Women & Leadership: Election Takeaways about Authenticity

Since the election, there has been intense discussion about women and leadership, in part trying to understand why the US has lagged behind so many other countries in electing female leaders. It’s an important question no matter who your candidate was this time.

I’ve been particularly struck by conversations about women’s "leadership styles” - what's appealing and what works - because when I look at the universally recognized traits of great leaders, none of them are inherently male or female.

As a leadership coach, the objectives and skills I work on with leading companies are gender agnostic:

  •  Self awareness - To lead others, it's crucial be an expert first and foremost about your own authentic self. Leaders need to ‘look in the mirror’ and make sure they are communicating with purposeful passion, enthusiasm, and authentic style.
  • Purpose as the “True North”- Purpose is the fixed point by which a leader navigates at all times. It is the why of the journey—the mission and the vision - which creates alignment for everyone. When people know the why of a leader's journey, they will commit body, mind, and spirit.
  • It's all about others - Leaders must remember that a journey is always undertaken with others. In fact, it’s all about those who we’re leading: it’s both an invitation to share the journey and helping them realize all that they are capable of achieving. A great leader is often like a shepherd: sometimes walking in in front, sometimes behind, and sometimes beside—but always journeying confidently with others. 
  • Setting the course - A leader’s vision sees beyond the horizon. It goes from what everyone else can see now, to what the leader can foresee. That means learning from the past, applying lessons to the future, and being nimble and agile to course-correct in real time when the unexpected arises. This supports an environment where others take risks and learn from the outcome, success or failure.

We will only make true progress in government when we recognize what many smart companies already know.

Smart CEOs, Human Capital directors, and companies know that that ensuring that a company is proportionally diverse - on top as well as throughout the company - improves performance and results, thereby building better businesses.

Great leaders are authentic leaders: women and men who focus on a vision and enlist others in the service of that vision.

Companies know what works, because effective leadership is reflected in their bottom line. Success is harder to quantify in government, which is why we're still having distracting conversations about style and optics. And yet there are some women whose leadership is so dynamic that the questions of “style” and “personality” rarely come up. What’s their secret?

Successful leaders from Margaret Thatcher to Indira Ghandi, from Elizabeth Warren to Kristin Gillbrand, have embraced their authentic selves while staying laser-focused on their visions and platforms.

Certainly, we need to confront stereotypes and bias head on, in the media and in ourselves. Woman will only make true progress in government by focusing on the important gender-neutral skills that empower authentic leaders, and staying focused on vision while being true to their authentic selves.

How this is done - via role models, mentors, training, and coaching - is the key for developing and filling the pipeline with talented, inspiring, authentic women for the future.

Fran Berrick