To be a confident and authentic leader isn’t something that we can find easily nowadays. The past two years have been filled with fear, political plots, and the inability to control a pandemic. If we can be confident about one thing, then it is the massive inability of global leaders to recognize changes in society and be able to adequately lead in light of those changes.
But there is some hope on the horizon. There have been rare but welcome instances of n prime ministers, chancellors, congresswomen, and even a Texas mayor, putting the overall safety of their communities before their own reputations. And, this brings up the question of what does it take for us to perceive a leader as trustworthy and authentic? And doesn’t it seem that women are generally doing a better job at leading?
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What is leadership?
There are several definitions floating around for leadership. Leadership, both as a research area and as a practical skill, encompasses the ability of an individual, group, or organization to “lead,” influence, or guide other individuals, teams, or entire organizations.
Leaders help themselves and others to do the right things. They set direction, build an inspiring vision, and create something new. Leadership is about mapping out where you need to go to “win” as a team or an organization. It is dynamic, exciting, and inspiring.
But, being a leader can also sound scary and sometimes even unattractive because many leaders around the world are neither authentic nor trustworthy, i.e they lack the two essential characteristics of being an effective leader. In many cases, this makes being a leader an undesirable proposition for women.
Why it is difficult to be a confident an authentic leader.
The easy abuse of a leadership position frequently, and very sadly, encourages bullies to attack those who are contributing positively to our society. Even more so, it seems as though leadership positions, workplace culture, and the systems we are working within have been designed for men, and thus establish severe challenges for women to thrive in and be effective. What is incredibly upsetting is the fact that it is so difficult for women to speak about this invisible structure that is discriminating against us (I can already hear the echos of some men claiming that must mean that I am just a frustrated woman unable to achieve what I am thriving for and unwilling to own up to my own shortcomings).
Unfortunately, our inability to speak out is not even our biggest problem. Societies are falling short because 50% of the world’s population is not actively taking part in creating a community and culture that benefits the entire world population.
So, how can we form an understanding leadership community that actually encourages women to step up and feel confident enough to show their full potential?
What do we need in order to be confident & authentic leaders?
Courage and confidence are certainly two aspects in which we can all support one another. But in order to have a powerful network that enables women to thrive fully, we need to let go of the idea of competition because it does not come naturally to us women. As women, we want to learn and become better in what we do, not prove that we are the best. Women feel strong and accomplished when we have a positive effect on our community – not when we are ‘destroying the opposition.’ Therefore, it is natural that operating within a surrounding that has been curated for competition (to benefit the men who created it) has made it difficult for women to contribute and lead.
Another reason why so many women don’t have an interest in moving into a leadership position is that our understanding and experience of emotions are far more advanced and complex than men’s.
The experience of rejection has far more profound consequences for many women than for men because they take it more personally.
So what does help when stepping into leadership?
Understanding your emotions within the cultural context and socialization is one path to taking your power back. It gives you the ability to understand that certain feelings are just an individual interpretation – picked up by you within the context of your immediate society. Appreciating the confines in which you have been existing and learning how to interpret emotions in a new context will allow you to create your own rules and live by your own standards and not by the standards set for you by your society.
Authentic leadership is needed now more than ever, and we need more women to step up. An authentic leader has integrity, confidence, accountability, empathy, humility, resilience, and vision – all skills which are widely present in women.
Generally, the authentic leader is a positive thinker, is able to delegate, and communicates clearly.
Developing resilience is one of the critical areas for many women to succeed as influential leaders. Another one is delegating; as a leader, you need to be able to communicate and delegate clearly. Unfortunately, while the communication part comes rather naturally to many of us, the delegating part is where some women fall short.
Can you clearly talk about what you do?
One reason for this is that many young women are never taught how to ask for help, as it is still expected that women should simply accept and bear whatever tasks are set for them – they are the ones working in the house and supporting others. Many women put the needs of others first before they actually start working on their own goals and dreams. This natural inclination hinders them from developing a greater understanding of delegation. And then, when they do master the art of delegation, they are sometimes referred to as being too firm or too assertive: comments which more commonly come from males who do not believe women should be leading anyway!
It takes time to build the courage and grit to push through these uncomfortable situations, especially if you are being confronted by a man who has the outright authority to be in charge but does not necessarily have the best leadership skills. We have all been in these situations, and I wish I could say right now that I have the magic solution to solve this problem…except that, particularly in today’s employment market, you don’t actually have to put up with an incompetent and unappreciative boss – there are plenty of other opportunities out there for you!
However, I do know that building your confidence and learning to understand your emotions from a place of guidance and authenticity is a huge start toward you becoming the leader you would really like to be.
This article was first published in Ziva Voices – HerStory in the Making Issue No. 2/2022 under the title “Lead with confidence”. You can access the entire bookazine here and read the individual article here.