I often wonder why I get that response. Can it be their perception of leadership?
When we think of leadership, we typically picture a leader who is out in front of his followers. He is the leader because he was confident enough to step forward, put himself in front of the group and convince them that he knows what to do. Being a leader is a vulnerable position. People often disagree with you and tell you that you are wrong. They challenge you. Some people want to replace you in your leadership position in order to advance themselves or their point of view. Being a leader isn’t easy so I understand why many women don’t want to lead and especially don’t want to lead a group of men.
But are we only looking at leadership from a male perspective? Is this why women hesitate to lead?
How can women use their perspective to be leaders?
As a project manager I was the project leader. I saw myself as the hub of a wheel, coordinating the activities of various functions, departments and personnel who are connected to me through the spokes of the wheel. Unlike our typical perception of a leader, I am not out in front of everyone, I am amongst everyone. Unlike a male perspective of leadership I am not using a hierarchy to give me power over people. Instead I am using a woman’s circular perspective. Standing amongst people presumes leadership gives us as power with people. I am empowered and every member of my team is empowered.
In project and complex environments, a leader oversees many tasks or functions. The leader isn’t an expert in each one and can’t develop the solution to every problem or the answer to each new situation on his own. The leader must rely on the input of others. When the leader is on top of a hierarchy, interaction is limited and information is filtered as it makes its way to the leader. This style of leadership doesn’t produce the best solution.
Using a circular perspective, standing amongst people interaction is not limited. The role of the leader is not to direct the solution or answer but to draw out the collective expertise of the group and integrate ideas in order to derive the best course of action. Standing amongst people requires collaboration, synergy, integration and coordination, all traits that women excel in.
To become comfortable with asserting our leadership, we start by being a good team member. People are assigned to a team because they have skills and expertise the team needs. Each team member steps forward with their skills each time they recognize the team needs them. Team members can’t sit back and wait to be called upon because the leader and other team members may not know the skills are needed. Whenever a team member takes action that impacts another team member, the impacted team member is responsible for stepping forward and letting the team know how they are impacted. To have a fully functioning team, each team member must exercise leadership.
When we see our workplace taking actions that adversely affects morale or performance we need to make a leadership decision. We can look at our position in the organizational hierarchy and believe we aren’t in the right position to speak up or do anything. Or, we can see ourselves as a team member with a responsibility to speak up. And of course someone with a hierarchal perspective can always challenge us or outright dismiss us. But that shouldn’t be the reason we don’t speak up. In my experience it often comes back to bite them and I find I am listened to a little bit more the next time. So even though there was a delay and the step forward small, my leadership had an impact. We shouldn’t believe that leadership is only about creating a big impact. Leadership is also exercised to make the slow, step-by-step journey of moving in a new direction.
Leadership is about change. Anyone who wants to change the status quo or wants to improve the status quo must see themselves as a leader. Non-leaders accept things as they are even if they don’t like them. To be a leader you must believe that you have the right to express your point of view and believe in your point of view. That can be scary, especially when you are the only voice with that point of view. But then, that is how many great changes began.
A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them. – M .D. Arnold
The task of the leader is to get their people from where they are to where they have not been. – Henry Kissinger
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