Today, on International Women’s Day, we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the globe.
For myself, I’m currently in the process of designing new female-focused leadership training, it is the perfect time to reflect upon what leadership means to me. I am also interested to consider why statistics show that women still lag significantly behind men in leadership roles in many of the areas that we celebrate today.
With a background in psychology, it doesn’t take long for my mind to wander towards explanations connected to internal beliefs and perceptions. Could there be something in the idea that many women are not especially excited by or drawn to the thought of being a ‘leader’ due to the way in which they interpret leadership? In which case, the knock-on effects might be that they don’t aspire to be seen as leaders or seek out roles where the title is applied?
I suggest this idea because it was only recently that I realised this thought process had applied to me for most of my life.
At the moment, I am researching the Centred Leadership Model. This model was developed by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston, following their interviews with some of the most successful women leaders in diverse fields around the world. Their aim was to help and encourage other women (and men), to develop their highest leadership potential.
The Centred Leadership Model consciously draws on positive psychology, a discipline that seeks to identify what makes healthy people thrive. As a positive psychology practitioner, I was excited to learn more.
The first principle of Centred Leadership is Meaning. Having a sense of meaning in our work results in the highest levels of satisfaction and motivation. People find meaning in their work by using their strengths and skills towards their passions. This results in us being the most motivated we can be. Therefore, the first practical step in achieving meaning is to identify our own personal strengths.
In order to do help me with this, I contacted the VIA Institute of Character Strengths which provides an online self-assessment tool. On completion of my assessment, I wasn’t surprised to find that many of my top strengths were related to learning. What did surprise me was my top character strength. It turned out to be Leadership!
I had never really seen myself as a leader. In my mind, a leader was someone very courageous. Someone at the ‘front’ or the ‘top’ inspiring others towards the goals of the organisation. A leader was someone with authority and responsibility. I always liked to think of myself, as more of an idea’s person. Perhaps someone who would be the right-hand supporting a leader? The Merlin to King Arthur if you like?
However, when I looked closely at the way the assessment tool was defining Leadership, I started to think differently:
Leadership – Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the same time maintain good relations within the group; organising group activities and seeing that they happen.
Well, that definition sounded very much like a trainer to me, very much like an educator. Looking at things like that, leadership suddenly started to become a title I felt I was indeed entitled to claim. If we accept this definition of leadership, then yes, that is me. It always has been. I have always been a leader (and not a bad one at that).
In the past, I had just been reluctant to accept the title due to my own perceptions and beliefs around leadership. All I needed to feel more positive and confident about being called a leader, was to think about it in a different way. And then I got to thinking, it’s probably unlikely that I am the only person doing this. I bet there are plenty of others also thinking the same things that I used to. And if I can change my mind and my self-perception after so long, then so can they.
At Jarrold Training, there is a key learning point underpinning many of our courses which is also a main principle of the ‘Insights’ self and group assessment tool that we utilise. The principle is as follows:
While there are many factors in life that we are unable to control, with self-understanding, training and practice, the main person we can have direct control over, is ourselves.
There are still many external factors that continue to hold women back in their ability to rise to key leadership positions in a number of fields. Change in these areas is an ongoing aspiration and not something within our immediate control. However, working to change our own personal perception of and feelings towards leadership is something that we can control. In doing so, we can become empowered and confident to embrace the title of ‘leader’ and then assert ourselves in moving towards leadership roles which we might have otherwise felt we were not suited to.
On International Women’s Day, to me, leadership is about inspiring others, supporting others, empowering others. It is about having an influence on others through our own behaviour, our enthusiasm and our love of what we do. It’s about helping others to believe and feel that they can achieve their goals by identifying their strength and igniting their passions. Lots of women who probably do not see themselves as leaders are doing these things every day. They just need to claim their title.
The best way to encourage and empower women wanting to become leaders is to start by helping them to recognise how they already are.