Learning to be a great leader takes training. There are countless leadership training courses, classes, videos, books and even degrees available for people who truly want to be great leaders. Much of the training available is excellent; however, when you look at the majority of the great training out there, it was developed by men for men. Women can still use it, of course, but very little of it addresses the differences between male and female energy and how that changes leadership.
With all of the great training resources out there on leadership, why do we have to look so hard to identify and name great female leaders to learn from?
Women make great leaders. And women have been banding together with some very exceptional men to level the playing field and open the doors of opportunity into leadership for everyone for a very long time. Yet, progress has been slow. What in the world is truly in our way?
Being a person without a victim mentality (oh, I am sure I had one once, but I have long forgotten where I left it), the question I like to ask even more than what is stopping me is, “How am I stopping myself?”
So, since I am a woman, but am not ALL women, the question then becomes, “How are we stopping us?”
One of the biggest blocks I have seen in my many years of working with women entrepreneurs and women executives (all of them leaders!) comes down to this: We have been trained this way.
Since we were little girls, we have been getting messages that have created blocks to leadership not only for us, but for nearly all women. How do the messages do this? By pitting women against women. How do you stop the most powerful force there is? Get it to fight itself. We have been trained to do this and we all are affected.
From the time we were three years old, we started to learn the difference between boys and girls and what was expected of each. We were taught to be pretty (but not too pretty), to be smart (but not too smart), and to be polite so that others would think well of us. What other people thought of us was ingrained as more important than what we thought about ourselves. That’s just bad training, isn’t it? Let’s unlearn it.
Once we got to school where there were other girls, we were quickly trained to protect ourselves from them. Girls fight differently from boys. Boys yell, they hit, they get bigger and in your face. Girls fight with carefully placed words and social hierarchy of inclusion and exclusion. Judgment is our sword, where boys are more apt to use fists. Girls smile and gather together and, if she is a mean girl, she will be your friend until that fateful moment when she is NOT and you run the risk of being ostracized from the entire group. You learn quickly that the fastest way to stay “safe” is to play the game (joining in on the gossip and trying to stay in favor of the girl in charge) or you separate and identify yourself as someone who “doesn’t belong.” The message of “you are not good enough” is a strong one and we are trained to feed it to each other. We are taught that our worth is something determined by someone else.
The older we get, the better we get. We either learn to embrace and support each other, or we hone our skills of manipulation, sabotage and exclusion to mastery levels. While this might move one mean girl to an elevated status, it bogs down the progress of women’s leadership as a whole. It keeps the stereotype of women leaders as “troublemakers” or “untrustworthy” alive in a male-dominated business world looking for a reason to keep us at bay. We must un-train from this thinking through choosing different actions. It is no big secret: A band of powerful, well-connected and strong women moving together for the good of everyone is exactly what the world needs.
It begins with awareness. We must be courageous enough to identify within ourselves where we are too much the Good Girl and where we slipping into the Mean Girl within our own thoughts, attitudes and behaviors.
One of the keys to this is understanding your own power and how you use it. Are you aware of where you have the power to influence of affect others? Are you consciously using it to promote and grow other women? All the leadership training on the planet isn’t going to create more women leaders if there are not people in power willing to use their power to get the door open.
Another key is accurately assessing your own level of self-esteem. It is well known that “hurt people, hurt people.” Your courage to un-train will require you to find the parts of you that need to be strengthened and then make a firm choice to support women — starting with yourself.
Third, we must all get better at identifying the gaps around us and be brave enough to speak up. Stop the gossip, the cliques, the exclusionary tactics that divide us and find a way to reach across to other women and build them up. The change begins with us, every one of us. We can change this in ourselves, assist our women friends in shifting, too, and lead the way for the next generation of women coming up.
Lynda Bishop, MPC, CEC, is an International Women’s Leadership Development specialist, trainer, speaker and author. She is also the founder of Relationship Insurance, www.relationshipinsurance.guru, a boutique relationship focused coaching/counseling practice.
Learn more about Lynda at www.lyndabishop.com.
Attend Lynda’s workshop “Hell in High Heels” at the 12th Annual Women Entrepreneurs’ Small Business Boot Camp on May 7.