Leadership is a genderless trait. It requires brains, curiosity, courage and a keen sense of understanding of what is important. It doesn’t require a deep voice, a locker room or a secret handshake. Yet still we see men in the highest positions of power all around us. We need to do more as female leaders to take our place at the top.
Look around you. In our industry, we find women everywhere. And many female leaders. But are we gaining enough of a foothold in the executive positions? In the C-Suite? Yes, better than the past. But we all know that ladder is hard to climb.
After 25 years in our business, I’ve learned a few things.
1. Make decisions faster.
We tout our flexibility, which is a great trait in the workplace and in life. But flexibility can often lead to indecisiveness, which is a death blow in leadership. I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review that said CEOs who make quick decisions, even if they were ultimately wrong, fared better in ratings than CEOs who labored over decision-making. Get the data, and then trust your instinct and act.
2. But don’t rush to judgment.
Listening is the key to all human relationships. It’s also the number-one skill, in particular, of many great female leaders. Sometimes we can be agile communicators, but may end up “filling” a conversation with more words than needed. Always let curiosity lead over ego.
3. Use quality over quantity.
We were raised with the “we-can-have-it-all” mantra ringing in our heads. But can you really have it all? It’s highly unlikely. Something has to “give” somewhere—whether it’s at home or at work or everywhere in between. So maybe you can’t be the first one there in the morning and the last one to leave at night; but you can still make a big difference with your work. Do things with your time that matter. Think impact, not just activity or the number of impressions.
4. Nothing says leadership like the fine art of being accountable.
A mistake gets made, and our instinct of self-preservation tells us to point the finger. But almost every breakdown—whether it’s a missed deadline or a lost client—has an accountability channel or chain. And you’re likely in it. A friend of mine used to work with a female CEO that he really respected. I asked him why. He told me that when they missed their numbers for the quarter, she began the discussion with her team owning the miss as her own. That humility and accountability earned her great loyalty. Hold yourself accountable before holding others to account.
5. Last but far from least is…be vulnerable.
Vulnerably shows your humanity; and people follow humans they can relate to and respect. I was deep into my career before two of my most trusted coworkers told me that they felt they couldn’t be vulnerable with me. Only until I failed at something—my marriage—did I finally understand that failure gives you the opportunity to show others how you deal with adversity. Being strong all the time is just a façade. Peel it away and show your full self.
We belong in these positions not because of our gender, but because of the individual skills and talents we each bring to this demanding yet thrilling industry. We are all different, but most of us have leadership in us. Frankly, it’s up to us to find it, and then to nurture each other. As the saying goes, “Leaders aren’t born; they’re made.” So let’s make each other great.
Nancy Beesley is president and a founding partner of HCB Health.