How to be a Good Leader – When You’re Just a Woman.

By Lucy Noble

So you want to be a good leader and a good woman at the same time? I won’t lie, it’s not easy.

Here are a few tips & tricks to make it as a female leader in any environment:

Consider how you communicate. Do you really want to be known as the blunt, bossy leader? Of course not! When messaging others, you should aim for at least 2 emoji’s and 4 exclamation marks to convey your non-threatening leadership approach. Even when looming deadlines are creeping up, ensure that you’re not being too direct with your check-ins – you’ll start getting a “dominating” reputation!

Embrace those maternal instincts. It’s important to show that just because you’re a leader, doesn’t mean that you have lost those feminine qualities that everyone values: just like Mum. Make sure that you carry a box of tissues with you at all times because you never know when someone may approach you requiring some supportive maternal active listening.

Make time for a social catch-up. Always factor an extra 10 minutes per google calendar event or meeting, just for a chat. Who doesn’t love a catch-up? Oh and did you see what Jenny was wearing this morning… tragic!

Pre-phrase your contributions. Don’t forget to really consider what you want to say and how your tone will be received before contributing in a meeting or discussion. To ensure that you don’t come across as overconfident or threatening when sharing an idea, pre-phrase it as “thinking out loud”, “silly” or “maybe something to think about”. Nb. this rule still applies regardless of how well-considered or informed your ideas are.

Accept alternative ways to emphasise your ideas. If someone jumps in to “save” you, rephrase your idea, or repeat what you’ve said loudly enough that it can’t be ignored – it’s a good thing. All this means is that you haven’t communicated in the way you meant to, and someone better informed is able to better translate this in a louder volume than you were able to deliver.

Schedule in Your Monthly “Lady Time”. Ensure that you take some time out of your schedule each month (recommended 3-5 days) for when your body is preparing to make a human. This will help you physically and emotionally prepare to drop all your career drive to be a mother: after all, you can’t possibly be a leader and a mum! This also reminds people that you can’t be expected to perform at your best 365 days a year, because you might have to create a miracle at the drop of a hat.

Remember to smile, darling! No one wants to see a frown on such a pretty face, not to mention looking frazzled, stressed or even a little annoyed! No matter what comment Bob made today about your tight skirt, always laugh, blush coyly, and take it as a compliment. Letting your true emotions out is a sign of weakness and runs the risk of “ruining the mood” – especially considering how hormonal you probably are.

According to a Catalyst study, when senior US managers were asked their thoughts on leaders and followers in the workplace they recorded “women leaders take care, men leaders take charge”. Honestly, it was reassuring to finally be able to validate these only natural feelings of nurture and compassion that I was having towards my fellow group assignment members at university. Even if it feels natural or it is the right thing to do as a leader, it’s much more effective to leave the door-kicking to the men and support and nurture from an emotional standpoint behind.

B******t aside, these stereotypes (aka myths) to hacking female leadership still use the excuse that female behaviour is the reason that only 23% of all national parliamentarians are female (according to the United Nations) or that as of mid-2017, only 6% of companies in the Fortune 500 had women CEOs.

Standing at 5’2”, I am often compared to another red-head of similar stature… a young female Disney character. Both the movie protagonist and I have often been described as having an unexpected “cold” and “tough” leadership style. It is interesting to remember this when a male colleague, who has been a role model to me and said to have a similar leadership style to mine, is not described as having the hard edge that I’m attributed. Consider our 32 female CEO’s, who have successfully passed through the labyrinth of, dominated workplace standards, now only to be labeled ‘blunt’ and ‘no-nonsense’. Unfortunately, this ensuing hurdle that females face is the notion of ‘think-leader-think-male’.

Would you describe Warren Buffet or Alan Joyce or as having these same traits?

The unconscious bias about women in leadership is a self-deprecating psyche. When a female in power enters a room and evokes gasps, the automatic association is that she has fought mercilessly and is an exception to the rule. However, of all the characteristics that determine a great leader, gender is not one of them – it just should not matter but so often it does.

“If we’re too tough, we’re unlikable. If we’re too soft, we’re not cut out for the big leagues,” – Hillary Clinton.

We will know we have truly overcome this when we no longer have to write about “female leaders” and can just speak generally about “kick-arse leaders”. But until then, gender will remain an omnipresent topic that affects 100% of the population.

Lucy is a leadership powerhouse within the PEV community (and beyond). When she’s not at uni completing her Veterinary Science degree at the University of Sydney, she’s applying her extensive experience to leading teams or groups in Fiji or Malawi, or training new leaders and business consultants back in Australia. She’s a big advocate for supporting good leaders and role models for who they are as people, regardless of their gender.