BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Women and Effective Leadership

Posted by egehl on June 30, 2010

Earlier this year I was accepted into an effective leadership program organized by Duke and Southern Universities for mid-career professionals in Louisiana. Last week was our kick-off retreat which introduced the 20 fellows to the program’s goals and ideals through the lens of creating and sustaining leaders, which is desperately needed given the many unique challenges facing my state.

During the week, we engaged in a content and collaborative learning process by listening to panels of accomplished professionals discussing various topics, self-reflecting and discussing our role as leaders in our chosen fields, and choosing our professional development coach for the upcoming year.

The central question the program addresses is how can leaders in a world where answers are not self-evident, refine and put into everyday practice a controlling, morally transforming set of central beliefs, values, behaviors and competencies in the service of the larger public or “common good”.

As I started this fellowship journey, I got to thinking about women and leadership– how far we’ve come but also the vast potential women can still reach in their leadership pursuits.

Women have busted the leadership glass ceiling in many ways by securing political office, becoming CEO’s, rising to management levels and becoming leaders in their everyday lives with their children and families.

It’s important for women to know that they can become leaders in whatever field or realm they choose because their voices, vision and determination will make any debate or goal more robust, inclusive and sustainable.

Before this fellowship I never thought of myself as a leader.  Like many women, I thought leadership only applied to a traditional definition such as securing the right title and stature, having staff report to you or being known publicly in a leadership capacity.   However this fellowship has challenged my stereotypical way of thinking by showing me that we all possess leadership skills and have the potential to influence the fields we work in by developing and utilizing those skills.

There are many ways to view leadership but the angle taken by my fellowship program is this idea of servant leadership. Servant leaders are those who consistently use and share power to serve and empower others.  Leaders with this value-based philosophy want to serve first rather than lead first.  They are moral leaders that consciously choose to act in light of universally accepted ethical principles and use ‘soft’ power (persuasion, joint decision-making and diplomacy) and move toward the standards of effectiveness (achieving the right things).

I think that women especially possess the skills needed to engage in servant leadership.  We have a natural inclination to serve others and the desire to give back to our communities so that the right thing is done especially for those most in need.  Women are keenly aware and understand that part of their purpose is to empower and support others, and that their decisions should be consistently based on universal moral principles.

Leadership should become a way of being, not simply a set of technical skills. To be a well-rounded and effective leader it will require not simply learning the art of leadership in a technical sense but how we can holistically bring each aspect of ourselves—professional, spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical—together and maximize them in unison. Ideally women should align each authentic part of themselves so that they can reach their full capacity as leaders.  Because if you only focus on one aspect of your life, inevitably others will suffer and you will burn out, get frustrated or hit a learning stump.

It’s vital for women to fill the leadership pipeline to make our institutions, businesses and government truly representative. For women in public service, the philosophy of servant leadership should be considered and utilized because some of our world’s greatest leaders like former South African President Nelson Mandela utilized this concept to the great benefit of many people.

There are many viable and thought provoking leadership programs and institutes nationwide so I encourage women to look into them for your own growth and development.  Programs like these will provide you with innovative, thought-provoking knowledge and give you the boost of confidence to not only start thinking of yourself as a leader, but to gain the tools necessary to reach your personal and professional goals.

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