There is no doubt that early life experiences help shape who you are and who you become.
The same could be said for your leadership style.
However, as someone who believes in growth over fixed mindset, I don’t believe you have to let those things define the leader you aspire to be.
In many ways my early life influences have shaped me, my values, my passions, my impulsive/subconscious responses and biases. Some of these are the result of starting school not speaking a word of English and being one of a few foreigners in a suburban town. I lost my dad when I was young, and my brother to university. I attended an all-girls selective school and grew up with predominantly female influences and role models, including our first female Prime Minister.
These factors led me to have a skewed view on female opportunity and leadership style, as well as relying on women over men. It was much later in life (after I had children) that I realised we don’t have equal opportunities to men, leading like Thatcher isn’t the best approach, and I have unconscious biases towards women over men because of my upbringing.
For me, the best leaders continue to grow and evolve over time.
The more they get to know themselves, recognise their weaknesses and adapt to an ever-changing landscape and society, the better they become.
What I’ve learnt is to embrace a more feminine style of leadership – more empathy, more compassion and more humility – for the good of both me and my team. As a result, I’ve seen a more motivated and engaged team and greater business success. Leading in this way recognises that you don’t have to have all the answers all the time; that you’ll get things wrong and so will your team and that’s alright. As long as there’s the passion and commitment to do your best work and show up every day with the right attitude. The best results come from shared values and collaboration, and these only come from a shared vision and an open and embracing leadership style. Knowing when it’s necessary to take the lead, even when people don’t agree, and equally knowing when to listen and be led.
I’ve also learnt that we will only be equal to men if we all work together to make it happen and collectively recognise the barriers of inequality we face.
Many of these barriers start at home, as highlighted by the pandemic. With women still taking on more domestic duties, despite having careers or external responsibilities that match their partners, this is a major barrier to progress. It’s no different in my case but I’m learning to relinquish the need to control this area and demand more support from my partner and family; to learn to put in place boundaries and not try to do it all at the expense of my own mental health and well-being.
Where we have influence as leaders, it’s our responsibility to encourage and put in place a more flexible way of working within our organisations and teams. This way, until the domestic imbalance is more widely addressed, we can create a working environment for women that enables them to thrive and progress, despite their other commitments. It also demonstrates trust and belief in your teams that is repaid through greater commitment.
I’ve also learned to identify my own unconscious biases towards women over men. This is something I’m very aware of now when hiring or judging my male colleagues.
Having a greater understanding and consciousness of these tendencies is vital in ensuring you’re making objective and fair judgements and decisions that will lead to a more balanced and diverse team.
The power and influence of unique life experiences can become your secret weapon in the workplace.
I’ve learnt to embrace the best of those and work on the worst of them, so they become strengths not weaknesses. This can only be achieved through greater levels of self-awareness, dedication to improvement, and knowing when to just cut yourself some slack.
But, from personal experience, it’s been necessary for me to get closer to being the leader I aspire to and seek to become.