Monday, 2 May 2016

5 Things Women Leaders Have Taught Me

This week I have come back from running my first Women in Travel meetup at Arabian Travel Market in the Middle East (Dubai, to be precise).I have also attended the first birthday celebration of WomenEd, the community for Women in Education.

At both event, I heard women debating what it takes to be a successful female leaders, what matters
and what helps, versus what you need to be aware of and possibly compromise on. There are 5 things that really resonated with me and I wish to share here:

#1 Believe in yourself and stop that 'internal chatter'

I experienced that internal chatter first hand at Women in Travel when I discovered that my session was going to take place in an open theatre. Suddenly I thought nobody would turn up or if they did, nobody would engage because the openness of the theatre would expose them too much. How wrong I was! I had to extend the session by over 30 minutes as women kept on raising their hands to ask questions, energy and passion being both palpable in the room.  I knew in my heart of hearts that women would welcome the event because by now I have enough experience and knowledge to know that women professionals in the field need this type of event, a community  and a place to engage. But I still let the 'internal little voices' take over for a little time and put my personal brand and presence at risk for a short moment. So believe in your self and stop doubting what you have passionately worked for and believe in. You are the expert and you have the knowledge in your area, take ownership!

#2 Articulate your needs in a positive and clear manner

We think of women who say what they think as ' bossy' (horrible word, if you ask me) but in the case of men we talk about leadership. Why?!? Throughout history, women have been told to be modest, please others, put everyone else's need above their own. But times are changing and women have come to realise that - especially in the workplace - that is a sure way never to achieve their ambitions.
However, it is often noticed how women can be their worst enemy at times. Women can worry too much about what others think, how others are going to receive their words if they open up and what is the impact of their wishes. women leaders look at this in a completely different way. Articulating your needs in a positive way mean making sure that other people know where they stand with you.  This 'beyond doubt' way of speaking enables others to appreciate your feelings, your desires and your thoughts with such clarity that it avoids any possible misunderstanding and any subsequent friction or conflict. It is particularly important, female leaders add, to ensure that those in higher positions encourage women to speak out in this positive and affirmative manner so that their career ambitions can be made known and taken on board. Assertiveness has nothing to do with aggressiveness, it encourages clarity not offense, it enhances dialogue rather than closing it. So be assertive as everyone will benefit from it!

#3 Make choices and take ownership

Women leaders know that only when we make positive choices and take ownership of our own wishes we can be truly in control. It is critical that we have clarity about what we want, we appreciate the consequences of these choices and then live with them without guilt. This is especially important when it comes to making decisions about work that can impact our family: let's not seek out perfection as it will only frustrate us! In order to feel that we can make choices it is critical to set up a network around us of supporting and helpful individuals who can come to our rescue when we need it. family members, friends and most likely other women in similar circumstances, we need people who look out for each other and for us at the appropriate time.  Let's make sure that we return the favour when the opportunity comes!

#4 Mentoring, mentoring and more mentoring

Needless to say, this is music to my ears. all women I encounter who are in leadership position, aspiring to one or acting as one stress to me how important it is to have a mentor, to look for a mentor and indeed to act as mentors to others. It is no mystery that mentoring helps women (and men off course) explore their own self awareness, develop personally and professionally and carve out a space where they can focus on themselves. This is no longer a luxury but absolutely a necessity! Some women say they have or have had more than one mentor, depending on their needs and the role mentors would have. But for the majority one mentor is enough as they prefer to shape a close, in depth relationship with their mentor. But how and where do you find one? Look around you at work, in your community, professional industry bodies or alumni university group. Ask friends and contact if they have somebody they know would love to act like one. Finding a mentor is easier than one thinks and is definitely worth the effort of searching for one!

#5 Plan ahead - Leave nothing to chance

This is one advice I wish somebody had given to me earlier on in my professional life. It is said that as women we spend more time planning the family holiday than our career. But as women leaders know all too well, nothing happens unless it has been planned for. So make sure you begin to ask yourself early on in life what  questions such as : What matters to me? What do I wish to achieve? How do I wish to spend my life ? What do I wish to be known for? By taking time answering these questions you will begin to raise your own self awareness, understand what kind of life you wish to build for yourself and what steps you need to take to get there.  Be aware however that nothing happens exactly as we planned for all the time. So women leaders stress that it is critical to build flexibility in your plan and enable for different scenarios. In the same time, build resilience, know that you may have to fall a couple of times at least before you can achieve your outcomes. Learning how to bounce back is hard, but very important if you wish to control stress rather than being controlled by it.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.



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    Leadership Coach

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