When it comes to leadership and empowerment, some names spring to mind more readily than others. And you might be surprised when you realise that it’s often a female leader that you think of. From Elizabeth the First to Indira Gandhi, Joan of Arc to Catherine the Great, throughout history women have been remembered as exceptional leaders.
Today, great female leaders continue the trend across politics, large corporations, life coaching and dedicated activism.
From business icons such as General Motors CEO Mary Barra to political figures such as Angela Merkel, the great women leaders of our time (and in the past) all share the same traits that have contributed to their success.
But with a meagre 2.4% of women in CEO positions within the Fortune 500, there’s a long way to go to close the gender gap. Being a great leader is not an easy task, and for women, there are extra hurdles to jump to get in the top seat.
When I was preparing this article, I read a piece on leadership that stated that success is an iceberg. In other words, when we read about successful leaders, we only see the tip of the iceberg and not the enormous amount of hard work and determination that lies behind their success.
From Oprah Winfrey’s childhood to Malala Yousazai’s experience at the hands of the Taliban, each one of our great female leaders has their own backstory.
Although their stories may be different, and their experiences vastly diverse, they all have the same traits that have enabled them to achieve success. And so, in this article, I will seek to address the eight most common characteristics that these outstanding female leaders possess.
If you’re a finance professional – male or female – looking to boost your career prospects, this article will give you insight into what it takes to be a successful leader.
1. Be Authentic
First of all, remember that those female leaders who achieve success are the ones who are true to themselves.
So, don’t hide your character under a veneer of who you think other people believe you to be (or want you to be). Trying to act a part is exhausting and comes across as inauthentic. And inauthenticity means that others are going to start doubting that what you say is true.
To be a great finance leader, you need to stop fighting against yourself. Using the attributes you possess to propel you forward and help you discover new strengths.
Authenticity brings about trust – and with the trust of others, you can build great relationships.
2. Be Resilient
“You either get bitter, or you get better.”
Everybody fails sometimes. It’s the nature of business – and life. Whether you get fired, lose a contract or just come up against opposition that sees your idea lose momentum, it’s going to happen at some point. And it’s not about what happens so much as how you deal with it.
To be a successful finance leader, you need to get up after a fall.
In other words, having the resilience to get ‘back on the horse’, means that you learn to deal with failure, comments, insults or whatever else is thrown at you with the confidence to fight for what you believe in.
J K Rowling (one of the great female inspirations of our time) summed it up perfectly when she commented that, when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters; one represents danger and the other represents an opportunity.
It’s all down to your perspective!
3. Be Mutually Supportive
“Be the change you seek.”
Women have a nurturing spirit which helps set the scene for them to create women-empowered workplaces. Although some would condemn this as a flaw or see it as ‘soft’, having a nurturing outlook with a sense of fair play is one of women’s greatest intuitive traits and strengths.
Exercising your support of others will help you play a pivotal role in redefining the future of the financial workplace. Exceptional leaders aspire to build a culture that embraces their female employees and encourages, promotes and trains them to become the next leaders.
4. Be Emotionally Intelligent
Great female leaders are good at finding the middle ground in working with others. Being able to connect emotionally with other people, or ‘put yourself in their shoes’ is an effective way to achieve progress and instil ownership in those around you.
Empathy enables you to see things from others’ perspective as well as helping you formulate your responses or counter proposals to appeal to the other party.
By connecting and working collaboratively with others, successful leaders help to create a positive and productive workplace where inclusion is paramount.
To achieve this level of success as a finance leader, it’s critical that you focus your understanding of different personality traits, when to employ them and how to keep developing them throughout your career to enable you to get the best out your finance team.
5. Be Tenacious
Female leaders face additional pressures that their male counterparts do not. Family concerns, maternity leave and child–rearing, are often seen as barriers to success for women in the world of business.
As a result, women have in the past been pressured into choosing a career or family; giving up the idea of ‘having it all’. But with the advent of a more tolerant society and a better workplace culture that allows for work-life balance, it’s getting easier for women to balance both home and work life and climb up the career ladder.
That’s not to say this is without its difficulties still, of course. The most successful individuals are those who exhibit confidence and determination to achieve.
Tenacity means not accepting it can’t be done but having the strength of purpose and persistence to get to the top.
6. Be Confident
Assertiveness, or confidence, is often quoted as the number one essential characteristic of effective leadership.
Confidence isn’t about acquiring bragging rights. It‘s more about valuing your own abilities and creating a culture around you that appreciates and values your contribution.
Successful female leaders acknowledge their success – do you ever find yourself saying ‘we’ when you mean ‘I’?
So, if someone congratulates you on the individual work you did to improve process development for budgetary controls, don’t respond with “well, we did X, Y and Z”. Accept the praise and thank them, explaining what you did to achieve it. Accept your win.
Having the confidence to accept praise and reward for something you have achieved yourself is a skill, but when you do achieve it, you can quite rightly blow your own trumpet!
7. Don’t Overthink
Not taking yourself too seriously is an admirable trait exhibited by many successful women.
For example, Sara Blakely – the billionaire owner of Spanx – started out as a door to door fax machine saleswoman. Her worldwide best-selling underwear got its name when she realised how much it made her laugh.
So, don’t overthink things. Allow yourself the luxury of sometimes taking life less seriously.
8. Show Pure Grit!
Finally, all successful female leaders have the passion and sheer determination to push through to achieve their goals.
The world of business is filled with uncertainty, distractions and obstacles. Those who make the grade know that to succeed, you need the inner strength to keep going.
Women executives are equally qualified to lead organisations in top executive roles, Korn Ferry research has found. Additionally, they rate higher than their male counterparts in 17 out of 21 critical leadership skills, including operating and interpersonal ones, courage and drive.
So, what does this all mean for you, as a finance professional wishing to gain great leadership qualities?
Well, if you are looking to take inspiration from successful women leaders to develop your own career, remember it is these competencies that will enable you to connect, engage and succeed. The traits in this article are crucial for anyone who looks to become a successful leader – be they male or female. And following them, building on and embracing your attributes, will see you achieve your career ambitions.
For further help and advice on taking steps to achieve your career goals, contact Rebus Financial Recruitment or call us on 01282 930930 and let’s have a conversation to explore your options.
About Rebus Financial Recruitment
Rebus Financial Recruitment provides a specialist and focused recruitment service to its customers, which historically range from a wide variety of organisations including SME’s to large PLCs.
We strive to offer both the client and candidate a seamless recruitment experience. Using our expertise, we get to the heart of employer and employee needs; and, in doing so, we match the two perfectly. To find out more, get in contact with one of our team today, or you can call us on 01282 930930.