Five steps to braver leadership

A woman sits at desk chatting to three other women

“I run a professional training and coaching organisation. An exercise I’ve often seen is to ask individuals what gender they most associate with different careers, say, teachers, lawyers, farmers, pilots. What if we are asked what gender we think of when visualising a leader? This exercise can be revealing for us all.

The concept of any leader as the solitary person at the top making all decisions is inaccurate. I think a better and more accurate concept is one of team leadership that embraces the concepts of courage and vulnerability. Team leadership is what leadership has always been about, not a solitary (and sometimes lonely) occupation but, as we all know, something that always involves teams.

Teams, vulnerability and courage are the domain of women. We are so good at this stuff – some or all of these three elements women recognise and practice daily. Margaret Meade said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Leadership is about taking those around you to a new visionary future. To do this, we must be in an environment where risk is seen as OK and for this to happen, vulnerability must be embraced as a team value. Vulnerability and courage go together. The leadership team needs to be encouraged and supported to have a go and be OK about making mistakes.”

Here are five tips for putting these ideas into practice:

  1. Establish whether the unwritten norm is leader (singular) or leadership (team).
  2. Ensure a visionary future has been established by the leadership team.
  3. Introduce the concept of open sharing of vulnerability — we all make mistakes; we all need people to assist us.
  4. Configure vulnerability in a way that ensures people are supported — best done first by the chair/president/CEO/manager.
  5. Encourage courage — “Yeah that’s great, have a go — you know we have your back; team leadership is our norm.”

This more open environment for all will change the workplace and if we are asked to visualise what gender a leader is, women will come to mind as often as men.

Jill Briggs is a member of the Victorian Rural Women’s Network Reference Group and Managing Director of Affectus.

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