After 12 months in the role as Resource Solutions’ first female CEO, Norma Gillespie shares her top tips for succeeding as a female leader.
Notions of leadership have become bound up with perceptions of masculinity; being decisive, authoritative, and ambitious are often thought of as essential traits of a good leader. So how, as a female leader, can you make an impact?
1. Build trust
For me, making an impact as a leader is all about trust. Building trust in others and building their trust in you is essential if you want to impact anyone. The key to building trust is being present with all people at all levels. That doesn’t necessarily mean being overly available (we know everyone is time-challenged), but truly being present, passionate, knowledgeable and self-aware is vital.
You can help build trust by behaving with integrity and showing consistency in your approach, but don’t be afraid to push boundaries and challenge authority. You need to stay true to what you believe in, and you will gain respect for (respectfully) holding your position. Remember, it’s not about being a pleaser – It’s better to be respected than ‘liked’.
2. Develop your passion
If you want to have an impact, be credible and be recognised for a particular skill or area of expertise, you first have to believe in it. Being passionate, believing in what you do and caring about it is a powerful combination. People can’t help but come on the journey with you if you can infect them with your passion.
Being passionate about something makes you self-motivated. It gives you purpose and the desire to succeed. The good news is your passion is not fixed, indeed not if you have a growth mindset; you can develop your passion over time. And all the better if you can develop it at the same time as you develop your expertise in the same field. As a graduate, I doubt I would have listed recruitment as a passion of mine, but today the art of making good resourcing decisions is what drives me.
3. Support other women
Like many women in my position, I’ve experienced the blunt end of stereotypical assumptions. I’ve been in meetings where clients have spoken to my male colleague over me, assuming he was the leader. No matter how good we are, women still have the barrier of ingrained stereotypes to overcome. Which is why I feel it’s so important to support other women.
Today’s female leaders serve as strong role models, imparting an important message that success and leadership are possible and achievable. This message is empowering, but it’s also important to lift others up; I want to see women supporting, not undermining each other.
Female leaders often feel the pressure to have a different perspective, but it’s crucial to build on the perspective of countless women who’ve gone before. As women, we have the opportunity to redefine leadership – to focus on inclusivity, communication and collaboration.
4. Sorry. Not sorry
It’s often said that women apologise too much. Language is powerful, and we all need to be mindful of when an apology is necessary and when it undermines our position. Being bold enough as a leader to stand up, acknowledge and own your mistakes is impactful, but we do need to curb our general apologising habit.
Quit apologising for things beyond your control, and focus on expressing yourself clearly and with intent. This includes speaking up and challenging situations where you see other people being undermined and unable to demonstrate their true impact on a situation.
5. Embrace life-long learning
Cultivate confidence through learning and be a vigorous life-long learner. Keep on top of the news in your specialist area, take advantage of relevant learning opportunities like seminars, make useful Twitter lists of pertinent thought leaders and plug yourself into podcasts when working out or commuting. Whatever it takes, just stay informed. This will help you have confidence in your own value and expertise.
6. Get out of your comfort zone
Grab those uncomfortable opportunities – those experiences that push you out of your comfort zone – they will often be the ones where you flourish and give you the best development opportunities. And, in the worst-case scenario, you can take it as a learning experience.
If you’re not yet in a leadership role, push yourself to be the go-to person on an issue you know a lot about and can take charge of. And don’t be afraid to ask for help; seek sponsorship and mentorship, and ask for those opportunities. Be bold and take control of your career path.
Remember: there’s a reason you’re at the table, and there’s no mould you have to fit. History may have defined leadership in masculine terms for decades, but that’s no reason to maintain the status quo. As women, we have the opportunity to redefine what it means to be a leader today.