There have been many great women leaders throughout history; albeit some have not been recognized nor appreciated perhaps until now. I contemplate: Who do I admire as a leader and why? What can I learn from famous women in history?
There are rule breakers like Amelia Earhart defying the odds, taking risks, accepting consequences, and empowering women to defy gender stereotypes. “Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.”
There are tenacious pioneers like Rosa Parks, taking her rightful and proverbial seat, paving the way not just for racial freedom but also for equality despite repression. “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” “Each person must live their life as a model for others.”
There are brave young women like Malala Yousafzai, Anne Frank, and Greta Thunberg giving voice to social issues: education, authoritarianism, and sustainability, proving that each of us is never too demure to make a difference. “If people were silent, nothing would change.” (Malala Yousafzai)
There are the strong and persistent like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, accepting the challenge to live her reality while pursuing a lifelong quest to define and legislate gender justice. “I am a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.”
There are the unmuffled voices, like Maya Angelo and Sojourner Truth, resounding their horrific experiences through words, thoughts, and truths. Sojourner Truth’s speech “Ain’t I a Woman” pragmatically challenged the constraints she lived.
On your journey as a leader, use the lessons from the past to push you forward. If I can glean 5 pearls of wisdom from these great women in history, I offer the following:
Don’t be afraid to break the rules, that is where innovation and progress come from. Experiment and use your creativity. We need more leaders who are innovative and expect innovation. Don’t put your employees’ ideas in a “box”, make innovation and improvement a goal that is rewarded. The women I talk to want significant work that is rewarding and challenging. Consider that without curiosity we might not have WiFi (Hedy Lamarr, “The Mother of WiFi”).
Courage of Convictions
It is easy to back down, at least in the moment, and regret it later. Be confident and let that confidence come from knowledge and intuition. Take a stance on those issues you deem as important but back them up with the right facts as facts influence agreement. Be a role model for change. This is particularly important for those emerging women leaders who often lack the belief or confidence that they can perform the job. We all need someone who emulates courage like those before us.
Find Your Voice
We all have a different voice—some loud, some modest. The strength of the voice is in the sincerity of the message. The more honest and authentic our message is as a leader, the more we will be heard. The more we are heard, the more change we can enact. Speak up… the only risk is to be wrong and that is a risk worth taking.
Listen and Learn
Perhaps the holy grail of leadership abilities: listening is the most powerful skill you can develop and deploy. Listening achieves a few important results of communication: understanding, engagement, and progress. Listen to understand me and I feel valued, consider my input and perhaps we will both learn. Listening inspires trust. Leaders who are trusted inspire others to find their greatness.
Challenge the Status Quo
Change is an inevitable key to progress. We need to challenge our reality because there is no reason things should not be better or different. Today’s leaders are being challenged to contest the inequities that still permeate corporate culture. The change to the status quo is on-going and strong leaders must continue the pursuit. If you never read, “Ain’t’ I a Women”, please do. It is a lesson in just calling it like it is…so simple, so powerful.
As we celebrate women’s history month, remember the big and the small contributors to our legacy as women: our mothers, mentors, antagonists, and protagonists. We learn from everyone. As an organization, attention should be paid to the premise that women are integral to the workplace, and like the pioneers that paved the way for contemporary women in the workplace, they want to contribute meaningfully, lead with integrity, make a difference, and champion change. As we recognize women in history and currently making history, it is time to break the barriers and recognize good leaders, gender neutral!
“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” (Maya Angelou)
My “She-Roe” and What She Has Taught Me
An infant to a single mother and Irish immigrant, my grandmother was put in an orphanage as her mother worked as an indentured servant. Her birth certificate listed the father as illegitimate. Sometime during her childhood, she suffered horrendous burns that left her with disfiguring scars. At 16, she was forced into an arranged marriage and mothered two children…their father left. So as not to displace her children as her mother had done, she found a day boarding school and worked in a box factory to keep her children.
It was truly a sweat factory, and she could barely survive yet her courage, resilience, and maybe a bit of pride propelled her forward. She was one of the first working women to raise children on her own. The concept of work-life balance only to be discovered decades later.
Her story of struggle is long and harsh. Yet, she persisted and endured the challenges presented. She was brave. She worked in that box factory, educated her children, and eventually worked her way through nursing school. She wanted to help others in a meaningful way. She eventually retired from nursing after a few bouts with cancer and heart issues. She then worked in a senior center, caring for the elderly until the age of 83! She never complained.
Her seemingly cruel life did not hinder her from becoming a leader at work, in her community, and a formidable matriarch to an appreciative family. She taught me the value of courage and conviction and the power of loyalty, hard work, and success. She was a role model. When I am told, “You are just like your grandmother”, I am grateful.
She had courage, a voice, conviction, and challenged every status quo she could…she is my “she-roe”.
CEO and Owner