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What Makes a Woman a Powerful Leader?

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. –  Shakespeare


This article is for human beings who happen to be women, who are interested in developing themselves as leaders in any context – professionally or personally.

Traditionally women interested in developing themselves have received little support. The upshot of that is revealed right through organisations where women are appalling under-represented in positions of leadership.

And yet in our experience at The Coaching Room, coaching thousands of people, women make better leaders. (see Jay’s blog) It’s a ridiculous paradox.

How do we go about re-addressing this imbalance? Here are 12 ways to build and develop the skills required for masterful leadership.


Development isn’t comfortable

To get fit and build stamina we go to the gym and pump iron. Why? Because we need to work with resistance to build strength.

Similarly, if we want to develop ourselves as leaders we need to challenge ourselves. Personal development is not going to occur while you’re kicking back sipping Pina Coladas by the pool.  

Think back over your lifetime… significant growth occurs in the face of resistance. Perhaps you lost that job and as a result developed resilience, upskilled yourself and found a new more satisfying profession. Or maybe a relationship ended unexpectedly and you felt devastated, yet as you reflect on it now it was the best thing that ever happened to you.

Challenge invites you to step out of your comfort zone. This is your leading edge.

So if you’re serious about developing yourself as an effective leader, buckle up and prepare yourself for a bumpy ride. Strong trees grow where mighty winds blow.


Responsibility, the Choice is yours

Choosing how you show up in the world is how you respond in the moment. Making the decision to respond rather than react (do something you’ve always done) in the heat of the moment gives you the ability to run your own brain rather than be had by it.

In the words of philosopher Osho “is your mind a beautiful servant or a dangerous master.”

Reminding yourself that you have the CHOICE as situations arise in the moment is the true expression of your mind serving you beautifully.

To take responsibility is to know where your power starts and ends and there are four elements. There are your thinking and feeling (internal powers) as well as your speaking and behaving (external). Everything else outside of these four powers is influence, yet paradoxically when you take ownership of the powers you gain influence.

Next time your mind becomes a dangerous master remind yourself  you’re blocking your own development, and that an opportunity awaits.


Frame Set and Match

If you want to win the game of life bring your attention to the frames you’re holding.

What is a frame?

Simply put, a frame is the meaning you bring to something. And the kinds of meaning that you bring determine how you feel, and in turn what you do in response.

To make meaning of something your mind needs to bring a context to the content. For example, think of water, what does it mean to you? Give yourself a few moments and notice the answers that arise for you.

… Maybe you thought water is essential for life, or the ocean is a playground, or perhaps you imagined sinking into a deliciously hot bath. Whatever thoughts arose for you are your reference points, your frames of reference.

Notice your frames determine the relationship you have to water. If you have any of the above references you probably have an empowering relationship to water. If like my partner who nearly drowned on two occasions in his childhood your reference points are probably going to mean you have an adverse relationship to water.

Framing has a huge impact on how you relate to yourself and the world.

What frames are you bringing to leadership? Are they empowering you? Or are they impeding you?

Leadership is about breaking down those impeding frameworks and creating new more empowering frames for ourselves and others to follow.


Are You on the Dancefloor or the Balcony?

In order to navigate life we develop habituated ways of perceiving, thinking and behaving. It’s a survival mechanism that helps us to avoid experiencing overwhelm and serves us at one level.

The question is are these habituated thinking and behavioural patterns serving you. Many of them are created very early on in childhood before we developed executive capacity in our brains or any wisdom we may have gathered over the years.

And the thing about habituated thinking and behavioural patterns is that they are often outside of awareness. So we are often subject to them – we’re on the dancefloor. And you can’t effectively deal with something you’re not aware of.

To have a choice about how we respond we need to get objective, we need to get to the balcony and look down at the dancefloor.

Self-awareness then is becoming objective to what you’ve been subjective to and is an essential ability to effective leading.

How do you get to the balcony? Get yourself a skilled development coach who can show you your blind spots.


Get Direct.

What frames do you hold about having fierce conversations? Who gifted you those and are they serving you?

If you want to engage people more fully and improve your relationships, developing your capacity to have fierce conversations as a leader is an essential skill.

The purpose of a fierce conversation is to communicate in a direct, dynamic and effective way. This enables honest, authentic conversations about behaviours, attitudes, cultures or systems that aren’t working as effectively as they could be.

As women we have a tendency to care too much what others think of us and this can thwart our capacity to speak directly.

If you’d like to know more about the 7 steps of a fierce conversation check our blog.


Leave Mind Reading to the Psychics

Why do we think we can mindread accurately?

When we mindread we are projecting our own meanings onto others. We are predicting, inferring, imagining and assuming based on our own meanings, meanings that have nothing to do with others.

Real communication and understanding occurs when we get clear on not on what we think we already know about another person, but what we don’t know… and then ask questions to gain clarity.

Mindreading situations are another pitfall. Don’t just assume you won’t get that pay rise. Ask for what you want and see what you get. You might be surprised.


What Do You Need To Stop Telling Yourself That’s Not True?

What self-sabotaging beliefs have you said yes to that are preventing you from being your best?  

Beliefs are thoughts we’ve said yes to which then operate as a filter as to how we take in and experience the world. They are self-fulfilling prophecies gifted to us by our families, friends, peers, the media, and the culture.

Many beliefs are adopted when we were children. Ask yourself, would you consider wearing the clothes you wore as a six-year-old?… Of course not, they wouldn’t fit. Yet we still keep the beliefs formed as a young child even though they no longer fit us. Beliefs like “I’m too old to study” or “Women don’t lead as well as men” or “I’m no good at having fierce conversations”.

In her poem Marrianne Williamson says:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? My question to you is who are you not to be?

Is it time to do a mental spring clean so you can step into the possibility instead of staying stuck in the probability of you? Is it time to start trusting and backing yourself?


When the ‘PRESSURE IS ON’ What Questions do you Ask Yourself?

Where does your mind go when you’re stressed?

For many of us, un-resourceful questions like – “how the hell did you get yourself into this situation?” or “What kind idiot are you?” pop up.

Ask your brain an un-resourceful question and you’re going to get yourself an un-resourceful answer.

Next time you find yourself under the pump be prepared. Here are a list of 5 empowering questions that will access your most resourceful self:

  1.  How am I complicit in creating the conditions the  way I don’t want?
  2.  What can I learn from this?
  3.  What do I control in this? What do I not control? What am I to do / not do given what I control?
  4.  How might the obstacle be the way forward?
  5.  What’s great about this?

“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like something is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” – Maya Angelou


A Little Bit of Kindness Goes a Long Way

Many women are caught by the rules and expectations we place upon ourselves, often striving for perfectionism or discounting what we have achieved.

The reality is that as humans we are fallible, that is our nature. So be kind to yourself. Having compassion for yourself begins by accepting all aspects of yourself.

The offer for you is to welcome in everything you don’t welcome in about you. The more you resist about yourself the more power it has over you, the more it persists. Bring it in, embrace it and the power dissipates.

Accept and value who you are right now – value, recognition, success is not out there externally – it is an internal job, you possess it already.


Who Cares?

Often women do. We can care too much and too soon.

Women usually mature faster than men, have greater access to the key aspects of emotional intelligence and are built for relating, connecting and nurturing, skills essential to effective leading. However, we can become overly identified with these aspects.

Our care is our greatest strength AND our greatest weakness. It’s the thing that can hold us back, our developmental ceiling. We tend to care too much about how we are seen and perceived.

So stop comparing yourself to others – the need to be seen a particular way, good wife, mother, successful career women, can have women caught in a world of comparison.

The challenge then is to have the confidence to care about everyone wholly and let go of our personal and partial care/s.


There is No Such Thing as a Problem

Imagine you’ve got a 9am meeting with an important client and as you drive into work someone rear ends your car.

You could get out your car and yell abuse.

Or you could keep your cool and focus on sorting out the issues at hand.

The state you’re in governs your experience of life. The problems we encounter in everyday life are never the problem. The problem is the state you put yourself in.

There are two key ways to manage your state.

First is your physiology. The way you use your body influences how you feel. You know this. If you want to stop yourself from crying what do you do? You look up to the ceiling and your tears recede. Or try feeling depressed whilst you skip down the road whistling like a little kid.

Second, what thoughts are you running in mind, what perspective are you holding about the situation? If you’re imagining the worst-case scenario… how your client is going to sack you, how you’ll lose your job and won’t be able to pay the mortgage and be out on the street before you know it… your state is not going to be resourceful.

If you’re telling yourself this always happens to you and you’re no good in a crisis then you’re going to impede your capacity to deal with the reality of what has occurred.

The state of mind you place yourself in speaks directly to the quality of your life.

To develop state management skills take some time to consider what are your most resourceful states e.g. confidence, calmness, vitality and go about your day accessing these states as needed.

To do that, take a few minutes each day to recall, imagine or model someone who has the state you require and in doing so access that state anywhere anytime no matter what is happening on the outside.  


There is No Failure, Only Feedback

One thing that holds many women back is fear of failure. It can lead to procrastination because we want to get things right, which paradoxically prevents us from giving ourselves a go.

If you think you’ve failed at something it means you’ve frozen a moment in time. You’re looking at the  experience as a static.

Why does this matter?

It prevents us from recognising that we are a process unfolding.

Learning only occurs as a process. To learn is to try something new, receive feedback, make adjustments, try again and repeat. The more feedback and adjustments the greater mastery we develop.

How do you frame mistakes? What is your framework around feedback? Is it time to review these for yourself?

If you want to develop mastery around leading be prepared to have lots of learning experiences.


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