I have been fortunate in my career to work in organisations with a strong female leaders. One of the perks of working in such organisations is that we are not only permitted but encouraged to attend events that will inspire and challenge us. A few months ago I attended one such event – the 2017 Women and Leadership Australia Symposium.
There was an amazing lineup of male and female presenters and, as the first morning unfolded, rock star after rock star graced the stage. As the first speaker, Tammy Medard from ANZ, finished, I found myself thinking, ‘When I grow up I want to be just like her.’ Then Katherine Teh-White, the MD at Futureye, spoke of her inspirations and challenges as a woman in a leadership role, and I thought, ‘Oh, I want to be just like her.’ The final speaker of the morning, the CEO of Guide Dogs Victoria, walked out, accompanied by her dog, the gorgeous Willow. Suddenly … I wanted to be just like her! (Karen Hayes the CEO, that is, not Willow the dog.)
These were just the first three presenters! These women and all who followed were strong, passionate, resilient and hardworking. They have built careers that they love, often overcoming great adversity to do so. I wanted to be like all of them when I grew up.
So, there are a couple of issues here. Firstly, I am 38 years old, so perhaps by now should really have gotten to grips with the fact that I am already well and truly a grown up. Secondly, while my admiration was genuine, I had perhaps been so busy fan-girling over the achievements of these speakers that I hadn’t been paying enough attention to the actual messages they were sharing.
Walking away after that first day, I began reflecting seriously on all I had heard and noted down. One of the key themes of the two-day symposium was that of authentic leadership. An authentic leader is confident of their own path and doesn’t fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others. It occurred to me that maybe I needed to reframe my thinking.
Mentors and role models can be inspirational but my goal should not be to model myself on anyone else. Instead I should be motivated by the impressive examples set by these successful women to find my own way to lead, to inspire and perhaps even to eventually become a role model myself. As mentioned many times throughout the symposium, an effective leader is true to themselves, leading according to their own principles and priorities.
If I truly think about it, as much as I admire and am inspired by these women, I will never be – nor do I actually want to be – CEO of an organisation, or owner of my own multi-national business. That is not where my passion or my abilities lie. What I want to do is use my talents, skills and experience to make a difference, to have a genuine and lasting impact on the world, no matter how great or small.
The challenge now lies in developing myself into the leader I want to be so that when I grow up (whenever that might finally happen), instead of wanting to be ‘just like her’, I can confidently create my own path to success.