I have come to believe that of all the personal characteristics you will need to cultivate in the real world, in business, science, engineering, law and a host of other professions, one needs to equip oneself with a “Can Do” attitude and self confidence – traits shared by great leaders whose talents may have varied widely in most other respects.
As women, we need to be more courageous and make a difference. That is the essence of living. When you see the big picture, you come to the realization that it is not about you…and then you develop the courage to bring about change.
It is however sad to note that a lot of us women do not know our worth and it is for this reason that many of us have allowed ourselves to be suppressed into submission. This mentality, in my opinion, mostly begins during primary socialization in the home. In the past, as I am sure still happens in many homes today, where there is a tight budget, and families are compelled to make a choice who should go to school, boys were allowed to go to school while girls stayed at home to cook and clean. Even today, many parents encourage their male children to study what they perceive to be difficult subjects and their female children to take what they believe to be less challenging courses.
Leadership among women is possible and I would like to share with you some nuggets I have discovered on my life’s journey.
- Leadership is a choice: It is not a rank or status. I know many people at the senior most levels of organizations who are absolutely not leaders. They are authorities, and we do what they say because they have authority over us, but we would not follow them. And I know many people who are at the bottoms of organizations who have no authority and they are leaders, and this is because they have chosen to look after the person to the left of them, and they have chosen to look after the person to the right of them. This is what a leader is.
- Shake off societal stereotypes: Though difficult, it is possible to shake off societal stereotypes and expectations. For instance, we know how women can be pressured to get married. A lot of us, when we hit thirty and we have not found the right man, just because society says it is time to be married, we look for the first person in trousers and “propose” to them. I call it the “Reduced to clear” syndrome. We should make the right choices and not allow societal pressures to influence our decisions – Choosing the right husband/partner is critical to finding and implementing your purpose.
- Success in leadership is possible. Make the time for it and know the unwritten rules. Open your eyes to opportunities, they usually appear in the form you least expect, Be an extrovert and not keep to yourself as this is a sure way to get your career to accelerate. Set goals for yourself and keep evaluating yourself. If you want to succeed, you must know how to be involved in intellectual debate and develop yourself to be an excellent communicator. Have a strategy – talk to the right people because not everyone will give the right information and others may not want you to succeed. Select a mentor and learn from the person, even from their mistakes.
- Lean In: I read an interesting book with this title where the author hits the nail right on the head. As women, we give a lot of ourselves to the people in our lives, husbands, children, friends and family and that is what shows how wonderful and selfless we are. But right now, you are young, with fewer responsibilities as a woman, this is your time to lean in, take risks, go for the extraordinary, and learn from your mistakes. Don’t shy away from opportunities that will build your skills and help you make an impact in society.
- Don’t be afraid to sit at the table: Shake off feelings of self-doubt and understand that there is a distortion. We as women have every right to be at meetings with the men, sit right at the front and contribute to decision making debates. Let us not underestimate ourselves. Women are known to constantly judge our own performance as worse than others. Ask a man to explain his success and he will credit his innate skills and qualities but ask a woman and she will attribute her skills to external factors. Insecurity is a problem and we as women need to stand upright and be bold even if it means faking the confidence until you yourself believe it.
- Be honest with your words: Honest communication is not always easy but it forms the basis for every successful relationship in school, at the workplace and at home. To be a true leader, you must learn to always speak the truth. There may be fears of not being considered as part of the team, fear of appearing to be negative, fear of offending someone when trying to give constructive criticism, fear of calling attention to ourselves. Communication is a skill and we must learn it. Just as we learn to speak well, we must also learn to be good listeners. Be open and honest with your words and encourage others to do so.
To leave you I will say to you these wise words from our very own Kofi Annan: “To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there”. I encourage all of you and go out there, just DO SOMETHING POSITIVE, AND LEAVE A LEGACY! Thank you and God bless you!