If you’ve been paying any attention lately, you know that women’s leadership is a hot topic right now. It’s about time! I’m especially inspired by Arianna’s work with The Third Metric, which is adding a valuable perspective to this important conversation. As a woman’s leadership expert and coach, I’m passionate about helping women more fully embrace their natural strengths, namely their feminine capacity, as a key to success in business and in life. Compassion, Empathy, Collaboration, Connection, Candor – these are examples of feminine traits that are preferred when it comes to success and leadership, according to a recent global survey. What would be possible if we based our definition of success and power on these values? And more specifically, what if women embodied these traits more fully?
My own experience working inside a Silicon Valley tech company taught me that contrary to popular belief, women were NOT exhibiting the character traits so commonly referred to as ‘feminine.’ To my shock and horror, most women were hiding their emotions, their passion, and compromising their ability to be collaborative and build consensus by showing up more like men. What I began to realize was that in order to stay competitive and be taken seriously in a business setting, women had been hiding their natural feminine gifts and abilities and adapting to a more male-centric model and approach.
This presented a big problem for me when I was given the opportunity to step into a leadership position at the ripe old age of 25. When I took a look around for a female role model I could look up to, all I saw were women acting like men, including our then CEO, Meg Whitman. As an up and coming manager, I had to decide – was I going to lead like a man, or was I going to try something different? Being the rebel that I am, I opted for going against the norm and decided I was going to stay true to myself. So on the first day of my task force meeting with a group of executives, I walked in and declared “I have NO idea what I’m doing and I really need your help!” I was half expecting that statement to undermine my credibility and authority, but to my surprise, it had the reverse effect.
What transpired over the following year was nothing short of miraculous. Instead of controlling all the details of the project, I built trust with my team by asking for their help and empowered them to participate fully in taking ownership of their tasks. Instead of bottle-necking the decision making process, I empowered people to make decisions and got out of the way. I inspired my team with a strong vision and built relationships with the main players, so if I ever had a problem, I knew who I could go to for a quick solution. Through the courageous act of being vulnerable, I was able to successfully pull off one of the biggest challenges of my life: producing a 10,000 user- conference for eBay.
The icing on the cake for me was the end result. We had one of the highest attended conferences of all time, and my team came up to me afterwards and said how much they enjoyed working with me. Attendees at the conference said they felt cared for and how well organized the conference was. To me, this was validation that my experiment had not only worked, but it rocked! And that’s when it hit me. Instead of using a command control and authoritarian leadership style (more traditional, male-centric), my experiment to lean into my natural strengths as a woman are what led me to the biggest success I had experienced to date.
That’s when I came to the conclusion that the biggest obstacle to women’s advancement in business was the fact that we were trying to conform and adapt to an outdated model not very suited for the 21st century. I began to think what else might be possible if women stepped more fully into their authentic, feminine leadership. And I began to get excited about the possibilities and impact that could have on business and in the world.
That experience is what led me to transition into a career that would allow me to help women realize this for themselves, without the pitfalls and risk-taking I had to endure. And it’s what has led me to co-host the upcoming Women & Power Leadership Forum on June 7th in Silicon Valley - a first time conference I’ve been spearheading along with an incredible hosting team including Kathy Jourdain, Linda Guzzi, Regina Getz-Kikuchi and Suzanne Thompson. This forum will be geared towards bringing together top women leaders in Silicon Valley from different generations (C-Suite to Millennials) to engage in a day of deep dialogue about how we can redefine success and power so that it’s more sustainable for ourselves and for the planet. Our vision and hope is that by closing the generational gap and building a community of women who truly support one another and embrace their feminine strengths, we’ll be able to bring back the balance this world so desperately needs.
Please leave your comments and thoughts as we’d like to engage you in this conversation as well. What is your definition of success and power in the 21st century? What traits can women (and men) embrace to truly thrive? What are actions you can take to create this shift in yourself? What type of community or network would best engage and support you in creating this shift?