International Women’s Day – The Definition of a Woman Leader (it’s not what you think)

Today is International Women’s Day. This is a leadership blog, so today’s blog should be about women in leadership, right?

But this got me thinking.

I used to think that the definition of a woman leader was some feisty, go gettem’ power suited senior executive. She had to be someone who had done something ‘noteworthy’. Like Sheryl Sandberg or Jacinda Ardern – or Serena Williams in sports for instance. At the very least, she needed to have ‘manager’ somewhere in her resume. Heaven forbid we consider a woman ‘a leader’ if she wasn’t in the workforce.

But I’m completely rethinking my understanding of the term ‘woman leader’. I’m learning that a woman doesn’t need to have a fancy title, or be at the head of some conglomerate to earn that badge. She doesn’t even have to fit society’s view of success.

That woman can be your sister, your neighbour, your friend, your mother.

Who fits my definition of a woman leader?

She is someone who embodies compassion and selflessness, especially when times are tough. Like my friend Amy, who despite having kids’ triathlons, a full time job and her washing that was piling up, cooked two meals and dropped them on my doorstep when my whanau were having a tough time.

Who is your Amy?

She was my child’s teacher Nicola, who believed in my kid’s potential, even when he wasn’t showing many (visible) signs of it. She was the one who saw his unique gifts – the ones I thought only his Dad and I saw. She didn’t give up on him.

Who is your Nicola?

My definition of a woman leader is someone who is a champion of another woman. Like my boss Carol, who, all those years ago, gave me a gentle nudge to put my hand up for that promotion, just when my self-doubt was whispering to me to “let it go, you’re not ready”.

Who is your Carol?

She’s the woman who stands up for another woman, even when this might make her unpopular, or worse, put her in danger’s way herself. Like a brave and loving woman I know, who gave her friend a sofa to sleep on, a cup of tea and a shoulder to cry on when her friend’s man kicked her out.

My definition of a Woman Leader is all of these women. And I’m privileged to know all of them. They may not have a fancy title, or have accomplished anything that gets them on the front page of The New Zealand Herald. They are most definitely flawed like the rest of us. And they are undoubtedly fighting their own daily battles that go along with being human.

But they’re Women Leaders nevertheless. And it is they who I salute today on International Women’s Day.

If you too, are privileged to know a woman leader like I’ve described in The Leader’s Digest today, acknowledge them. Reach out to them and thank them. And start to change your own definition of what it means to be a woman leader. You might even find that you fit the bill. And that is most definitely, a good thing.

1 Comment

  1. Howard on March 8, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    Nice article Suzi, a great reminder of how we all can contribute to leadership. Thank you.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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