Our Obligation to Help Other Women

I once had the great privilege of hearing former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speak. Her speech was powerful, with one line in particular staying with me over the years: "There's a special place in hell reserved for women who don't help other women." The implied message here isn't about how great you'll feel having mentored someone, or about how great you'll feel after giving back what you've received. Instead, I think Madeleine believes that preparing the next generation of women leaders is an obligation. And I agree. So to those of you who have achieved success, however defined, it is time to own your obligation to make space for the next generation of leaders... female leaders.

Top Ten Ways to Develop Women as Future Leaders:

10. Acknowledge you play a role in developing other women.
Developing young women is a two-way street. Young women need to take responsibility for their own futures and older women need to do what they can to support their development. Even small gestures can go a long way in creating a climate of growth and development.

9. Remind them to take a leading role in their own feature film.
Help young women see this journey as their own and to embrace the challenge. Many of us learned the hard way that our employers were not going to pave the way for us. Make their route a little easier by dispelling the mystique of how these things happen.

8. Ask women where they want to go.
You might not be able to deliver everything they want (like your job), but having candid conversations about where they'd like to go can help you both see opportunities for them to develop. Additionally, if you know young women who haven't thought about moving beyond their current position, expand their horizons.

7. Help young women play nice with other young women.
When women are younger, there can be fierce competition between them and their peers. This usually fades as they get older and perhaps wiser. I have an abundance mentality in this area: there are plenty of opportunities for women to excel and develop themselves. Help them see the role they can play in helping, not hindering, other women.

6. Think seriously about internal promotion.
I'm a big fan of the better business concepts laid out in Good to Great. To quote the mighty Jim Collins, "Ten of eleven good-to-great CEOs came from inside the company." There are times when external hiring make sense, but many organizations sometimes think this is the only way to replace outgoing talent. Think about internal pipelines and ways to identify "stars" you want to keep, and in which you are willing to make additional investments of time and resources to keep with your organization.

5. Encourage your colleagues to likewise develop their young stars.
If we all take on this challenge, think how different and powerful the workplace could be. For the first time in history, women are now the majority of the workforce. We have a tremendous opportunity to leverage this majority into a new professional world for our sisters and our daughters.

4. Acknowledge you might feel a little threatened.
This is normal. Again, I'll go back to the abundance mentality. There is enough for everyone. What if you feel like they'll come after your own job? Maybe, but not likely. Additionally, part of our responsibility as more senior women is working to replace ourselves and to develop this next generation of leaders. It means loosening the reins and sharing the wealth.

3. Be a mentor.
Many of us do this already. It's a powerful thing for a young future leader to have a seasoned professional on her side. Someone who will help navigate a world she's still learning and someone in her corner cheering her on. Think about the women who have helped you along the way and pay it forward.

2. Be a lifelong learner.
This makes you more valuable, more literate, and well rounded. Challenging yourself to grow is rewarding and also helps you model this behavior to other young women.

1. Did I already mention candid conversations?
Of course I did, but it's that important. Talk to these women. Ask them where they envision themselves in five, ten, twenty years. Hear what they say and see what you can do about opening up doors for them in sync with their goals.

While I ruminate a little more on Madeline's mandate, take a moment and let me know the ways you've already helped the women in your life or how you've benefitted from the women who came before you.