When you hear the word “Leadership”, what comes to mind? Someone who is strong and can take command? Someone who can control people? What kind of person do you think of when you hear the word “Leader”? Is it man in a suit and tie? A military commander? A famous politician or activist? What about you? Where do you see yourself in all of this?
As girls and women, we are fed messages throughout our lives about what we should be: cooperative, loyal, modest, caring, and selfless. These are all great qualities. The issue though, is that qualities that are associated with traditional ideas of leadership are not seen as female traits; Assertive, ambitious, bold, firm, and decisive – these are all “masculine” qualities.
To clarify, there is nothing wrong with being feminine and there is nothing “weak” about it. In order to challenge this common belief about femininity, we need to mix traditional leadership traits with a woman’s touch. If girls want to lead, then a balance should be made between the two, creating a feminine flavor of leadership. Girls should (and can) be cooperative AND assertive, loyal AND ambitious, modest AND bold, caring AND firm, selfless AND decisive.
It is not impossible to foster the above listed qualities. When young girls are asked what they think leadership is, they say things like “brings people together and get things done” or “one who stands up for her beliefs and tries to be the best at something”. What does that tell us? You can’t bring people together, get things done, stand up for your beliefs, and also be the best at something unless you are cooperative, assertive, caring, ambitious, selfless, and ambitious, right?
What can you do today to begin balancing all of these qualities?
- Find a woman leader you admire and watch what she does. How does she interact with others? How does she hold herself? Do you see her balancing feminine and masculine qualities together? What can you do in your own little way to start channeling her? Having a role model to look up to is a great way to coach yourself into becoming the woman you want to become.
- Learn to say “no”. What? Say no? What does that have to do with anything? We are taught to be cooperative and caring, so sometimes we feel that we need to do things for everybody. We want to make other people happy. If something does not bring value or spiritual joy to your life, say no. This isn’t saying “no” to homework, chores, or other important responsibilities. This is saying no to all the extra stuff.
- Don’t sit in the back of the class and speak up! According to Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), where you sit is very important. It sends a message about how you see yourself and your role in your environment. Even if you hate to speak up in class, force yourself to do it every once in a while (but respectfully!!!). Maybe once a month or week to start. Finding your voice and having confidence in your voice will help you eventually lead others.
What do you think? What are other things you can do to cultivate leadership qualities in yourself?
Girl Scout Research Institute (2008). Change it up! What Girls Say About Redefining Leadership. Retrieved from: https://www.girlscouts.org/content/dam/girlscouts-gsusa/forms-and-documents/about-girl-scouts/research/change_it_up_executive_summary_english.pdf
Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.