by Dr. Nancy O’Reilly
Women have developed their leadership skills through everyday actions of nurturing their families and fostering their communities. But somehow, most people don’t think of it as leading. Stereotypical leadership is done by a white man in a suit who tells others what to do. That’s why in the 1980’s when I directed a large employee assistance program, I actually wore a suit and tie. Although I laugh about it now, the outfit was a symbol of the worn-out ideologies that still persist even though today the world is a much different place. So many women I interview for my podcast tell a story of having to shed those old ideas before they could succeed in their own skin and career. For a woman to lead well, she must acknowledge that her strengths as a woman can help her become a phenomenal leader.
Every chapter of my book, Leading Women, 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business and Life, celebrates qualities that make women excel as leaders. Many of my amazing co-authors also warn of the minefield a woman must cross before she will be accepted and respected by both women and men. Internationally renowned speaker and co-author, Lois Frankel, PhD, writes that women aren’t better leaders, they are different leaders. Frankel says, “We know from history that to be successful, you must be a leader for your time.” And she further asserts that command and control leadership is dead. Today, she says that the kind of leadership needed is what women confidently exhibit within their normal social interactions: “We live in a time of cooperation and collaboration. A time when the carrot is more powerful than the stick,” Frankel says. “In short, a time well suited for a woman’s unique brand of leadership.”
I’m excited to be living in this time. It’s full of challenges, but I also see these as opportunities. Women are more educated and capable than ever. And many more women than ever before are willing to brave the push-back by stepping forward and running for office. The Suffragists thought we would have a woman president within 20 years of gaining the right to vote. We know that didn’t happen, but women are stepping up now in their communities and states to work for issues they value.
Co-author, Lois Phillips, Ph.D., says that a woman will overcome her fear of public speaking to fix something that makes her community a safer place to live,. For example she will stand up and testify to the school board about a dangerous school crossing in front of her children’s school. Lois writes in Leading Women about possible obstacles and how to overcome them. She urges women to use the “power of the podium” and accept the “challenges and opportunities” to make positive change.
If this seems impossible to you, I want you to listen to my recent interview with Holly Dowling. Holly is a global inspirational speaker. I love the “Hollyisms” that she uses as mantras to get through the day. One that she has used through many career and life challenges is “Tell me no and watch me go.” When someone doubts that Holly can do something, she takes it as a challenge and moves forward with tenacity and persistence.
Another Hollyism is “Not woe is me, but WOW is me.” In finding inspiration and guidance within herself, she found her leadership style and now inspires thousands of others around the world to find theirs also. Listening to her, I thought of that school counselor who told me I’d never succeed in college and that I should go to secretarial school instead. My life would be quite different today if I had followed his advice.
Lois Frankel urges women to sit at the table and take risks. When you play it safe and say that you have no opinion just because your opinion is contrary to someone else’s, you just made your life smaller. To break that tendency, she recommends starting by taking small risks to minimize failure. When you realize that the results are rarely catastrophic, move up the risk ladder and expand your comfort zone. In fact, I think women should get comfortable being uncomfortable.
You have to get uncomfortable to ask for a raise, but if more women asked, the wage gap would finally begin to shrink from that 80% point where it’s been for too long. I recently saw a statistic that reported a little girl born today will not live to see equal pay. It’s up to us to change that. We need to give our daughters hope. What are we waiting for? It’s time for us to use our natural leadership skills, get past the nay-sayers who would hold us back and build our leadership brand. We need more women like you to accept the challenges to achieve your purpose. Look in the mirror and see how your natural gifts make you a phenomenal leader for your time.