Have you read ‘Lean In: women, work, and the will to lead’ by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook? It has stirred up some challenging responses from both men and women. One of my clients gave me a copy and reading it has inspired me to observe certain leadership behaviour patterns in others and in me.
This topic was the inspiration behind conversation at a recent lunch at my favourite coffee shop, Aubergine to which I had invited seven of my women friends. It is amazing what happens when you gather around a table eight intelligent, diverse women who don’t know each other, nor who have any agenda (either hidden or declared!). Thank you to Cheryne, Des, Hannah, May, Pam, Pranitha and Rosie for sharing their responses and for their quality input into our conversations.
First, I asked them to write their ‘gut’ response in defining or describing ‘success’. The answers were fascinating and included:
- Independence, guidance and the ability to make a difference in other’s lives; happiness at work and at home but continuously involved in the learning process.
- Happiness in the ‘in-between’ moments; loving the sound of the alarm in the mornings; striving for excellence; satisfaction with a job well done; making a difference; mentoring; confident in own abilities I matter: what I do matters.
- Balance implying appropriateness for individuals in time management, which will differ from person to person, under different conditions.
- Love what you do; see others growing through you and the ability to seeing and live the outcomes to your actions; and to be able to let go and let others go.
- Enjoy and find your passion.
- Learn from failure and be able to move on.
Characteristics of a successful woman
Next they were asked to list ten characteristics of a successful woman. I have divided their responses into four groups or domains:
- Honesty and integrity – ethics and values.
- High standards – aim at excellence.
- Kind, empathetic, loving.
- Positive attitudes - enjoy hard work – don’t see it as ‘work’.
- Sense of humour.
- Inner strength.
- Passion for ‘work’.
- Authenticity and not having to prove oneself by being a ‘superwoman’.
- Confident and prepared to take a chance.
- Flexible, adaptive.
- Have an opinion and be able to share and convince others.
- Develop and grow people to see the change and make them happy.
- Listening openly to others for interest – not just for networking.
- Learning always – from family, peers, workers and network.
- Stable, grounded and rock-like.
- Curiosity – ask questions – and then really listen to the answers.
- Open minded – and also know when to close it!
- Fit - physically and emotionally.
- Articulate for accurate communication.
- Have the ability to ‘go against the flow’.
- Emotionally intelligent.
- Tolerance but with clear boundaries.
- Non- discriminative – research and know before taking a decision.
- Quick to praise and do this publicly.
- Slow to criticise and do this privately.
- Community spirit.
- Determination in achieving goals.
- Attention to career development and success.
- Chosen balance between work and family.
- Faith in something more powerful than you.
- Balance – whatever that means to each individual.
- Ability to separate life roles.
As South African women, how can we ‘lean in’ more?
This was the third and final question.
We need to:
- Develop the competence to know what to do;
- Stop seeing each other as competition;
- Engage with women from all communities, particularly in business;
- Mentor, encourage, inspire and work with everyone;
- Support each other – males and females;
- Be sensitive to the process of withdrawing when necessary, and then returning if necessary;
- Share in forums and groups for quality conversations;
- Participate and not just observe;
- Lose the fear;
- Be aware – have a finger on the pulse of situations;
- Be postmodern – well-informed;
- Be in the present;
- Use the voice we have;
- Support and motivate.
This exercise is not intended as an academic survey but simply the spontaneous answers written individually by a group of eight diverse women; the exercise took less than ten minutes. Quality conversation and the sharing of ideas, the purpose of the meeting was achieved. A greater understanding of each other and of the way different people view the world was the outcome. Great insights were gained and the conversations continued naturally and informally after the event. This is a great way to build relationships and to network.
Two years ago, under similar circumstances, I asked a group of women to list the characteristics of a successful woman. Their answers are outlines in an article entitled, ‘Success is…’. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all show these characteristics and feel successful? Through Executive Coaching, whether you are a woman or a man, you can shift towards a better ‘way of being’. This will enhance all aspects of your life.
For more information on Executive Coaching, training in networking and communication skills or the other services offered by Brenda Eckstein International, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +27 82 4993311.