By Leyah Valgardson, Founder of Leader's Voice, Women's Executive Leadership Coach and a Feminine Culture Champion.
During times of self-reflection, I often think about my career and how impactful it's been. Naturally, questions filter through my mind: Have I made the best choices? Am I on the right path? Am I leading as I wish to be led? How can I make a greater difference? Typically these questions turn to the list of things I lack – ultimately, a damaging and useless activity. Why? Because as a woman I’m born with certain qualities and traits. Qualities and traits that when practiced, exercised, and refined can become exceptional tools of leadership.
Not every woman chooses to lead. But it’s the woman who will define her leadership qualities and then refine them who will ultimately become a leader. Understanding those qualities and that they’re a part of you is essential to refining them in your leadership.
If we’re natural leaders and innately hold many leadership qualities, how then do we become leaders? We do this three ways:
First, we must define and then refine these qualities.
Second, we must be distinct and different.
Third, we must speak up.
Define and Refine
Gender roles have gotten messy over the last several decades. Somehow, what is innate and part of who we are as women has been negatively labeled as weak, emotional, and invaluable. However, it just simply isn’t true. Those who take ownership of who they are at their very core are natural leaders.
So, who are you?
You are a woman. Your heritage as a woman is that of strength, courage, vision, empathy, resiliency, and optimism. These are the crowning jewels of women in leadership. These are qualities that, though innate, do require development and refinement. The necessary discipline to do so is a far cry from weak!
Let’s break these down...
Strength and courage – When choosing whom to follow, we naturally follow leaders who are strong and courageous – leaders strong enough to carry the expected failures and disappointments; courageous enough to take a stand, even if not popular, because it’s the right thing to do. Women are naturals at both of these. Our lives aren’t perfect. At every disappointment and failure of our lives we pick ourselves back up and carry on. As women, we’re sensitive – and that’s a gift! It’s a courageous gift, especially in a world where toughness is applauded. Our sensitivity lends to making good choices, based on a moral code that we deeply believe in and hold fast. Many times we’re ridiculed and mocked, yet we stand courageous because it’s the right thing to do. We know it. We feel it in our hearts, and we won’t depart from it.
Vision and empathy – Those with vision are exceptional leaders. They’re able to predict a pathway and share that vision to rally others to the same pathway and actions to achieve. Women do this naturally and with empathy. Seeing a vision of what may be includes how it might affect everyone involved. In our sensitivity, we are hyper-aware of how others may feel and react to situations, actions, and decisions. We see the full picture. We naturally lead in the decisions we make as we lean into the ability to have empathy and vision.
Resiliency and optimism – When life throws curveballs, as it always will, we are resilient at picking ourselves back up and continuing along the pathway in a positive way.
You may have noticed how each quality builds upon and is intertwined with the others. This is neither a mistake nor a coincidence. It is intentional and right. One quality alone cannot influence leadership. It needs the support of the others to continue to progress and to drive success.
The business world needs something that it severely lacks: women who lead. Women who lean into their innate qualities and strengths. Women who understand who they are and their capabilities, and how they can make a difference. Women who lead with courage and strength to do what is right. Women who grasp onto optimism, fueling lives – including their own – with beauty, peace, and good things. These women will radiate empathetic leadership.
Distinct and Different
Leading should require something great of us. A leader’s standard of behavior will always require more than those who don’t lead. It requires sacrifice. It requires action on a higher level. It requires giving up something you may have now for something you want more. Is your heart set for greatness? Does it strive for more? Being a leader requires you to be distinct and different. It requires heart.
To be distinct and different as a woman who leads, we must radiate optimism and happiness. Not be panicked by perfection, but always strive to be and do better. This is a compelling mandate. It will serve you well to identify one thing you can do to become a woman who leads. And then identify another … and another. This is a call to action, for leaders are always in action. Always in motion. Always moving forward.
We are spectacular! The less we look like the ordinary and more like women who lead, the more others will look to us as a beacon of hope and to lead. No greater recognition can come to us.
Women who have the vision to make decisions that will lead to a better future owe it to themselves and those they lead to use their voice. To speak up. To refuse to reduce their existence. It’s not a casual commitment. It was never meant to be. Rather, it is an opportunity to do and be great. Seize it!
Reflection can be such a positive activity. A way for us to really focus on what is good and right for our lives, and a time to choose to shed what is harmful or wasteful. In your future moments of reflection, take time to become aware of your innate leadership qualities, really understand them, and refine them as you lead distinctively. Then, find your voice! And in unity with strength and courage, vision and empathy, resiliency and optimism, use it to lead as the woman you are.