Traits of Top Female Leaders: Speaking Up, Having Confidence, and Not Being Afraid of Getting Fired

December 4th, 2009 by lewis

Canada’s daily newspaper, The Globe and Mail, has an interview with Joanna Barsh, the author of How Remarkable Women Lead.
The article is full of insights for both women and men who aspire to be better leaders. My top takeaway from the article is the passage below, where Barsh talks about the most common obstacle top women had to overcome in their career.
What was the most common obstacle they had to overcome?
More than 60 per cent of the women said they didn’t naturally have the confidence to speak up for themselves early in their career, and they had to gain that confidence to succeed. Recurring themes were that, starting out, they held back because they didn’t feel they had anything important to say, or they believed that, since they were in a junior position, it was not their place to insist that their viewpoint be heard.
But most told of a breakthrough moment in which either something they should have said but didn’t led to a failure, or they were given the floor by a senior person and made a contribution that led to a success. From then on, they made a conscious decision to make their voice heard – and to insist that others they lead speak up as well.
For example, Shelly Lazarus [former chief executive officer of ad firm Ogilvy & Mather and now chairwoman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide], said she had that insight early in her career. Another woman she worked with asked her to cover for her while she snuck out of the office to see her child’s school play. She told the woman to come right out and tell her manager she was taking off. At that point, she realized that, “if you have to be afraid for who you are, you will be afraid all your life.”
From then on, she said, her motto has been: “Just stand up, do what you need to do and smile about it. Look them in the eye and say, “If you don’t like it, fire me, and I’ll find another job, because I’m talented enough and I’m committed enough.’ ”

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