Why telling the truth about your leadership journey is important | Women's Agenda

Why telling the truth about your leadership journey is important

Marcia Devlin at the 2016 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards: ‘An ‘overnight success’ is not a thing.’

Marina Go discussed her ‘overnight success’ in business, including recently being appointed to an ASX board, at the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards last week.

“I worked on it for 12 years” she said, citing completing an MBA and the Company Directors Course from the Australian Institute of Company Directors as two of the numerous pillars of her successful strategy, carried out over more than a decade.

Success does not come easily, or quickly, or without significant planning, work, courage and resilience. It’s important that successful female leaders are honest about their journeys, with all the ups and downs, glamour and distinct lack of glamour, and about what it really takes to ‘make it’ in various industries. There are at least three reasons for the need for such honesty. 

Honest accounts provide a reality check for aspiring leaders

Being successful in your career has many meanings and forms. For those for whom success includes rising to a senior or very senior role, it is helpful to know that the journey to leadership is unlikely to be smooth, fast or unencumbered with setbacks. Sometimes when women ‘suddenly’ come to prominence, through, for example, being appointed to a senior role or winning a national award, it can be assumed that they are ‘lucky’. Sure luck is an element of all good fortune but as a friend of mine says “The harder I work, the luckier I get”.

Hearing from successful women about how they have navigated the inevitable disappointments, recovered from failures, used adversity to motivate and inspire themselves and how they have persisted despite what might appear to be impossible obstacles where most people would give up, provides a much more useful roadmap for aspiring leaders. They understand that there will be bumps and diversions – that these are to be expected, but that they can be overcome and can even be useful.

Real stories help aspiring leaders avoid unrealistic goals

Any successful female leader must be ambitious and dream big – very big. Do it, believe in yourself and go out there and change the way business is done, the way people treat each other and the way the world operates. We are all absolutely behind you. But know that ‘overnight success’ is not a thing. There is no one at the top of their game in any field who went to bed one night an ordinary citizen and woke up the next day accidentally a world famous leader known for their fabulousness. Success takes time. And it takes planning, and re-planning. And work. And more time. And more planning. You get the picture. 

Hearing the truth of others’ stories can help aspiring leaders set Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) but also to make them realistic. I won’t be on an ASX Board this month like Marina Go, but I will be on one in the future.

Telling the truth provides guidance to other women

The path to leadership for women can be hazardous. There are all kinds of dangers, traps, pitfalls and consequences that can come about if as a woman and you dare to put your head up and say ‘I want to lead’. Hearing the truth about some women’s experiences, especially the negative parts, can be off-putting, but if you want to lead, try to see it as preparation for what may be ahead.

I have written previously for Women’s Agenda about a delicate subject that brings some aspiring women undone – the undermining of the potential success of a woman by other women. It’s delicate because we women are all supposed to be in ‘the sisterhood’ together. But many women know that we are not always supported in our ambitions. So learning about the experiences of others and how they managed them provides useful guidance.

Marina Go admitted she “networked like crazy” as part of her success. I was absolutely inspired by this and I apologise in advance to all the finalists, winners and others I met at the Women’s Agenda lunch because if I haven’t already, I will be connecting with you on Twitter and Linked in and finding any chance I can to connect with and learn from you again

Through the sharing of truthful stories – the good, the bad and the downright ugly – women can help each other and themselves to succeed in leadership.

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