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Women Leaders in the Age of Social Connection

This piece was written by Katia McClain, AIA, DBIA, LEED AP BD+C, Associate and Managing Director at LPA.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend's 13-year-old son had a homework assignment regarding women in leadership and equity for women. He asked me if I knew how many current world leaders, head of state of government are women. My answer was 20 and I was short by 9. As of January 2017, there are currently 29 female leaders in the world - the lowest number in several years. Included are women such as Queen Elizabeth, Angela Merkel, and Michelle Bachelet. Some have inherited the position, but most have fought hard for it. But while the imbalance in these figures continues to be a struggle, there are other ways women have taken hold of powerful leadership positions. 

We don't have to be "world leaders" to truly lead and affect our world. There are women that are not the head of any government, but in this age of social change, technology, and social media, they have great influence in our community. I think of women like Mother Teresa, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, and Malala Yousafzai, who, when they speak, with their callings and passions unique as a fingerprint, they inspire us all.

For me to respect and follow a great leader, I need to recognize and understand those leadership traits that make a great leader. Women, in particular, have off-the-chart instincts and emotional intelligence that empower them with a unique ability to lead in a different way than we've historically observed from men in leadership. The best women leaders I know are empathic and demonstrate an inclusive, team-building leadership style of decision-making. With global attitudes towards leadership shifting toward more collaborative and inclusive strategies, these traits are not only sought after, but necessary in order to make a difference in the world. Now is the perfect moment for women to embrace their collaborative nature and step up. Leadership is not about controlling. It is about inspiring. 

The women leaders I know are resilient because they have a circular vision and can see what is around the corner. But with that forethought comes cautionary insight. Paired with a perfectionist mindset, and we tend to avoid risks to a fault, needing to be absolutely positive of success before trying something new. Stop! This thinking holds us back from taking charge and it must change! Let’s strive for excellence, but not for perfection. True leaders carry an “I’ll show you” attitude when faced with adversity and have an insatiable desire to always do better, rarely satisfied with the status quo. Tory Burch once said, “If it doesn’t scare you, you are probably not dreaming big enough.” Dream big and take risks; don’t let others tell you what you can and can’t do. And remember that you aren't alone - embrace your support system through the challenges, and celebrate with them through the wins.

I have learned from women mentors that being genuine is of upmost importance. They know their strengths, limitations, fears, and emotions, and they don't mask them. This authenticity makes them connect with others at a deeper level, with their heart and their mind. It takes kick-ass women to encourage future kick-ass women, and these mentors have encouraged me to be myself, love myself, forgive myself, and accept who I am.

These undervalued traits make women different type of leaders; we understand survival and we are not afraid to fight for what we believe in. We reinvent ourselves every morning and live our lives in a constant entrepreneurial spirit. We value our families and are the glue that keep things together. In times of cultural transformation, it is our right-brain, feminine consciousness, our best guide. 

Embrace the shifting tides, embrace your unique strengths, and lead - the future depends on it.