Successful women often credit luck for changing their lives, but there's so much more to the making of a women leader than luck. Luck is less about good things randomly happening to people who happened to be in the right place at the right time than it is about perseverance, dedication and the ability to show up at 100 wrong places before you get that "lucky" break.
So what are the essential characteristics of women leaders? I asked some women entrepreneurs, success coaches and mentors what ingredients they thought went into making the best female leaders. Here's what they came up with:
As a leader, you are going to come across challenges, and sometimes things won't go according to plan. Sabina Gault, founder of Konnect PR, understands that it's how you push through those challenges that make you a leader. "Women leaders need persistence, perseverance and the ability to not take "no" for an answer," says Gault.
This attitude, in turn, can inspire others in your organization to step up. "If you leave the office at 4 p.m. and expect your team to stay there till 9 p.m. -- you're kidding yourself," says Gault. "However if you are first in, last out, always hard-working and always pushing for more, your team will do the same and you will earn their respect as a leader."
2. A Nurturing Spirit
"In the past women have been condemned for being 'soft' or being 'nurturers'", says Dawniel Winningham, a performance coach, motivational speaker and best-selling author who works with emerging women leaders across the country. "I think our nurturing spirit is often confused with being lackadaisical or an inability to hold people accountable which is not the case. I think being a nurturer, having a sense of being fair and just, and use of our women's intuition are some of our strongest traits."
For Mallary Tytel, President of Healthy Workplaces, one of the defining characteristics of leadership is confidence -- having an "unconditional belief in your own abilities." Having confidence isn't about bragging or being a show-off, but about not undermining your abilities and creating a culture that values your input.
Mallary believes women can learn to cultivate confidence in their own abilities by actively seeking out and responding to feedback, "tooting your own horn," taking on tough assignments and excelling at them, maintaining successful relationships and developing expertise that sets you apart.
4. Giving Back
Lori Freemire is a marketing entrepreneur who actively supports several charities, including the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, SME, Hispanic foundations, library and college foundations. She believes it's important for female leaders to look for ways to give back to their community.
"Be generous and help others without looking to be reciprocated," says Freemire. "Be trustworthy and trusting; always be willing to learn about yourself and others; look for ways to work with people, not against them. And above all, listen and over-communicate."
Throughout human history, it's never been easier for women in Western society to obtain education. Colleges offer undergraduate and postgraduate programs in a variety of subjects, and basic skills such as public speaking, networking, computer literacy and business writing can be learned through professional development courses and community programs. Scholarships and career advancement programs aimed at women help to ensure future women leaders have the opportunity to obtain an education.
But education encompasses more than just a college degree. Female leaders should seek out those more experienced in their field, and learn from them. Mentors and coaches can help a future leader push ahead, learn what works, and avoid potential pitfalls. As Winningham points out, having a coach or mentor also helps women to make connections they would not normally be able to make.
Winningham says that having a mentor or coach is vital to her success, and wishes she'd embraced the use of a coach much sooner. "Had I had the benefit of a private coach much sooner, I would have reached the finish line even faster. A coach has a vested interest in getting you to the finish line sooner rather than later, with a structured approach to not only helping you learn, but holding you accountable for the application of those lessons."
6. Balance and Understanding Your Own Needs
When asked what she would tell her younger-self if she could go back in time, Shannon Sennefelder -- owner of the Foundational Leadership Institute -- said she would tell herself to take better care of her health. "That's a huge one. Had I really understood the value of self care earlier, I would have done things a lot differently."
One of the things many don't, but good leaders understand is how important it is to achieve balance in their lives and take care of themselves. Sennefelder says, "Women in general have a belief that self care is selfish! Nope! It is like breathing -- vital to our survival."
A good leader needs to not only be an expert in their industry, but to see the bigger picture, and understand their role in the wider world. They need to believe that change is possible and worthwhile, and be able to convey that message to others in a way that has meaning. This quality is best summed up by one word -- vision. A leader with vision is a leader who can see the path ahead and inspires others to help them turn a dream into a reality.
Patti Johnson is the founder and CEO of PeopleResults, a human resource consulting firm. She agrees that the most important element of a leader is having a vision of the future. "I think the best qualities in (women) leaders are that they inspire trust, they can paint a picture of the future and they can lead others through change," says Johnson.
"We can create these qualities in women by getting them into the right jobs, giving them access to mentors and coaches who can accelerate their progress and encourage them to take ownership for their own career. No one can do it for you."
The qualities that make a good leader don't vary between men and women. After all, it's the person, not the gender that determines a leader. And although women are only just catching up to men in terms of leadership roles, their unique experiences and supportive natures make them more than capable of leading the future.