I once moderated a panel of influential women leaders at the Portland State University Center for Women’s Leadership, where we discussed networking best practices for the latest cohort of New Leadership Oregon.
It was a dynamic group of ladies and I was honored to participate. As I facilitated the discussion, I began to wonder what general advice would I have for all emerging female leaders?
Here are 10 traits that I think you need to consider in order to be a successful leader:
1. Practice resilience
Resilience is the quality that allows you to overcome stress and adversity and to come back strong (maybe even stronger than before).
Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make you resilient, such as a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. For more on developing resilience, read The Road to Resilience by the American Psychology Association.
2. Have humility
In Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, Jim Collins notes that all of the most successful companies he interviewed had what he calls a Level 5 Leader.
A Level 5 Leader “directs their ego away from themselves to the larger goal of leading their company to greatness. These leaders are a complex, paradoxical mix of intense professional will and extreme personal humility.”
As Bruna Martinuzzi notes on MindTools.com, “Something interesting happens, too, when we approach situations from a perspective of humility: it opens us up to possibilities, as we choose open-mindedness and curiosity over protecting our point of view.”
3. Play to your strengths (not your weaknesses)
Strengths Finder is my favorite self-assessment tool. I believe it is one of the wisest $16 you can spend for your job search, so take it today! You’ll get to know your five best strengths intimately—knowledge that will empower you in your career.
Focus on cultivating your strengths to build a solid career that is satisfying. If you’re happily working, then you’ll be a better, more inspiring leader to others.
4. Be of service to others
My boss, Mac Prichard, often says that, “we stand on the shoulders of others.” Take his advice and help people. Coach your employees, mentor others, and even help those above you, to stand out as a leader.
Volunteering your time, connecting others with ideas and resources, and participating in your community are great ways to demonstrate leadership.
Ekatarina Walter, author of Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg, admits that sometimes success is all in who you know. “It’s either because I asked someone for help or I had helped them somewhere along the line.”
5. Take risks
Last April, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman wrote an article in The Atlantic entitled, “The Confidence Gap.” You should read the full report, but the headline is this:
What holds women back is the lack of confidence to act and take risks. “To become more confident, women need to stop thinking so much and just act.”
Be a little risky, take a leap, give it a try, speak up, and be kind but convicted in your effort to take a seat at the table.
6. Find mentors
Every influential leader I know didn’t rise to the top without their mentors.
A mentor can be male or female, a boss or a colleague, a phone call once a month or a coffee every other week; either way find one or two (Heck! Build an army of mentors) to support you on your journey to the top.
A mentor can be of support through your job search, your career transition, your promotion, your new project, your personal issues, or just as a one off conversation for advice. Be grateful for their time and remember to help them where you can in return.
7. Don’t compare yourself to others
Brene Brown, a researcher in vulnerability and shame, says, “comparison kills creativity.”
I know it’s hard, but don’t compare yourself to others because it will stall your creative potential, your ability to be in the flow, and your capacity to hold a vision for others.
If you catch yourself in the act of comparison, try the exercise where you list all the things going well in your leadership role. Remind yourself of how far you’ve come to sustain you through the long road to the top.
8. Demonstrate strength with grace and kindness
“I’m not bossy, I just have executive leadership skills” is a popular quote from Cheryl Sandberg, author of the widely popular book, Lean In.
You don’t have to be bossy, rude, or condescending to demonstrate strength. In fact, the strongest leaders I know are inclusive, collaborative, kind, and thoughtful.
Communicate with mindfulness. Give credit to others. Be tough but fair. Have integrity. Listen with intent to understand. Be honest.
And remember, being a leader isn’t easy. Otherwise, everyone would do it!
9. Offer support not criticism
In my opinion, the greatest barrier to the success of emerging female leaders is competition, criticism, and negativity from other women!
Do your fellow females a favor and offer support, not criticism.
When you see another woman succeeding, cheer her on! She’s paving the way for you and future women to come, so offer her your hand, your applause, and your generosity.
10. Take care of yourself
This was a lesson that took me a long time to learn, and it means that you take breaks to exercise, spend time with family and friends, build community, and eat well in an effort to have a sustainably healthy lifestyle.
This world has a whole host of hard, complicated problems that need solutions. We all rise and fall together, and need more creative, solution-oriented, problem solvers—leaders who can hold a vision for others to follow.
Is this you? Step up and act today to become the kind of leader that makes a difference.