Women's Leadership: Building it "Inside Out"

Why aren't there more women at the top of companies or governments? Is there continued societal pressure for women to focus on their families above all else? Is there still a "glass ceiling" that prohibits women from achieving more? These are all questions that have been debated for years and we that can continue to discuss. Conversations like that are always worth having. But what is even more worthwhile is taking a new look at this old issue from a new perspective: What leadership competency is most needed for women today? And where does it lie? We think it lies "within." Many women remain hesitant to step up to business opportunities that cross their paths. They are not sure if they are "ready" for the roles or if they will be successful meeting the new challenges. Men would not be that hesitant. Men are likely to say "I can do that" whether they are ready or not. Women can break out of that hesitancy and become more confident, and women's leadership development can help create that kind of awareness/strength. Some women remain reluctant to "use" the social and business contacts they have built up over years. They are less likely to seek mentors or sponsors, or to ask their supervisors for stretch assignments. They don't know what Catalyst has called "the unwritten rules." Men understand those rules and the power of having others "lobby" for them. Again, women's leadership development can help, by developing self-knowledge and political savvy. Other women remain convinced that they must make big personal sacrifices if they want a career. They opt out of the workforce or turn down opportunities when they begin to have a family. Men don't opt out and they are more likely to negotiate how they can balance all the demands on their time. Women's leadership development can create an appreciation of how important it is to know your own goals and plan for your career, rather than just let it happen. This is the new direction for women's leadership development. It's a direction that acknowledges, head on, what kinds of constraints that we, as women, are placing on ourselves. It's a direction that acknowledges that we have some limiting beliefs that need to be addressed. It's a direction that returns leadership development to one of the fundamentals of leadership: self-awareness and playing to one's strengths. Great leaders are those who know their own strengths, use them, build upon them, and surround themselves with friends or advisors who supplement those strengths. Leadership development for women can, and must, help women do that. This may make a case for more use of self or 360 assessments, complemented by individual or small group leadership coaching. This may also make it important to run some developmental programs specifically for groups of women, separate from men. The 2011 Wall Street Journal/McKinsey report "Unlocking the Full Potential of Women in the U.S. Economy" cites the on-going barriers that women face from both institutions and society, yet also makes the case that women's mindsets need to change, too. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook is telling the same story: let's make sure that we are not limiting ourselves. These are powerful messages at the right time. We now need every person in the workforce able to achieve his or her full potential. Women's leadership development that starts by helping women look within themselves can make an important step in that direction. Once that happens we all come out ahead. Lynne Morton is President of the NY-based consultancy Performance Improvement Solutions and sits on the Advisory Boards of the Women's National Council and Tri-State Diversity Council. An award-winning expert in talent management, she works with individuals and organizations to maximize their potential. Lynne can be reached at [email protected] . by: Lynne Morton

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