On Wednesday we concluded the first ever 'Today's Women - Tomorrow's Leaders' programme at the University of Hertfordshire. I was delighted to work with such an engaged, passionate and honest bunch of women and sorry to say goodbye (although all being well we will be running part 2 in the Autumn...).
Participants came from a variety of sectors, including National Health Service, Telecommunication, Service Industry, Academia, Marketing and Manufacturing but the differences in sectors only helped to reinforce the views that challenges to female leadership exist in every work place and that nobody should face them alone.As for me, I learnt that many of the myths around women-only groups are just that and that 'connecting' is an extremely powerful word: connecting to others, re-connecting to oneself and finding connections in particular.
I now want to share some final insights from this programme, some born out of my observations, others the result of shared wisdom in the room:
Camaraderie and Support
I have heard it over and over again, women-only groups become (pardon my French) bitchy and hellish. Yet, my group of women could not be further away from this statement. If it is true - as former US Secretary of State Margaret Albright is quoted to have said - that there is 'a special place in hell for women who do not support other women', then I tell you 'my' women most certainly earned themselves some paradise credits! The support, sharing and empathy I have witnessed over the last few months has been absolutely first class. On the contrary, I regularly experience many mix- or male only group in which testosterone-filled alpha males try to out-do each other by challenging and out-smarting one another.
Listen, Learn, Lead...in this order!
Throughout the programme participants have been willing to listen, learn and then lead. I believe this is exactly how it should be as you cannot lead unless you have first opened up your heart and your mind to others through empathetic listening. You also need to listen to yourself, to your emotions, feelings, intuitions...and take notice. This level of listening inevitably brings about learning and programme participants also helped each other by offering real life examples of challenges encountered, good practice and bad
practice were equally shared without fear of appearing 'week'.
Fun, Food and Follow Up!
I have run and faciltated 1000's of workshops and courses and the difference a little fun and a (not so) little food can make is sooo palpable! We started every workshop with a game, a story, something to relax, make us laugh, reconnect. Food was available throughout our time together, adding colour, smell and comfort to the experience. It worked because it made the group feel safe and looked after.But in it is a big statement about our primary needs and about building trust through the simple things. This is in itself a huge leadership lesson or at least a reminder that small but genuine, personal touches speak directly to people's heart creating good will and engagement.
As for follow up...mentoring in all its forms (one to one, peer, group etc) is a key tool for leadership. The group enjoyed the mentoring and would have liked even more if possible to keep the momentum going between sessions. There is no doubt that mentoring works greatly with women, because of the intimacy and nurturing inherent to it. I for one will continue to promote it, practice it and incorporate it in all my programmes!
Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieveing their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.