In her book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, Melinda Gates includes some sobering statistics on gender inequality throughout the world. Here are just a few of them.
- 113 countries have no equal pay for equal work laws among men and women
- 104 countries do not allow women to hold certain jobs.
- 29 countries limit the hours that women can work
- 18 countries allow husbands to prevent their wives from working
- 17 countries limit women’s travel outside the home.
Many factors, including systemic structures and historical bias, have contributed to these gender imbalances for centuries. Yet, they persist. In 2019, women held only 29 percent of senior management roles. Although that is the highest number on record, it demonstrates that men still hold more than two-thirds of the world’s leadership positions.
As women, we must do more to support each other in taking on more leadership roles — in government, science, technology, the arts, or any other industry. We believe real change can start with adopting a positive mindset. Subconsciously or not, many women grew up believing that they don’t deserve to be in a position of power.
We may have been raised to think we lack the proper skills to be a leader. We’ve also been socialized to think that it is a bad thing for a woman to be ambitious, to want more out of life. This negative mindset blocks us from going after leadership roles, especially those positions in industries dominated by men, such as finance and tech jobs and even leadership roles within our own communities.
The first step to changing your mindset is to recognize how you may have been sabotaging your own success. Then, you must create a plan on how to become a leader in your industry. Here are the six steps to developing your personal leadership development plan.
1. Discover Your Why.
In his groundbreaking TED Talk in 2009, author and speaker Simon Sinek presented his ideas on “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” “There are leaders, and there are those who lead,” asserts Sinek. “Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us… We follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves.”
Why do you want to lead, and who do you want to lead? Answer these crucial questions before you begin this journey. Leaders come in different shapes and sizes. Finding your why and chasing it will make you a better leader.
2. Define What a Good Leader is for You.
Poet Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
What leaders do you admire and want to emulate? What qualities make them an exceptional leader? It could be their speaking skills or their management skills. Maybe you admire their honesty and ethical behavior. Make a list of these traits to help you define what strong leadership means to you.
3. Assess Yourself – Honestly.
Now that you know what kind of leader you want to be and the qualities of leadership you want to embrace, it’s time to take careful stock. What skills are your strong suit, and which ones do you need to develop?
Effective leaders know themselves – their strengths and their weaknesses. “Self-awareness is about developing your capacity to sense how you’re coming across, to have undistorted visibility into your own strengths and weaknesses, and to be able to gauge the emotions you’re personally experiencing,” says Harvard Business School Professor Joshua Margolis, who teaches on course in Leadership Principles. “If you’re going to mobilize others to get things done, you can’t let your own emotions get in the way.”
According to a study by Korn/Ferry International, self-aware leaders report that they have
- better relationships with colleagues
- an improved ability to identify and manage their emotions
- less stress
4. Master Your Leadership Skills.
Now that you know what leadership skills you need to hone, you can begin the hands-on work toward achieving your goal. For example, if you need to improve your public speaking or negotiating skills, you can take a professional course or join a support group for women like the Rise and Lead Women Forum.
The best leaders are lifelong learners, according to an article in The Harvard Business Review. “Leaders must get comfortable with living in a state of continually becoming, a perpetual beta mode,” write authors Kenneth Mikkelsen and Harold Jarche. “Leaders that stay on top of society’s changes do so by being receptive and able to learn. In a time where the half-life of any skill is about five years, leaders bear a responsibility to renew their perspective in order to secure the relevance of their organizations.”
5. Create a Timeline for Yourself.
As they say, a goal without a plan is just a dream. To make your leadership plan a reality, you need to set specific, achievable goals and a timeline for meeting them.
Many leaders use the SMART acronym (credited to Peter Drucker) to set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Setting a deadline – the “T” component of SMART goals helps you stay scheduled and to accomplish your goals more efficiently.
For example, if you want to be better at networking, you might set milestones for reading books and articles on the subject, take a networking seminar and then practice those skills at your company’s next trade event.
6. Keep an Eye Out for Leadership Opportunities.
Becoming a leader doesn’t just mean becoming the CEO or CFO of your company or even owning your own business. Be alert to opportunities in all areas of your life.
Perhaps you could begin by taking the lead in a small office project or a local school fundraising event. By participating in community and charitable organizations, you can practice your new skills while serving others at the same time.
“One of the most powerful ways for younger managers to understand and experience the type of leadership needed for the C-Suite is to do volunteer work early in their careers,” writes McGill University’s Karl Moore in his article for Forbes.com. “This is because the type of leadership at the top is akin to being a leader of volunteers, it is not about carrots and sticks but about persuasion and getting people to grasp and follow your vision.”
By following these six steps and supporting other women who follow them as well, we can take the steps to improve those discouraging statistics on gender inequality. The steps will help you prepare for exciting leadership responsibilities and give you the confidence to say “Yes’ when they come along.
What kind of leader are you ready to become?