Whatever your voting preference at the election on Saturday I wonder whether you shared my dissatisfaction at the leadership options on offer? This article is not about politics however the election provided us with powerful symbolism of the wider challenges women face when it comes to leadership (and that is without looking back at the treatment of our first female prime minister).
Consider for a moment a future federal election that asked us to choose between leaders of the dominant parties (of the day) that were all female. Imagine ticking a ballot paper that listed an even balance of female to male candidates. Imagine further a press club debate where two high powered women leaders went head to head tackling the relevant topics and an audience where female and male leaders were equally represented across all sectors. What would that do to our national psyche and our policies? What would that do to our children? What impact would that have on our collective future? Hopefully we will know when we get there.
In the meantime there is important work that every single one of us can be doing to head in that direction. And in my view it is the work of redefining leadership on our own terms.
I have mentioned the concept of redefining leadership in one of my earlier articles where I referenced the fact that leadership remains a male paradigm. Research still shows that women and men consider leadership to be predominantly about typically male traits – assertiveness, competition and so on. These culturally embedded expectations mean an easier transition for men into male defined leadership roles and a trickier one for women. This gendered notion of leadership is across all sectors – even in scientific fields studies show that people rate the quality of scientific papers differently when written by men (more likely to be published) than by women.
So the first step in redefining leadership is for us to acknowledge that it is defined in many ways that are not typically female. Harsh I know, but still today this is true. And it is a key point – we have to be able to see how leadership is defined if we are going to change it. Every time you hear or see a woman leader being undermined ask yourself: is this about her competency as a leader (it may be) or is this about her challenging male leadership norms? In an initial executive coaching session with a wonderful female leader recently, these questions were raised because the client had been overlooked for a promotion (and the role had gone to a less qualified male). When we explored these two questions the client realised that in fact her company had only one female director in its ranks, who had only been appointed in the last three of months. So was it her? Or was it her environment? Well I will let you decide but I can share with you that our conversation acknowledged any ownership she may have needed to take (closer stakeholder relationships perhaps) and then spent the majority of the time on understanding the male norms of her working environment and strategies tonavigate it towards a better outcome in the future.
What’s Your Leadership I.D.?
The second step in redefining leadership is to understand how each of us define it for ourselves. Consider the following questions:
What are your own views/approach/reaction to leadership?
How would you describe your ideal leader?
Do you consider yourself to be a leader?
What underpins these questions is the fact that leadership qualities exist within every one of us. Particularly when we understand that leadership is fundamentally about positively influencing the lives of people around you. Every day in every way you are influencing others – the question is often whether you see this in yourself. Certainly more and more organisations are realising that the only way to manage the complexity of our modern day is to tap into the leadership potential of everyone.
And if you do see this in yourself, the next most important step is to become clear about what aspects of leadership you aspire to. Do you see yourself as the people oriented leader whose focus is on growing others or is your approach more concentrated on creativity and leading people towards new innovations? If you can begin to answer these questions you are actually building your leadership identity (your leadership ID). Research confirms that having a clear sense of who you are as a leader will assist you in building greater career success, happiness and longevity.
We all know that our planet needs better leaders and the fact is that more women leaders, across every sector, is a fundamental part of this shift. So whether you lean in, step up or just decide that you will showcase your own unique leadership I.D, remember the world needs you.