By Christina Youell
To inspire others to be and deliver more than they thought was possible, is my definition of leadership. It really is all about the relationship between the leader and the team and fundamental to this is whether the leader trusts their team and believes in people’s potential. The leader is responsible for providing a clear sense of direction for the team; a clear outcome and then influencing and guiding people in the team to achieve that outcome. I believe it is the leader’s job to create a culture of experimenting, reflecting, learning, and improving. To trust people to deliver and then get out of their way.
In my experience, valued leadership characteristics include being collaborative, relational, inclusive, outcome, systemic and sustainability focused, with oodles of curiosity, and good listening and coaching skills. At the risk of generalising and being stereotypical, these are characteristics that women often excel at. They are genuinely interested in other people’s ideas and suggestions and can acknowledge their own knowledge and experience gaps.
Most people have to work to develop these characteristics. I believe that leadership is a process of self-discovery. Start with who you are and your relationship with yourself. What’s important to you? What has shaped you. What are your patterns of behaving, thinking, and feeling? How well do you know yourself? Do you like yourself? Do you trust yourself? What are you like at your best and worst? What are your blind spots and your brilliance? How might you sabotage yourself? How well do you lead yourself? Being able to answer these questions is leadership 101 in my book.
The next step is thinking about how you relate to others. How do your values show up in the way that you think, feel and behave? How do you influence people? How adaptable are you to the needs and expectations of the different people in your team? How do other’s experience your leadership? What it is like to be led by you? These are the sort of questions that are explored on my Women’s Leadership Programme. Most delegates join the programme wanting to feel more confident and a number have vicious internal critics actively undermining their confidence. The programme explores the questions above plus power dynamics, privilege, politics as well as strategic thinking and behaving. Women often report that in meetings with men they are talked-over or their contributions are ignored. The programme supports women to have their ideas acknowledged and engaged with, offering tips and approaches to ensure they are heard when they contribute to discussions in meetings. There is some great research on this topic can be found here.
In its simplest form, effective leadership is an on-going dialogue, the most basic of relational processes between the leader and the team/team members. One of the most under-rated abilities of a leader is the ability to genuinely listen to understand, rather than just listening to reply. My top tips to be a successful (female) leader is to get to know and believe in yourself. Find a mentor who is invested in your success. Invest in your own development such as attending a women’s leadership programme and build a support network. Stay open and curious and most of all listen to understand!
Christina runs People & Performance, a people development consultancy based in Cambridge UK. She is an executive coach, Senior Practitioner member of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council and a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development. She has a 30- year career and has held a number of board level HR Director positions.
Christina is a passionate about helping individuals, teams and organisations achieve their potential. She works with executives, their teams and boards to improve their outcomes by focusing how they are together – their patterns of relating and whether that gets the best from the team.
She has an MSc in Executive Coaching from Ashridge and is a systemic team coach and a Law Society recognised mediator. She is a diversity and inclusion champion, running a women’s leadership programme to support women in achieving leadership positions as well as reciprocal EDI mentoring schemes in national organisations. She lives in Cambridge, UK with her husband and 8 year old Weimaraner.
Get in touch here: Christina@peopleandperformance.co.uk