By the time I reached my final year of high school at the age of 17, I had been dux of my year for the previous three years. I had represented the school in more than six sports. I was school vice-captain. I had won the Citizenship Prize, I was captain of the debate team, and I had appeared in almost every musical and theatre production for the previous four years.
When I had the opportunity to speak with the school career counsellor, as everyone did as they prepared to finish school and move on to the next stage of their life, the career counsellor reviewed my file, reviewed my reports, and in his infinite wisdom, suggested to me that I would make an excellent secretary until I got married.
In my infinite wisdom, I ignored him and went to study a Bachelor of Economics with majors in accounting and law. And as the saying goes, “The rest is history.”
Just imagine though, what I might have done with more leadership around me.
Leaders have the opportunity to make a real difference in everyday moments for the people around them. Moments like this one with my career counsellor. It is a leader’s role to help people identify their strengths and play to them, to realise their potential and opportunities, rather than to stifle them, limit them, place their own judgments on them.
Early in my career, my first female boss simply ignored me and focused on the men. My second female boss was not a fun experience. Rather than supporting me, rather than teaching me, rather than showing me what was possible, she perceived me as the competition. She did everything in her power to ensure that I did not pose any real threat to her. This meant that she was hypercritical, belittled me in front of others, was judgmental, and placed very firm boundaries around me, which I was not allowed to cross. She kept me in a box so I could not grow.
What value there was in this strategy for her, I really do not know.
Fortunately, my third female boss was an incredible role model and supporter.
A leader’s role is to help their people thrive, to support their growth, to advocate for them, to challenge them, to stretch them. Yes, to provide feedback, yet with the intention of creating opportunity and choice. To bring out their best.
Only this week, a female CEO colleague and friend, reflected to me that her big concern was that by the time her teenage daughters reach her age, nothing will have changed. That is a concern of mine too.
Next week, I will be speaking at a game changing International Women’s Day event, and I’m delighted to be doing so.
I believe it is important to not only have the conversations and raise the awareness about how we might create opportunities for all of our people to thrive, for all of our people to understand their strengths and how they can contribute rather than stifle them. We must also make bold decisions and take brave action to lead this change.
I have never been invited to speak at a Men In Leadership conference.
One of my measures for success will be when I am invited consistently to speak at a Leadership conference rather than to speak at a Women In Leadership conference.
Big leadership is about having big vision, making bold decisions, and taking brave action to create the future. The future I want is full of leaders. Not female leaders and male leaders. Only aspirational leaders.
It is time to create the future.
I’d love to know your thoughts.
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