Five lessons on how women can become great leaders

Five lessons on how women can become great leaders

There is a lot expected of today’s leaders as they need to simultaneously fulfil a multitude of tasks and meet numerous stakeholder expectations. Leadership can be a tough road to travel, for both men and women, and we learn a great deal along the way.

Great leadership is having the confidence and courage to lead with conviction in pursuit of what’s best for all – not what’s best for the few.

Here are five lessons every female needs to learn:

1. Absolute power versus leverage

Absolute power corrupts absolutely – thank you Lord Acton. I’ve found nothing is achieved alone, and therefore distributing leadership and responsibility between stakeholders critical.
Not only does this approach provide a healthy balance, it also provides synergies – the sum of the people become greater than their whole. To create something new, we are always punching above our weight. Leverage, therefore, is important. Understanding stakeholder motivations in the creation of anything, whether career, ventures, ideas, new products and services is needed to harness that leverage.

2. Servitude

Just because a stakeholder’s motivation is different, doesn’t mean they won’t want to achieve the same goal. That stakeholder just has a different motivation for achieving it. There is no leader without followers and followers’ needs need to be served, particularly with a collaborative and leveraged approach where we may be a leader of leaders.

3. Legacy and decision-making

We can leave nothing but a legacy and, like leverage, a legacy requires buy-in and the repeating of the story. A leader’s followers repeat those stories and build on them – whether after us, or in the now. It’s about the effects we have that makes society better – it can be small, it just needs to be positive.

What’s positive now, unfortunately may not be later and vice versa; and, what appeared to be small at the time, may be big later and vice versa. As long as we can say at that point in time, given the information at hand, we would hand on heart make the same decision again and we did the best we could to make a positive difference.

Further, a legacy does not have to be recognised by others to remain a positive and valid contribution. Just because we didn’t hear it, doesn’t mean the tree didn’t fall in the woods.

4. Success

I’ve found that success breeds success, and failure creates assets without fail. Success, though, still depends on how it’s defined. Therefore, knowing what yardsticks success is being measured by is critical to understanding the next steps and achieving them in the face of adversity or challenge – a game isn’t any fun without challenges.

5. Wonder Woman

If we treat art as the reflection of life and look at where female leaders are today, I find the journey of super heroes like Wonder Woman and toys, including Lego and their more recent additions of female scientists and the like, a great reflection of the journey of females’ role options in society.

Given that much of the regulatory and policy infrastructure exists in developed nations for women to lead and develop their careers, social infrastructure is the next frontier. For me, Wonder Woman is like a Transfomers figure – “more than meets the eye” – and it’s up to all of us in society to allow the form she would like to take. Men are our Wonder Twins and, equally, so are other women.

Dr Sally-Ann Ernst is the CEO of Cyber Security Networks and speaker at the 2014 Macquarie University Women, Management and Work Conference on November 12, 2014. This article first appeared on Women’s Agenda.

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