Born to Lead: 7 Powerful Qualities of Women Leaders

Feb 19, 2024

Diving into my first corporate job in IT outsourcing, without any tech experience was like stepping onto a whole different planet. A world buzzing with tech talk, where I was often the only woman in the room, pitching to CEOs about why they should let us handle their tech and business processes.

Back in the 90s, sales training was pretty much a one-size-fits-all deal, tailored to the men. It was all about molding the perfect salesman—yeah, that's the term they used, not salesperson. The ideal was to be dynamic, quick to adapt, really persuasive, a master at negotiating, and always, always pushing to seal the deal. It was a playbook designed with just one image in mind, and stepping outside that image wasn't part of the game.

The slogans from back then were something else! "Never let 'em see you sweat," they used to say, as if just being a normal human with normal human reactions was the biggest mistake you could make.

Then there was "vulnerability is weakness”, as if telling someone how you feel would cause the whole deal to crumble. And here's the best one: "The first person to speak loses." This turned every sales meeting into something straight out of a silent film, where everyone's too scared to be the first to break the silence. It was like navigating a world where being real was the last thing you wanted to be.

As I climbed the corporate ladder into leadership roles, I noticed those old-school rules still applied: Be the tough leader, always in control, dictate orders, and keep your guard up because showing any hint of weakness could supposedly cost you respect. Leadership was seen as a top-down affair, with employees expected to just follow orders without a peep. Honestly, this approach to leading felt off to me. I believed in something different. I wanted to create a space where my team felt valued and heard. I aimed to show them that each of their voices was crucial and that we all played an indispensable role in our collective success. It wasn't just about completing tasks; it was about building a team where everyone knew they mattered and contributed to our achievements.

My approach didn't sit well with my bosses. They thought I wasn't being hard enough on my team, sticking to the old mantra that toughness equals effectiveness. But they were overlooking a key detail: my team was not just content; they were thriving, smashing their KPIs left and right. I was an effective leader.

Despite this, I often felt like an outsider, watching promotions go by me, even though my results spoke volumes and I had the skills to back them up. After years of this pattern, I decided it was time for a change. I shifted gears, adopting the more traditional, assertive style that was celebrated in my workplace, essentially trying to blend in more with the expected "masculine" approach to leadership. And, lo and behold, it worked. I began to climb the ladder faster, collecting awards and praise from the higher-ups. My bosses were thrilled with the change. Yet, this shift came with its own set of reflections on what it means to succeed and at what cost personal authenticity is compromised.

Despite the promotions and accolades, I wasn't happy. Every day, going to work felt like a struggle, a constant battle against my own values. I had to suppress my real, empowering leadership style to fit into a mold that just wasn't me. It felt like I was playing the part of a dictator rather than a mentor, and it was taking a toll on me, bit by bit, crushing my spirit.

 Then, when I was 34, my world came crashing down on me, on a corporate jet, in preterm labor, with my second child. My boss had given me an ultimatum. He said if I didn't meet with the CEO of United Airlines in Nova Scotia, I'd lose a six-figure bonus and the recognition for a deal I had been working on for over a year. Despite the risks to my health and my baby's, I felt pressured to board that plane. The doctors were able to stop labor and my daughter was born happy and healthy a month later. (If you’d like to read more about my story you can read my blog Unlocking Happiness: How to Set Boundaries With Friends, Family, and Colleagues.)

That scary experience was a wake-up call for me. It was time to make a big change. I decided to step away from the corporate world for good. It wasn't just about leaving a job; it was about finding my way back to the person I knew I was meant to be, leaving behind the expectations and restrictions that had been weighing me down. It was time to let go of trying to fit into a box that was never right for me and to start living a life that felt true to who I am.

What I found out on this journey was pretty amazing. Living and working in harmony with my core beliefs and talents made life feel almost effortless. No more constant second-guessing about whether I was on the right path, worrying about others' opinions, or trying to meet my bosses' expectations. Gradually, I began to rely on my intuition once more.

However, breaking free from years of following the script wasn't a walk in the park. Doubts crept in more often than I'd like to admit. I kept questioning my choices, wondering if I should just stick to the old ways that had brought me success. But here's the thing—I realized that success without fulfillment was like running on a treadmill; you're moving but going nowhere fulfilling.

Being authentic opened up a world I didn't know existed. It brought a sense of peace and satisfaction no paycheck could match. I formed deeper connections with people, attracting those who appreciated the real me. My work started to reflect my passions, making it not just a job, but a calling. This authenticity acted like a magnet, drawing opportunities that resonated with my true self and allowing me to contribute in ways I never thought possible.

I believe that women possess inherent qualities that naturally position us as outstanding leaders. By embracing our authentic selves, we pave the way for a life that resonates deeply with our true purpose. We can also become role models for other women in leadership positions. This alignment not only enhances our leadership abilities but also ensures that our personal and professional lives are a true reflection of who we are meant to be.

Here's why women often knock it out of the park as leaders:

Empathy: Women usually are good at understanding how others feel. This knack for empathy helps them build strong teams where everyone feels heard and valued.

Communication: Women are champs at getting their point across and also listening to what others have to say. This is super important in leadership because you need to be clear about your vision and sort out any issues by talking them through.

Teamwork: A lot of women leaders love working together with their teams, rather than just telling everyone what to do. This teamwork vibe can make everyone feel like they're part of something and bring out great ideas.

Being Flexible: Women leaders are often pros at switching things up when needed. This ability to adapt is priceless, especially when the business world keeps throwing curveballs.

Handling Risk: Even though people say women are more careful, this carefulness means they think things through before jumping in. This can lead to smarter decisions that are good for everyone in the long run.

Valuing Everyone: Women leaders often make it a point to include different voices and perspectives. This can make the team stronger because you've got all these different ideas coming together.

Bouncing Back: Women have to deal with a lot of challenges, including bias. Overcoming these hurdles can make them even stronger leaders, ready to tackle tough times with grit.

So, why embrace authenticity? Because it aligns your external world with your internal compass, making life not just simpler, but richer and more meaningful. It's about discovering that the path to true success is paved with being true to yourself, not just ticking off society's checkboxes. Sure, it's a journey with its share of ups and downs, but one thing's for sure—it's a journey worth taking. (To learn more about how to be your authentic self read my blog How to Be Authentic in Business (And Why It’s Important))

 The whole point of this blog isn't to point fingers or make anyone feel bad about how they lead. It's more about challenging the status quo, and giving a shout-out to all the women out there and saying, "Hey, we've got some pretty amazing natural talents that can make us fantastic leaders."

When we try to hide these talents or change who we are to fit some other mold, we're not just selling ourselves short; we might also be missing out on feeling truly fulfilled. It's like we're holding back a part of ourselves that could shine and make a big difference. So, let's embrace who we are and bring our unique strengths to the table.

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