their true selves. Our culture’s skewed picture of strength and weakness with regard to what is masculine and feminine seeks to bury feminine strengths under doubt and fear of failure.
Have you ever noticed that when you think of starting something new, like go on a diet, you immediately think of what you’ll have to give up, rather than how you’ll achieve your goal? My co-author Lisa Mininni talks about this tendency in her chapter, “Four Lessons from a Tire Iron.” Lesson #3 is “Walk in Faith.” She shares the story of how nervous she was about how she was going to get the money to fund her business when she first started. Rather than allowing herself to get caught up in little details about how it might happen, she chose to shift her mindset and found the self-confidence deep within to simply walk in faith. She was amazed at where the resources came from.
Usually changing your perspective is all that’s required to start down that path you thought could only live in your dreams. If your heart tells you to try something, do it. Listen to your true self. Find your courage and use your poise to walk in faith. The wisdom of my co-authors in Leading Women is born from experience. Their willingness to help through their writing represents a new way for dedicated women leaders to help other women. Join your sisters and believe you can also be an enlightened leader. This is sustainable leadership and the leadership that will preserve our world and make it better for all of us.