Feminine doesn’t mean gender
I want to live in a world where we experience and benefit from braver bolder leaders and writing this blog has offered a much-needed kick that leadership starts at home. There are better behaviours I can take to ensure both my sons and daughter sit on the right trajectory to break free from societal expectations, to question authority and both be and recognise great leaders.
For me leadership is not about gender, nor is it rank or age. Some have authority without being leaders and others have no authority but are great leaders. It is less about gender point scoring; true leaders have a balance of both masculine and feminine leadership qualities.
My take on leadership starts with vulnerability, regularly admitting I don’t have the answers but in the meantime showing courage and empathy around tough conversations. As a female leader I feel a responsibility to bring traits to the table that we are naturally wired for; long-term strategic vision, community building and measured thinking. I see a need to ensure vulnerability is not engineered out of a workplace culture and instead to see emotion and compassion as valuable assets, not things to be ignored or hidden. Similarly, to remind those around us to make mistakes, to take ownership of outcomes.
Whilst I fell hook, line and sinker for Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean in, in 2013, the counter argument made by Marissa Orr in her book Lean Out: The Truth About Women, Power, and the Workplace fell into place far more naturally. All of a sudden I didn’t need to focus on being a corporate go-getter, I could drop the word hustle and instead lean on my natural intuition. It was an enormous relief, having seen some pretty poor examples of leadership and collected some rather juicy stories, to all of a sudden realise that my natural instinct to create teams where trust and accountability was actually pretty valuable.
Orr writes in her book, "research is conclusive in showing that a large portion of people are more motivated by, and perform better in, collaborative environments over competitive ones."
I’ve reviewed the patterns of leading and leaders, watched countless TED talks and bowed down to my heroes on the topic, Brene Brown and Simon Sinek. What is very clear is that studying leadership is way easier than leading. According to Sinek, ‘being a leader is a lifestyle decision, it means you’re willing to take care of others.’
But talk is cheap. The hinge point rests on committing to behaviours both in the workplace and at home. And here my worlds collide, as harder than a work setting is the challenge I have at home, both to embolden my daughter and precious nieces to become brave leaders and to ensure I am not planting any seeds of toxic masculinity in raising boys. And despite my attempts to make our home a bias-free zone I don’t always get it right.
When considering my thoughts for this piece I realised that just last weekend I encouraged my two boys to swing across the brook at the woods, teaching them to play rough and soar high but unquestioningly accepted an invitation to go back-to-school shopping with my daughter to buy revision flashcards. I am unwittingly raising my daughter to be perfect and my boys to be brave.
I might have studied good leadership, but boy I have a lot to learn. You don’t lead by pointing and telling people where to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.