Celebrating the Feminization of Leadership
By Mandie van der Meer-Danielski
“Don’t try this alone,” encouraged Manuela Damant, Johanna Nesbitt and Sarah Brown, the professionals at Open the Door Leadership.
They started off the workshops at the WBII’s 10th anniversary day with this message, and it resonated all that afternoon and into the night. Surely it echoes even now.
What these three inspired women asked of us makes so much sense, we have to wonder what keeps us from practicing their advice on a daily basis. “Harness the power of teams,” they told us. “Develop ‘power partnerships’,” their term for working side-by-side with other women to help each other solve problems, meet deadlines, inspire action, fulfill dreams.
And do that, they urged, unashamedly, “Like a woman!” They revealed that how we have traditionally defined leadership – one commanding boss (usually male) standing at the head of the table – is not true for the female 50% of today’s workforce. That model does not reflect how women work. Women are driven by community, by discussion, and flexibility over authority. So by engaging dialogue, harnessing teams and embracing the “feminization of leadership”, we make effective leaders.
To personally and more deeply emphasize the lessons from Open the Door, Madi Sharma, Entrepreneur and Member of the European Economic and Social Committee, reminded us ladies that “the 21st century is the era of ‘co’”. Cooperation. Collaboration. Coordination. Community. “You’ve got each other,” she said.
Ms. Sharma’s talk was moving – she herself choked up thinking about her former desperate days when she had to literally pick herself up from the floor. Ms. Sharma’s is more than a ‘rags to riches’ entrepreneur story. Her story is about the value of ideas. She began, “If I give you one euro and you give me one euro, then we each have one euro. If I give you one idea and you give me one idea, then we both have two ideas.”
And when Madi talks about ideas, she’s talking about each person’s idea for herself or himself – all 7 billion of us on this planet. That’s why she’s begun MADI Group, which stands for Make A Difference Ideas, a collective of international enterprises, not-for-profits and NGOs. Ms. Sharma has recognized, she says, that while her objective is “to turn 7 billion Ideas into Action”, she cannot do it alone.
Finally, Ms. Sharma wants every female entrepreneur, of WBII and beyond, to know: “Profit is not a dirty word.” Profit is not something to be ashamed of. Profit is not something to apologize for. Profit means you’re doing something right, and Ms. Sharma’s got many examples of female business leaders around Europe with higher returns on investment than their male counterparts. Women can and do make profit, and ain’t that grand?
The visual story (or “visual minutes”) of the day, creatively and exhaustively represented by artists Vanessa Smith and Gemma Gahan of Crafting Connection, entwined the messages, ideas and confessions from the speakers, attendees and volunteers together. It’s colorful, it’s fun, it’s memorable (Julie Kennedy’s plaid skirt is now etched in history!). It’s informative, it’s raw, it’s beautiful.
I’m proud to have ‘made’ the minutes board too, for when Ms. Smith asked me what it was that gave me the confidence to return to this WBII event after several years, asked me what it was that encouraged me to introduce myself to other professional and well-established women, asked me what it was that helped me overcome the ever-defeating ‘imposter syndrome’ ― my answer was and is, “It’s the team I work with. I am not alone.”
To the women of WBII, let me repeat the mantra of this year’s International Women’s Day: You are not alone. You cannot do it alone. And you don’t have to try to do it alone. May we all continue to develop our power partnerships, engage in meaningful dialogue to help each other solve the questions big or small, and may we all make a profit!
Oh, and when in doubt, wear the fedora.
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