When someone says the word leader, what image comes to your mind? Someone charismatic, strong, and visionary. Is the figure a man or a woman? Most often, the image of strength that defaults in our mind as a leader is male. Even with the many women who have emerged as leaders throughout the world over the past fifty years, they are still not the first picture we see.
It is time to change that image and reprogram that response. It is imperative that we do so not only in the name of gender equality, but I also propose that integrating the current state of affairs with the right type women’s leadership, the world can be closer to achieving lasting peace and prosperity.
Although the stereotypical vision of a woman is not one of brute strength, the reality is that there is more to being a leader than brawn. Women, in fact, possess characteristics that make us uniquely qualified to excel as leaders:
We possess inner strength. Let’s face it: if men had to give birth, humans would be extinct. Women throughout history have faced adversity and persecution and somehow emerged stronger than before. We have a core of inner fortitude that allows us to persevere when odds seem against us. Leadership is often at odds with mainstream ideas and is rarely easy.
We are inclusive. Women, on average, are more collaborative than men. We seek to gain input for our ideas and decisions from those involved or affected. People want to feel like they are a part of something and good leaders capitalize on that.
We are in touch with our emotions. Good leaders appeal to the emotion so that people are compelled to follow them. When the emotion comes authentically from the leader and is translated into positively-charged passion, the crowds are easily motivated to join in.
We are willing to go on instinct. Not everything in life is cerebral. The mind doesn’t have all the answers. Sometimes the best course of action comes from the gut. Women, more so than men, tend to be in tune with their instincts and willing to follow them, ideally with the appropriate level of reality applied.
We see the bigger picture. If you look at the history of foreign aid distributed in struggling economies, governments and agencies have learned to focus financial assistance on the women. Why? Because women are more likely to use the money to build her family, herself, her community, and provide opportunities for all.
We are communicators. There is no way you cannot communicate. Even when you say nothing, you say volumes. It is no secret that women out-talk men with the average woman saying almost ten times the number of words in a day as a man. Some of us do our best thinking while talking through issues with others. Communication is a key element of strong leadership. When the message is well focused, it connects others with the vision.
These positive characteristics, however, can also have a down side. Some of the biggest pitfalls women slip into that keep them from being effective leaders are:
Lack of confidence. There is a fine line between confident and egotistical. On one extreme are the women who don’t believe they have the skills needed to be good leaders. These women need to be reminded of the unique characteristics described above to help them believe they can lead. On the other end of the spectrum is where ego takes over. Egotistical women either see leadership as a man’s game that must be played by their rules or have a take-no-prisoners approach. Most times, however, a strong ego is actually fueled by an internal lack of self-esteem. We need to give them the wings of confidence to truly blossom as leaders.
Indecisiveness. Wanting to get everyone’s feedback and input can lead to what many call analysis paralysis. The time spent making sure everyone can be happy with the decision drags on and nothing is ever accomplished. The best approach is to solicit input and feedback, give each point the appropriate measure of consideration, and then make the best decision you can. The following challenge, however, can also play into this.
Wanting to be liked. Women who are pleasers, who just want to make people happy so they like them, have a difficult time being effective leaders. When you have a message and a vision, not everyone will buy into it. The stronger it is, the more likely there will be dissention. When women worry about whether or not someone is going to like what they stand for, they jeopardize their authentic capabilities to be a good leader for those who do buy in.
Getting lost in the noise. When we let ourselves get bogged down with the other challenges above, it becomes easy to lose sight of the larger vision. A strong leader needs to keep that ideal in front of her at all times and learn to let go of the small stuff in order to gain the larger prize. In addition, women are often in many roles: wife, mother, daughter, friend, mentor, and a community volunteer. Balancing all of these responsibilities can be impossible without the right focus. We need to prioritize our lives as if the many things we juggle are made of either rubber or glass. Rubber will bounce, but glass—the things we can’t get back—will break.
When women realize their potential as leaders and use their positive skills while watching for the pitfalls, the balance of power in the world will even out. Treaties will replace wars and freedom will replace repression. Only then will we have a chance at global peace and prosperity.