My belief from both personal and professional experience is that women lead everywhere, often don’t recognise themselves as leading and don’t identify themselves as leaders. I tested this with a group of women recently.
I showed them a list of words commonly found wherever and whenever leadership is spoken or written about. I told them that often women don’t feel comfortable with these words. They don’t see themselves in them. Lots of nodding. These are the words:
Some of these word such as negotiation, feedback, assertiveness and conflict management can be especially loaded for women. The meanings they make are often not relatable to self until we make new meanings of them.
Following this, I showed them pictures of women leading at home, in the community and at work. I found the pictures below by typing in clip art, from left to right, top to bottom: ‘women leading as mothers’, ‘women leading at work’, ‘women leading in religious communities’, ‘women leading in business’, ‘women leading as executives’ and ‘women leading in the community’. I was looking for empowering images to demonstrate our leadership. In fact what I found was a number of stereotypes that tell a different story.
This is a visual story. One that if women don’t recognise and don’t challenge, come to believe and to own. Pictures paint a thousand words and these images are in films, media and advertising as well as clipart. Couple this with the fact, that women don’t see themselves in leadership language and it becomes clear why women can find it hard to identify themselves and be identified by others as leaders.
After this somewhat deflating experience, I then asked the women to apply the words above, to the role of a mother. When we do this it is clear that women certainly do own and frequently and consistently apply these capabilities. My intention here is not of course to say that because mothers do this, fathers don’t, or that women who are not mothers do not do this. My intention is to add women to the leadership conversation using an example with which most of us will be are familiar in some way. To connect women with leadership in a context that is not traditionally seen as such. I’m sure you can think of many others.
The women worked through in their minds, that mothers have a vision for their children, they know what they want for them from the beginning and through their lives and they both set goals for their young children and help their older children set their own. They might not be formalised or written, but they are there. Mothers know the standard they want to reach as parents and strive for integrity and to meet these standards. Mothers are assertive with their children, they negotiate with and on behalf of them. They give their children feedback, resolve conflicts and help them manage change. They use an armoury of strategies and tools every day including acknowledgement and praise. They work with their children and influence, influence and influence.
All of this in a nutshell is a Person Centred way of leading: working with; enabling; caring. This is a way of leading that I think comes naturally to women and at the same time is another reason that women don’t recognise that what they are doing as leadership. Also, because it is outside of the traditional leadership paradigm, neither often do others.
It’s time that women started to own and use leadership language in a way that is meaningful to them. By doing this women can model leadership to the next generation of boy and girls. They can talk to children and young people about their leadership. They can demonstrate possibilities and a broader view of leadership by showing them where and how they lead. It’s time we added to the leadership conversation and built upon our capabilities from where we are rather than change to fit the expectations of the traditional leadership paradigm.
It’s time to change and build on the leadership conversation, to recognise that women lead everywhere and that womens style of leadership is often different and that it is complementary.
For more information about Person Centred Leadership download 7 Tips for Being More Person Centred In Life, Work and Leadership
Strengths Finder Assessment and Feedback
Doing Strengths Finder coaching has enabled me to see how I can make the most of my natural abilities. The test itself outlined 5 particular strengths but it was the coaching that meant I now know how to actually utilise this information. It is going to help me a great deal when it comes to my academic life and in particular how I can study in the most effective way. The coaching helps access the key to knowing your strengths and Deb has helped me devise a plan of how I can move forward with these skills. Her work with me has been vital to the Strengths Finder process and I would absolutely recommend the coaching as vital to finding your strengths.
Family Harmony Workshop for Parents
The course gave a great framework to build a more harmonious family - I find it difficult to explain to my teens why I don't like their behaviour but with this toolkit I am able to articulate this easily and less emotionally, resulting in better communication and a less charged atmosphere. Thanks Deb for the lifeline
Team Building Facilitation and Coaching
As a new Manager to a newly formed team of eight staff, I engaged Deb to facilitate our first team planning day. The objective of the day was to identify a shared vision and to start a process of strategic planning for the next three years. The day was a great success and set the team up with greater clarity of purpose and a framework for future planning.
Deb demonstrated a great understanding of the team, its context and challenges. This was due to her careful and thorough planning and reflections prior to the day. Deb managed the varying levels of engagement among the team exceptionally well; she did this with the establishment of clear ground rules and a sense of trust and respect. Deb listened actively and regularly questioned for greater clarity before reflecting on the team’s contributions.
We ended the day with a clear vision that was shared and in which all members felt they had an investment. Deb followed up regularly after the session to check in on progress and to provide advice about next steps. We were extremely lucky to have been able to work with Deb at this important stage of the team’s development and I would not hesitate for a moment in engaging Deb again.
Angela Hehir, (Manager)
Business Leadership Coaching
Debra's help in getting me to focus on the strategic direction of my business and my work-life priorities has proven invaluable. She has the ability to ask simple questions to create greater clarity and focus in both work and personal goals. Debra is a great listener, follows up on her clients and creates a great support base for her clients through recommending network groups, courses and reading material. For those who want a leadership coach that goes that extra mile,
I highly recommend her.
Yvette Audet, Sport & Recreation Management Services
360 degree feedback and Mentoring
Debra provided feedback on my 360 leader/manger profile. I have taken this style of development tool on two prior occasions and found the feedback underwhelming. This time I found that Debra has an empathetic and approachable feedback style. Previously I have felt very much that I was being placed in a stereotypical box.
I liked Debra,s approach and understood more that the outcomes of the survey reflect a favored management leadership style and this could be flexible. Debra is able to draw out your thoughts on how you feel others perceive you rather than preaching which was a great attribute.
We talked about the outcomes and the way forward and I was left with a comfortable feeling that I could achieve my higher aims. Debra provided positive feedback and kept in contact after the initial interview. Her trouble in organizing some key topic papers and net links was commendable. I hope very much to take Debra up on some future mentoring and would highly recommend Debra’s leadership skill set to you.
Professor Tim Lyons, Newcastle
Concrete personal career goals
I have appreciated my coaching sessions this year more than I can say. Deb has challenged me at every turn which I have loved, making me work hard to find my own solutions during an extremely professionally challenging year. This has been extremely satisfying.
I also now have concrete personal career goals and a plan on how to get there – non existent when I started coaching and really not something I consciously thought I needed. As a consequence I feel more focused and motivated for the next year and beyond.
Finally I would have to say my coaching session with Deb have been an absolute lifeline for me this year, keeping me on track, helping me to grow and learn and ultimately make a monumental shift in my approach and style as a leader. I am very grateful for her time, patience, humor and professionalism – I am certainly am better leader thanks to coaching with Deb.
Bernadette Hollis, Sydney