If Only Women Knew They Were Natural-Born Leaders
Updated: May 21, 2020
As Originally Seen In Forbes
In 1976, mid-way through the era of second-wave feminism, when chauvinism was boorish but still rampant, my mother started working for the U.S. House Budget Committee in Washington, D.C. as a support staffer. After only three months, her male boss recognized her collaborative demeanor and hard work ethic and supported her promotion to office manager. She was shocked and a bit baffled by the news, “Me? I don’t have any management experience,” she said. Her boss replied, “You have four kids, don’t you?”
Her boss recognized that leadership on the home-front translated to the working world. Kudos to him for being ahead of his time. And kudos to my mother for managing a staff of 18 professional analysts and overseeing the entire budget control process for the U.S. House of Representatives for the next 20 years. Not bad for a girl born in poverty from the mountains of West Virginia.
Women are natural born leaders, and being mothers makes them even more so. Yet a 2017 study conducted by LeanIn.org and Mckinsey & Company states that women continue to be underrepresented at the leadership level. White women make up only 18% of the C-suite, and women of color make up only 3%. And both groups of women earn three times as many degrees as their male counterparts.
Studies published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that female leaders were rated by their reports, peers and managers as being just as if not even more effective than male leaders. But when males self-reported, they considered themselves to be better leaders than women.
Is leadership a state of mind? A belief system? Are more men in leadership positions simply because they perceive themselves to be better?
A key finding in the 2017 McKinsey report indicated that women are simply “less optimistic” that they can reach higher levels of leadership. Leadership Pioneer Peter Drucker said, “You cannot manage other people unless you manage yourself first.” And as Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter point out in their new book, The Mind of the Leader, that like Drucker, they believe leadership starts with yourself -- and more specifically in “your mind.”
More women — mothers, in particular — need to realize their worth and recognize in their own minds that they truly are natural leaders.
When women pause from their careers and opt to be stay-at-home-moms, their leadership prowess continues in the home and at our schools. They organize, prioritize and mobilize on a daily basis. At our schools, they rally to start committees, raise contributions, support local political events, organize book fairs, sell tickets for performances, communicate news and events with other parents and perform countless tasks of support and care for their brood. In other words, they coalesce and build alliances, take care of the money, organize events and sell stuff: all things CEOs do. Yet, I’ve never met a stay-at-home mom who ever considered herself to be performing “leadership” functions.
Throughout history, women have proven their leadership ability, it just hasn’t been acknowledged by society. In the 1820s, white women and free black women were at the forefront of the anti-slavery movement. These two oppressed groups of women, most of whom where mothers, banded together and brought needed attention to the ugliness of human bondage.
Kathryn Kish Sklar writes in her book, Women’s Rights Emerges within the Antislavery Movement 1830-1870, about black women and white women coming together and creating independent societies to address slavery. These women not only had compassion for each other, but they also possessed natural leadership ability. They mobilized their communities, raised money, formed committees and risked the shame of public humiliation and even physical harm by speaking out against injustice. Their bravery and natural leadership abilities were clear. They even put written frameworks of conduct in place to govern themselves within the societies. These ladies not only had a mission, they also knew how to run the ship themselves!
Pure and simple: These oppressed women were natural-born leaders, without any real schooling and certainly not a university MBA. These fearless women — many of whom experienced brutal conditions in which 25% of their beloved children died before the age of 5 — possessed seven talents that great leaders share:
1. Taking initiative
2. Driving results
3. Building relationships
5. Identifying and solving problems
6. Analyzing issues
7. Inspiring and motivating others
These are contemporary qualities of great leadership, and it seems many women do it naturally.
Remarkably, women joined together to try to lead each other from the binds of servitude and inferiority. And they are no different today. They have come together as a force for change, which the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements clearly demonstrate. But do they consider themselves leaders?
What if they believed in themselves? What if they could train their minds differently? What if they just declared, as the men did in the 47-year study, that they were simply “better?"
Jerry Levin, former Time Warner CEO, wrote in a TIME article that it’s time to replace all men in Congress and CEO positions with women. His reasoning? "Women are more likely to speak out for fairness, for values-based competence and, most of all, for individual and universal peace. Women are able to manage and foresee crucial events with compassion combined with steely resolve.”
I wonder, in 1976, if this was what my mother’s boss saw in her. "Compassion yet steely resolve" to get the job done. And my mother did so in a sea of men, bureaucracy and stale chauvinism. Did she believe in her mind that she was capable? Was it mindset that took my mother from mountains of West Virginia to the halls of Congress and 20 years of exemplary service? When asked, my mother says simply, “My boss believed in me, and my husband believed in me. That gave me confidence. And once I started the job, I found I could do it, and I was good at it.”