How to Develop Women As Leaders

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the Vital Voices Global Partnership 2013 Global Leadership Awards
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the Vital Voices Global Partnership 2013 Global Leadership Awards gala at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, Tuesday, April 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The world is changing at an alarming pace thanks to new technology, deregulated global markets, the increasingly social nature of interactions and the shifting demographics of many high-powered industries. Businesses, families and society in general need leaders to help navigate the shifting and complex landscape of the new world. And although women have often floundered as leaders in the past, their unique talents and perspectives make them ideally suited as leaders of the future.

But the making of women leaders is a collaborative process, where future leaders need to embrace the lessons learned by those who forged a path before them. It used to be that women leaders needed to be cutthroat, adopting the tactics and attitudes of their male contemporaries in order to get ahead. But what of the modern women leader? How does she prepare and develop her career -- and herself -- for the big time?

Dawniel Winningham is a best-selling author, speaker and master coach working with women in high-powered roles in Fortune 100 companies. She's the founder of the National Day of Sisterhood and knows a thing or two about developing women as leaders. "In the past, women have been led to believe their success lies in emulating the trait of men in leadership," says Winningham. "I have watched the evolution of women who in the past led by being tough as nails and with no-nonsense attitudes; quite different from the women leaders who are blossoming now who lead with their heart, have a heart for what is fair and just and believe in work life balance; Working hard but still balancing the home life."

Tama Kieves left her corporate law practice to help motivate others to discover their dream careers. She's now a best-selling author, successful speaker and success coach. Like Winningham, Kieves is a huge advocate for balance in the lives of women leaders, and believes that in today's world, this balance often comes from outside the traditional sphere of family. "Faith, meditation, exercise, etc. -- anything that helps them come with their hearts more than their heads, their wisdom more than their brains."

Kieves says that leadership is the willingness to stand for a possibility, to listen to your own intuition and inspiration, and to be courageous. "In today's world, only authenticity has power. Women doubt and question themselves so much, and weaken their leadership by not trusting their own instincts."

Erica Ives believes that women leaders also need purpose and a dedication to improving the lives of others, and she should know. Ives is a licensed marriage and family therapist who has dedicated her life to helping families and teens overcome issues such as trauma, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm and eating disorders. She says to be a female leader "takes a great deal of confidence and resilience. A female leader is strongly committed to her ideas and she stands firm to her position, yet still open to constructive criticism. She leads by walking through any previous stereotypes to clear a path for those who follow behind. A female leader needs to be able to get herself back up when she falls, (not if she falls but when she falls,) and use that as an opportunity to grow and learn. A female leader leads from a place of rational thinking and reasonable emotions and understands the importance of balance."

Ives explains that finding a mentor or coach is vital to the shaping of a women leader. She agrees that mentoring others is a responsibility of leadership. "Women in leadership roles of all capacities have a responsibility to the generations that follow to find or create forums to share, teach, speak and to be heard. My mentor was a successful therapist, a college professor, a mother, a wife, a businesswoman and was a magical inspiration. She created a space where she taught, I listened and I taught and she listened, and a beautiful inspirational relationship was formed. I now talk to young women about leadership, I now teach and supervise those next leaders, and I am now a female leader who learned from other exceptional leaders."

Winningham agrees that finding mentors is essential to the success of female leaders. "New women leaders MUST seek coaches and mentors in order to push ahead, learn what works quickly, and avoid the mistakes of the past. More importantly, coaches and mentors help women forge through and make connections that they may normally not have had. This IS a trait of male leaders that I insist my mentees and clients adopt. We need to build our OWN sisterhood network and help each other as opposed to being threatened by each other whenever possible."

All three of these successful women leaders agree that there is work to be done to create the ideal environment for emerging women leaders, and everyone, from public policy makers to current leaders and education professionals, needs to take responsibility for nurturing the next generation of women leaders. Whatever the gender, the qualities of a good leader remain the same -- resilience, tenacity, dedication, curiosity and an insatiable desire to make the world a better place -- and it's these qualities that will see future women leaders continue to shine.