“A leader is best when people barely know they exist. When their work is done, their aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
That’s a quote by philosopher, Lao Tzu.
I’ve always liked the sentiment and the empowering pull behind that quote and as a leader in many avenues of public life, I have tried to live by it.
For me, leadership is showing by example. It is not about blowing your own trumpet. For example, every time a certain US President says how amazing he is, he is only demonstrating just how bad a leader he actually is.
Leadership is about empowering others to achieve and be successful. It is about the ability to actively listen, to understand and show empathy. It is about making people whose views you are listening to, feel worthy and valued.
Good leadership is about thinking decisions through and anticipating consequences. Never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself – be it defending or arguing for something or stacking chairs after a political meeting. That goes for values too. Never lose your integrity – through the journey towards your goals and beyond.
When we think about leadership, too often, we picture men and a particular set of traits. Whether those are good and positive leadership traits or not. Leadership is almost by default seen as something for men.
Author and anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.
Think of every progressive change there has been in the past decades in our society.
Votes for women. Minimum wage. Paid bank holidays. Sick leave. Maternity leave. Social security. The Welsh NHS. Free, universal education. Social housing. LGBT rights.
All of these were achieved by small groups of thoughtful citizens –women more often than not, working together to achieve real change.
Women are leaders but too often we lack the confidence to realise this.
Diplomat and activist, Eleanor Roosevelt said that “you must do the thing you think you cannot do”.
That resonates with me as a Welsh woman from a working class background.
We weren’t programmed for public speaking. We weren’t programmed to challenge the establishment or elite leaders on prime time television debates.
We’re always expected to be leaders in domestic and private spheres – to be the guardians of the household, to raise our children and do the housework. When we enter public life – be it standing for election, leading grassroots campaigns in our communities, applying for a job or promotion, or taking a senior role in committees or organisations, we are often criticised for “trying to have it all” and in extreme cases, harassed or bullied.
This is particularly true for women from working class backgrounds, women of colour, LGBT women or disabled women who face even more obstacles into public life.
It is not a level playing field by any measure.
Chwarae Teg reported in their landmark State of the Nation report that women are reporting high levels of sexual harassment in the workplace, are still more likely to be in low-pay occupations than men and that seven out of ten new mothers have had a negative or potentially discriminatory experience at work as a result of pregnancy or maternity.
It is a struggle. It is a struggle to be taken seriously and it is a struggle to hold your own. It often feels like the race is rigged and we must work twice as hard compared to our male counterparts.
Women continue to be underrepresented in decision-making in all walks of life, whether it’s our political institutions, our public bodies or in top roles in business: Of all local government councillors, only 28% women. Of council leaders, only 18% are women. Worse yet, of Chief Executives or equivalent of top hundred businesses in Wales a staggering 94% men and 6% women.
But we are leaders. Our voices matter. What we have to say matters.
The late and great Carrie Fisher said, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
Thinking about doing things like putting yourself up for a senior position on a committee, a leadership role in a job or for public office can be scary. But when you do them and you overcome your fear, you will feel yourself grow as a person. A lot.
If there are any of you women out there doubting your ability to speak out or lead – don’t. Think of the women who came before you. Think of the women who proved it is possible.
Know your subject and be confident in your abilities. Focus on solutions and what you can change. Don’t worry – it is a form of abuse and we spend so much time thinking about things we can’t influence. Set goals. Write them down. Decide what you want to achieve and outline a plan to achieve it. Make time for me time.
Do what makes you scared. It is absolutely the best way to grow.
Good and honest leadership is within us all.