Everyday at YourPsychOnline I get to work with an awesome group of women (and one man) passionate about helping people live their best life. My team inspires me with their passion, compassion, energy, and love of life. When I came across this fantastic article written for Forbes by Margie Warrell (an Australian – so proud) I just had to share it with my team and also with you. Please share this with all the women in your lives.
What follows are 10 Lessons from some extraordinary women on being brave and assertive but in the right way.
1. Act as the leader you aspire to be.
Well before Lori Garver became the Deputy Director of NASA, she acted with the courage and conviction of the leader she aspired to become. At 22, Lori joined the National Space Institute in a bottom level administrative role. Five years on, after showing leadership and initiative well beyond her pay grade, she was asked to apply for the position of Executive Director. Her supervisor, a man decades her senior, was none too impressed when the role was awarded to Lori over him. On her first day in her new position, he wrote her a note saying he refused to work for her and expected the same salary. Lori called him into her office and fired him.
Over the ensuing years Lori established herself not only as someone who can get things done, but someone who can be counted on for her courage to take the right path over the easy one. No doubt this was one of the traits that led to President Obama nominating her to NASA’s top role in 2009, where she served until 2013. Lori’s ascent to power shows that we have to see ourselves as leaders, worthy and capable of affecting change, for others to see as that way.
Great leaders don’t lead because of the power they have been given, but because of how they’ve used the power that’s always resided in them. Likewise, you don’t need a title to be a leader, and you don’t need to wait for permission. You just need the courage to take action and the patience to wait for others to realize you’re a force to be reckoned with!
2. Don’t go it alone. Get support!
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This African proverb is a reminder that women should not just ‘lean in’ – they should also ‘lean on’ each other as they juggle multiple priorities and responsibilities, often struggling to feel confident in their ability to take on any more. While it’s easy to be ‘too busy’ to take time to network and connect with other women, investing time in building relationships and creating a support network can prove invaluable, particularly when the going is tough and the best path forward is unclear.
Joan Amble, former Executive Vice President of American Express, and co-founder and chair of WOMEN in America, encourages women to build their own personal board of directors. Whatever you call it, enlist the support of a diversity of people with relevant experience who are willing to tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear. Whether they are formal mentors or respected peers, these people can help you better navigate new and uncertain territory as you progress in your career, keep you focused on core priorities and give you that right word of encouragement when you need it most.
3. Speak courageously; your voice matters.
Conversations are the currency in any workplace. While women are naturally skilled at forging connections, we can also be reticent to say anything that might disrupt them. Afraid of rocking the boat, causing offense or looking foolish, the temptation to play it safe in silence can be strong.
It might be easy to assume that Kathy Calvin, CEO and President of the United Nations Foundation, is immune the misgivings of many women about engaging in difficult conversations, but that’s not the case. Kathy recently stated:
“Whatever your career, you have to be willing to speak up and to push back when you don’t agree with what others are thinking. The hardest thing I ever have to do is give people feedback they don’t want to hear. However, I’ve learned over the years that it’s better to be truthful and honest upfront, than to avoid difficult conversations in the hope that the issue will just go away.”
Being willing to speak up and lay your vulnerability on the line – to respectfully say what you think, ask for what you want, challenge the consensus or give critical feedback – not only earns you respect as a straight shooter, it wins trust and exponentially expands your ability to influence outcomes down the road.
4. Confront your fear, but don’t let it stop you.
While women may be innately more risk averse than men, that doesn’t give us an excuse not to take risks. Indeed, failing to take on challenges that make us vulnerable to failure can be a far more risky proposition that taking a leap of faith over the crevasse of fear and self-doubt we often wrestle with.
Maria Eitel, CEO of the Nike Foundation, shared a story from her childhood. Growing up, she would go on long walks with her father and brother. At the end they arrived at a cliff overlooking a lake and her brother would encourage her to jump in. Maria was terrified, but, not wanting to lose face in front of her brother, she would push through her fear and take a giant leap into the lake below. It was a powerful lesson in courage.
“Courage is not one moment; it’s a sequence of moments,” says Maria. “You have to keep tapping and tapping it day-by-day, moment-by-moment, and not let fear overtake you. Coming from a position of fear, of not succeeding, losing your job or not being admired handicaps the potential of your career.”
Today Maria continually pushes through new fears as she leads the efforts of the Nike Foundation and their Girl Effect initiative to get girls squarely onto the international agenda and deliver the resources needed to eradicate global poverty.
5. Don’t be intimidated. Stand your ground.
“Women must not allow themselves to be intimidated.” This was one of the insights Debbie Kissire, Vice Chair at Ernst and Young, shared regarding what it takes for women to grow their influence. Too often we make assumptions about people – who they are and what they think – that are simply untrue. We then carry those beliefs into our interactions with them, intimidating ourselves and undermining our confidence to connect authentically. Most the time, it’s not whosomeone is that intimidates us; it’s what we tell ourselves about who they are, simply based on the position they hold or power they wield.
At a recent EY women’s leadership event, Debbie shared her experience upon asking two young interns to come and visit her. The male was in her office the next day, while the young woman never came. While we could only speculate why, it’s probably fair to assume it was because the young woman was intimidated by Debbie’s senior position in the firm. The lesson: check your assumptions at the door, stand tall in your own unique worth and remind yourself that no-one – regardless of their position, power or fame – is any better or more worthy than you.
6. Dare to fail, but never let your failures define you.
It’s a sentiment echoed by trail blazing Australian Ita Buttrose, who has become an icon in Australian publishing, encountering many failures along the way – including her namesake ITA magazine. When I asked Ita if she ever regretted embarking on such an ambitious endeavor, she responded:
“No regrets. I don’t believe in them. What’s important is that you are there participating. Some of the best opportunities can emerge out of failure, but you have to be willing to look for them and then brave enough to take them. What’s important is not to dwell on where you are now or let your failures define you, but to focus on where you’d like to go from here.”
7. Look for opportunities amidst adversity.
In the midst of the financial crisis in 2008, Lorna Jane Clarkson, one of Australia’s most successful businesswomen and founder of Lorna Jane active wear, made the bold decision to expand when others around her were cutting costs and downsizing. While some thought Lorna was being reckless, her boldness led to the biggest growth period her business had ever had. While researching for Stop Playing Safe, Lorna shared this with me:
“To achieve great things you have to take great risks and have the courage to stick to your vision, even when those around you are telling you otherwise. If you work hard enough and believe in what you are doing you can find opportunity regardless of what is happening in the world around you.”
8. Advocate for yourself. Own your value.
Women are often reticent at self-promotion, relying on their hard work to win them recognition and advance them forward. But working your tail off, collecting gold stars and waiting for opportunities to be laid at your feet is a recipe for stagnation, frustration and, eventually, resentment. While humility is a virtue, when overdone it can become a vice that can profoundly limit your opportunities to achieve the goals that inspire you.
In today’s competitive workplace, you have to be willing to let the right people know who you are, what you’ve done and what you aspire to do in the future. People aren’t mind readers. Don’t assume they know what you’re good at. Don’t assume people know your ambitions. And never rely on someone else – not even your HR department – to take care of your career path. Self-promotion is not about boasting to feed a needy and insecure ego, it’s about owning your value, and taking full responsibility for managing your career, building your brand, and creating the opportunities that will enable you to add even more value.
9. Forge your own path. Don’t let others’ opinions matter more than your own.
Over the course of her career, Leslie Sarasin, CEO of the Food Marketing Institute,which represents about 1500 companies in 150 countries worldwide, has made numerous leaps of faith in herself, trusting her own instinct throughout her career. Leslie said:
“Sometimes you have to do what’s right for you, even if it’s not popular or offers no guarantee of success. There’s a fine line between stupidity and bravery, but there are times when you have to be willing to walk it if you want a rewarding career.”
At age 24 Leslie, resigned from her secure job in San Diego and moved across the country to pursue a job opportunity in Washington D.C. that held little security. Her father didn’t speak to her for months, but Leslie was determined she would never have to look back and wonder “What if?” The lesson is that when making career choices, don’t put what others’ think ahead of what youthink. Be open to their advice, but forge your own path.
10. Lift as you climb.
Female bosses can get a bad rap for being harder on the women who work for them than male managers are. While there are some women whose ambition overrides all else, the vast majority I have encountered are generous, encouraging and committed to helping other women succeed.
Whether you are a CEO or a clerical administrator, every day you have the opportunity to lift and support those around you – to show appreciation, make an introduction, share a resource, or to encourage others to see in themselves possibilities, potential and opportunities they might not see otherwise. And every time you do that, you demonstrate the very sort of leadership the world is so hungry to see. Compassionate leadership. Courageous leadership. Humane leadership. Leadership that is driven by serving a cause larger than oneself.
Owning your power and acting as the leader you aspire to become will open up new doors of opportunity in every arena of your life. More important still, it will inspire the next generation of women to dare more bravely, speak more boldly and own their ability to be a powerful catalyst for change.
The opportunity is calling. The challenge is compelling. Choosing to lead with courage will make all the difference.
Reference: Margie Warrell is the bestselling author of Stop Playing Safe (Wiley) and Find Your Courage (McGraw-Hill). An Australian-born mother of four and founder of Global Courage, a women’s leadership organization, Margie is passionate about supporting women globally to live and lead with greater courage.