Where have all our female leaders and mentors gone? Who are they? In my work I encounter so many women who so often say that they can’t find a female leader to aspire to and to have as their mentor. I hear about many women who are in leadership positions but who are in no way role models or mentors for the women ‘behind’ them. As we look to where we might find our female leaders and mentors it feels important that we decide what it is we are looking for in them. What qualities do we admire and what do we hope for or want to aspire for in ourselves? What do we want to give of as much as we want to receive?
I’ve never had a really powerful mentor. I’ve always longed for one. I’ve had mentors along my way at different stages in my life but I think I kept that quietly to myself. I didn’t formalise it. I don’t know why but I suspect I didn’t want to be a burden so I didn’t ask for much. And so I held back and I worked hard. Sound familiar? But I have been fortunate to have had a phenomenal mother for the past 40 something years. And I’ve had a phenomenal therapist for the past 12 years. So if you ask me who my female role model would be and how I would describe her I can tell you. She has wisdom, maturity, strength and warmth. She is courageous. She is joyful and playful and she is also professional and serious. She experiences pain and disappointment and she is passionate and adventurous. She places her loved ones first but excels in her career. These are just a few insights into who she is for me. Who she is for you will be different and unique to you. What or who do we look for in a female leader? In the absence of her don’t you think we owe it to ourselves, to our children, to our colleagues, to our societies, to our world, to define the qualities we admire and long for in our female leaders and therefore in ourselves? Doesn’t it start with each one of us?
Female leadership is about courage; finding one’s voice; being connected to an inner intuition, to a gut instinct; it’s about defying that which says that a woman doesn’t have rights or an opinion; it’s about finding that sharpness, the blade, and marrying it with heart, the silk; it’s about finding and living that sacred balance, whatever that may look or feel like to you; it is about being strong without being oppressive or demeaning; it is about the courage to move forward in trying times; it’s about not always getting it right, about blundering sometimes and having the courage and conviction to admit that; it’s about staying true to one’s ideals, values and ethics; and it’s about shedding that smooth perfect exterior and allowing in the vulnerability, the imperfectness and the incorrectness. It’s when we have the courage to show up in our realness, when we narrow the distance between our head and our heart, that we are at our most influential and powerful because that’s when others can relate to us and then work with us. And that creates conversations and greater contribution. And isn’t that when we achieve great things?
This isn’t a discussion just for us females. And this isn’t a definition of leadership limited only to women. But it is hopefully food for thought for those women out there, and I’ve met many of you, who feel without another woman to look to for inspiration, advice and guidance as you navigate your careers and your personal lives. It is perhaps a part of an important conversation with yourself and with others about the kind of female leader you might want to be.