How does one become a confident and effective leader? It’s a vital question for women striving to fulfill their career potential and maximize their impact in the world. You could struggle along on your own trying to figure out the magic formula. Or you could ask others who have blazed the trail ahead.
The choice you make is in itself a sign of leadership potential, according to insights surfaced during Women for Nature’s “Leading with Confidence” webinar June 18, featuring guest panelists Meg Beckel, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature, and Julie Gelfand, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.
It was the first Community of Practice event for the Women for Nature mentorship program, in partnership with Pollinate Networks Inc., a way to share knowledge and go deeper on topics of interest to program participants.
Co-moderators Janet Bax, Women for Nature Co-chair and mentorships project leader, and Christy Pettit, CEO of Pollinate Networks, posed a number of questions to Beckel and Gelfand to yield the following advice for emerging women leaders:
The importance of being humble
“I would suggest that what got me here and keeps me here are some pretty basic characteristics that I developed very early on in my career,” Beckel shared. First among those is humility, something she learned the value of early on working alongside senior volunteer leaders at the National Ballet of Canada. “I needed to get comfortable admitting mistakes and admitting that I don’t always have the answer … it’s ok to admit that you don’t know what you’re doing and ask for help.”
Gelfand concurred that ‘be humble’ was at the top of her list as well. The ability to ask for what you need, whether it’s information or a donation, is essential. “You have to be comfortable with people saying ‘no’ to you, and that’s ok.” On the other hand, she pointed out, it’s also a leadership skill to be able to go ahead without asking and beg forgiveness afterwards.
Resilience carries the day
Both panelists agreed that resilience is another crucial leadership trait.
“Resilience is about being nimble and adaptable, and able to cope with expected and unexpected changes, while continuing to be focused on the end game.” – Meg Beckel
“Resilience is about being nimble and adaptable, and able to cope with expected and unexpected changes, while continuing to be focused on the end game,” Beckel said. It’s the ability to “figure things out, dust yourself off, regroup and do it with calm and poise … And I think it is something that you can learn, as long as you’re willing to learn.”
Self-care is essential for cultivating resilience, Gelfand added: “Make sure you take care of yourself as a leader … take your time off … and have other ways of dealing with the stress.
“Remember that the sun comes up tomorrow, so if the worst thing happens, tomorrow will be another day.”
Trust those around you
“My philosophy of leading is to absolutely trust the people who work for you or with you,” Gelfand said. “Get obstacles out of their way so they can do the best job possible… give them all the credit and take responsibility for mistakes.
“Absolutely trust the people who work for you or with you.” – Julie Gelfand
“The more you trust the people around you, the more you will find that people do so many incredible things. Trust them to do a great job and they’re going to surpass that expectation by miles.”
Taking that approach with your team fuels motivation, Bax agreed. “There is a lot about the external environment that can crush or lift you.”
Directly connected to trust is integrity. “People need to trust you as a leader, trust that you have a good vision for the organization, which is all about integrity … your people will be inspired and feel that they have lots of room to move the organization forward,” Beckel said.
Great leaders also bring a diversity of perspectives to their organizations.
Both Gelfand and Beckel stressed the importance of surrounding yourself with a diversity of viewpoints; leaders need to be well read and aware of what’s going on beyond their sector and business. Bring those other perspectives to your team and educate your organization.
And when the going gets tough…
- Get the support you need: find a coach or a thinking partner to talk things through.
- Network with other female leaders to brainstorm solutions to challenges.
- Make sure your relationships are strong; always put family first.
- Take care of yourself and take a break or time off when you need it.
- Recognize that everyone manages change differently. Help your organization through change it by continually communicating the reason for change and what the win is at the end of the day.
- Don’t get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issues around you – do what you can, influence others and let that be enough
The value of mentoring
“Mentoring is incredibly important for women leaders,” Pettit concluded following the session. “It’s incredibly hard to go it alone, especially when you need to ‘debias’ your own mind to eliminate incorrect or unhelpful preconceptions or stereotypes. Mentoring provides a community-based approach to talk to others – one on one or in groups – to learn from those who have travelled that path before you. For women in STEM and other sectors, it’s important to know that what you’re experiencing is normal, that others have had similar experiences, and there are ways to overcome challenges to reach your goals.”
The second Women for Nature Community of Practice Webinar – Networking for Success – takes place July 9.