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Lessons for women (and men) on leadership from the Bold Steps conference

When the Dalai Lama said, “The world will be saved by the western woman,” he was acknowledging the growing power western women have to influence global change. But Board Dynamics CEO Henri Eliot says changing the world doesn't require women to become more like men. Rather, it demands that women own and exercise what have long been regarded as their leadership liabilities – sensitivity, perceptiveness, connectedness and compassion – because those  feminine leadership attributes, when combined with the strengths of men, measurably improve the outcomes of the decisions being made.

I recently attended the Bold Steps Conference in Auckland where 800 women heard from professional directors  and CEO’s ranging from Rob Campbell to Her Excellency The Right Honourable Dame Patsy Reddy, Nick Grayston and Christopher Luxon.  We also heard from Jane Seymour and Dame Trelise Cooper both sharing inspiring stories on their successes and lessons learned.

The theme of the conference was: “lessons, thoughts and stories on what it takes to be a leader, how to hone your management skills, and in particular what allows women to break through the ranks”.

The Bold Steps conference was organised by the On Being Bold group, which is made up of Dame Therese Walsh, Dame Paula Rebstock, Joan Withers, Francis Valintine, Alison Gerry, Cathy Quinn, Jolie Hodson, Silvana Schenone and Royal Reed. 

Some the key lessons from the conference speakers are summarised below:

Act as the leader you aspire to be.

Great leaders don't lead because of the power they have been given, but because of how they've used the power that's always resided in them. Likewise, you don’t need a title to be a leader, and you don't need to wait for permission.  You just need the courage to take action  and the patience to wait for others to realize you’re a force to be reckoned with!

Don't go it alone. Get support! 

While it’s easy to be ‘too busy’ to take time to network and connect with other women, investing time in building relationships and creating a support network can prove invaluable, particularly when the going is tough and the best path forward is unclear.

Whether they are formal mentors or respected peers, these people can help you better navigate new and uncertain territory as you progress in your career, keep you focused on core priorities and give you that right word of encouragement when you need it most.

Speak courageously; your voice matters.

Being willing to speak up and lay your vulnerability on the line – to respectfully say what you think, ask for what you want, challenge the consensus or give critical feedback – not only earns you respect as a straight shooter, it wins trust and exponentially expands your ability to influence outcomes down the road.

Dare to fail, but never let your failures define you.

No one wants to fail, but too often we let our fear of being inadequate for the task keep us from pursuing the ambitions and dreams that would allow us to know how capable we truly are.  Never have any regrets.

Look for opportunities amidst adversity.

Take baby steps if you are thinking of starting a business.  If you want to achieve great things then you have to take great risks.  You also need the courage to be clear about your vision, even if others disagree at times. In the end, if you work hard enough and believe in what you are doing you can find opportunity irrespective of any barriers.

Advocate for yourself. Own your value.

It seems that women are often reticent at self-promotion, relying on their hard work to win them recognition and advance them forward. But working your tail off, collecting gold stars and waiting for opportunities to be laid at your feet is a recipe for stagnation, frustration and, eventually, resentment.  While humility is a virtue, when overdone, it can become a vice that can profoundly limit your opportunities to achieve the goals that inspire you.

In today's competitive workplace, you have to be willing to let the right people know who you are, what you’ve done and what you aspire to do in the future. People aren't mind readers. Don’t assume they know what you're good at. Don’t assume people know your ambitions. And never rely on someone else – not even your HR department – to take care of your career path.  I am certain that many of those in attendance will spend part of their summer thinking about their career strategies and possible changes in 2019.

  • Henri Eliot is founder and CEO of Board Dynamics, and attended as one of only 10 men at the Bold Steps Conference.

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