Women as leaders … hardly a new concept! History is replete with women who have demonstrated unique leadership abilities: Harriet Tubman, Queen Elizabeth I of England and Joan of Arc, to name a few. Until the 20th century, however, most women were only able to show their natural leadership abilities on the home front.
Today, women are emerging as leaders in a growing range of fields. The requisite skills for becoming an effective leader are genderless, but many of them come naturally to women. An old Iranian proverb beautifully illustrates this point: “A gentle hand may lead even an elephant by a hair.”
You may think, “Me, a leader?” The good news is that leadership ability can be developed. It must be built from the inside out, however, and will need significant time, patience and elbow grease. You don’t need to be a genius or an Olympic athlete to develop the following leadership attributes:
- Expertise — Cultivate a specific skill and/or knowledge base that others recognize and value. This is what will give you the credibility to lead.
- Vision — This is the ability to take an ordinary situation and from it, create something unique. To do this you must be able to step back and see the big picture. You must also be creative. Don’t panic! Creativity is not some magical and elusive gift, but a skill that can be mastered.
- Ability to listen — You must learn to listen more than you speak. Hear and address the concerns of those around you, particularly those supporting your vision. This will win their loyalty. And by keeping your ears open you may learn something new and valuable from them that will further your cause.
- Effective communication — A good leader is a clear and consistent communicator. She says exactly what she means and with tact. Her enthusiasm and confidence permeate her message and inspire others to follow her.
- A thirst for knowledge — A leader appreciates the value of learning, both from the past and the present. She continually broadens her knowledge base with the understanding that unrelated areas of study may offer unexpected insights.
- Adaptability — A leader embraces change and views it as an opportunity, not as a threat. She has already “slain the dragon.” She has become stronger and wiser as a result of painful life circumstances. A leader is also a calculated risk-taker. She understands that progress cannot be made without entering uncharted territory and that potential mistakes go with that territory.
- Ability to commit — A leader doesn’t embrace a cause reluctantly. She takes it on wholeheartedly, recognizing that success requires unflinching dedication. Those around her will find strength in her conviction, and in turn will commit to the effort at hand.
- Ethics — You will gain others’ trust if you consistently do the right thing. A woman without moral fiber may temporarily pose as a leader. In time, however, the truth will surface, and she will invariably lose her following.
- Courageousness — Fear is human, but a true leader moves forward despite her fear. She is so committed to her cause that she is willing to face overwhelming obstacles.
- Generosity — A leader shares her expertise, and isn’t afraid of handing the credit to others who have earned it. She takes pleasure in mentoring women who show enthusiasm, curiosity and courage. She also knows when it’s time to turn her strength and energy inward and nurture herself.
Take a moment and review the 10 attributes listed above. Notice how many of them you already possess. Does this surprise you? Now consider the skills you must develop to become an effective leader. State them as goals and commit them to paper. Then develop an action plan and a timeline for completion. Congratulations! You are now on the road to becoming an effective leader.