I have had great bosses as leaders, as well as not-so-great bosses. The majority of my bosses and leaders have been men. Primarily because, for most of my life, I have worked in male dominated industries – ministry, food industry, manufacturing, energy, construction, aerospace, higher education and organizational development. As I reflect back, I am not sure if this was by choice or circumstance, but it did shape my early narratives of what makes up a good leader.
Early in my career, I naturally began to emulate the strong left brain behaviors I had learned from my male bosses in my own leadership. However, the feedback was not great. I was told that I needed to be more feminine, to respect my elders and not speak up so much. A lot of the leadership qualities my bosses had as men were not working as well for me.
My story is not unfamiliar to many women of my generation. At the time we were more the exception than the rule – women in the workforce. I was the first one in my family going back several generations that pursued higher education. I chose a career over marriage and motherhood. For me, it felt like I had to make a choice. There was no possibility of doing both.
Fast forward to today, I am surrounded by smart women of all generations. I see the exceptional leaders, both men and women, in my life as those who believed in me and empowered me to be more than I was. They challenged me to think outside the box, and to see life in all its shades of gray. I believe the greatest gift and legacy of my generation of women is to open our hearts and minds to the women of today and provide an authentic, abundant place for mutual learning. My young friends and colleagues teach me more about myself, my limiting thoughts, and are helping me to expand my narrative. They make me a better me! In the process I trust that I am making them a better them and in doing so creating a better workplace and world to live in.
What were the best characteristics of the bosses I had?
They were not afraid to admit when they were wrong and own their challenges, and were vulnerable and honest
I will never forget one of my bosses having a conversation with me about his own vulnerabilities and fears. It helped me understand him as a human and not a demi –god, the idealism of untested trust, moving to authentic human trust.
They had a pragmatic optimism – the ability to balance the facts with possibilities
I would sit in the office of one of my bosses and we would discuss the facts and possibilities together. She helped me understand the difference between just simply solving a problem and critically thinking through a decision.
They listened – asked questions, challenged, and pushed you to be more
This was an issue of articulation for me, I wanted to just have people get me, instead of learning to influence and create a case for a decision that is based on all the good stuff of thinking through, gathering information and laying it out in a logical and passionate proposal. Several of my bosses taught me, challenged me and in doing so create for me my future.
They freely shared praise and were thoughtful, intentional and specific when they complimented you
I came into a new job from a previous situation where I had taken a good whooping as a leader; I was feeling very insecure and shaky. This leader was magical at giving positive feedback. There was a voice mail she sent me on her way home from a client. In the voice mail she told me how much this client appreciated my work and how effective the training and communication style was on their employees. I saved the email for over a year and would play it every time I felt insecure.
What about you? What are some of the best characteristics of leaders you have had? Is there a female leader in your life that is a role model to you today? We would love to hear about it.