What does it take to be a leader?

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of being the opening keynote speaker at the International Women’s Day celebrations in Cambridge.

I was asked to share my story and talk about the ways women lead. Starting my talk with a photo of myself at three, wearing my kilt, like the good Scottish lassie that I was, I went on to talk my career path and how receiving the ATHENA Award, was a pivotal point in my leadership journey.

As I explained to the audience of over 100 women (and two men), up until that point I had not really seen myself as a leader, more someone who saw a gap in service, would recruit people to help, and we’d roll up our sleeves and get the job done.

The ATHENA award was started by Martha Mayhood Mertz, who when she joined the board of her local chamber of commerce, found herself to be the only woman. Knowing that there were equally qualified women who deserved to be there, she set about to establish a leadership award that would honour women. Thirty five years later, over 7,000 awards have been presented around the world.

As I showed the audience my sculpture, I explained that each element was symbolic. The base is marble, representing the strong foundation of the individual, the bronze body represents the ability to withstand whatever comes your way, the arms reaching out speaks to how a leader reaches out to people and the crystal at the top illustrates how the leader has a clear vision and can see all aspects of a situation.

The ATHENA Foundation did research to determine what are the key and common characteristics of women who had received the award. And this is what I shared in my presentation, tying the attribute to a Canadian woman, most of whom I have met and know.

Courageous Acts  – These women are the trailblazers in our midst, who despite the risk involved, choose to take the road less travelled, paving the way for others.

Fierce Advocacy – Likely we all know someone who has turned a tragedy into triumph by challenging the system and working steadfastly to change whatever had befallen them.

Learning – Leaders are life long learners. They see the value and importance of always learning, gaining more information and are never satisfied with the status quo.  They are curious.

Giving back – Often the women would be connected to foundations, charities or causes, giving of their time, resources and expertise.

Relationships – As women we are very much about building relationships. We work hard to foster, build and maintain relationships – both professionally and personally.

Collaboration – This is one skill set that women often bring to organizations, business and boards – our ability to involve others, to partner up with others and to see the merit and respect diverse perspectives.

Authenticity – Being who you are and comfortable in your own skin, authentic leaders treat everyone with respect. They are the real deal and build trust within their organizations.

Celebration and joy – In our fast-paced lives, it’s important to pause and celebrate our successes along the way. When we have gratitude for what we have, we find joy.

I couldn’t resist using the last attribute to showcase Company of Women, because that is what we are all about. We’re the cheerleaders for women business owners – there to celebrate your wins, and support you over the near-wins.

I ended with a challenge to the women to look at themselves as leaders, and left them with this quote – “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more. You are a leader.”


Written by

President at Full Circle Publishing, founder of Company of Women

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