Women don’t “need to be fixed” to be great leaders

Contrary to popular belief, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to leadership in the workplace and beyond.

Glass ceilings, bamboo ceilings, gender-bias, boys’ clubs. These are just some barriers to female leadership that exist in Australian workplaces. You could say it’s almost like fitting a triangle into a circle.

But do women really need to mould themselves in a certain way to “fit in” to the c-suite or be taken seriously in the boardroom?

Finance expert and Wellbeing Leadership Coach Danielle Attorre says “leaders and leadership comes in all different shapes and sizes.”

Having worked across local and domestic cultural environments, she has made her mark across multinational corporations, small firms and as a leader within charity and community groups in her 15-year career as a CPA. She is also a lead parent with three young boys.

Within her research, Women in Leadership - The Wonders of Women in Leadership, Attorre spoke with leaders in senior to middle management from major organisations in the motor, banking, utilities, petrochemicals and accounting industries, to name a few. From a total number of 30 who participated, 85% were female and 15% male.

But Danielle didn’t look to focus on trying to break down barriers such a boys’ clubs in her study. Instead, she made her focus influential and positively impacting male leaders.

“I wanted to understand what makes these men different,” she says.

“So then I interviewed them and some of their direct reports.

“This provided a further layer of understanding and enabled me to identify the anatomy of an inspirational leader (male or female).” 

And the results? Some were reaffirming and others, confronting.

Unconscious bias, unsung heroes and perfectionists

Danielle says a confronting insight from the project was unconscious bias across gender and more broadly across many groups which shape the labels that we put on individuals.

Another unsettling realisation was the extent to which women undervalue their contribution in all areas of life.

“Time and time again... participants would say, ‘We have got to value ourselves, put our hand up, promote ourselves’...” she continues.

“It seemed like a no-brainer, however, it prompted me to question why we do not do so if it is so obvious.”

Danielle says another interesting theme that could explain this was perfectionism, which is actually not all perfect.

“It was clear that a perfectionist leader in the workplace can have a detrimental effect not only on their own health and well-being and own state-of-mind, but how it can also lead to burn-out for those that they lead,” she explains.

So what makes an effective leader?

Danielle says that while it is challenging to rank the key attributes of an effective leader in order of importance, one of the most recurrent themes in her research is a leader’s ability to bring their “whole selves to work”.

“Women do not need to be fixed in order to move forward and succeed,” she says.

“Women benefit from being able to connect with and access all that they have within them and use it effectively.

Yes, this may seem contrary to the way professionals are trained in the world of finance where the goal is to be productive, success is assessed on measurable units, and the focus is on output.

However, Danielle says being human as a leader and encouraging those we lead to be human, strengthens relationships, builds trust and loyalty, and creates an environment of psychological safety. In this environment, people are more likely to feel empowered to take risks, be innovative, admit mistakes and contribute above and beyond baseline expectations.

So what’s your plan to take the lead and make a difference?