What I’ve learnt from women in leadership…

On International Women’s Day – What I’ve learnt from women in leadership..

It shouldn’t be the case that we have to wait for International Women’s Day to celebrate and honour the many and varied contributions of women in our lives. However, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to profile and talk about some of the women who have influenced my life and whom I’ve learnt some things about leadership and life in general.
Firstly, my own mum has been a significant leadership influence in my life. Mum has been and still is the mainstay of the household. She raised five children of her own, acted as full time carer for my Dad (who has suffered a form of muscular dystrophy), managed the household on a shoe-string budget for years, provided support to others with special needs/foster kids – all while fulfilling leadership roles in various churches over the years. As my mum turns 80 this year – I’m still amazed at her capacity! While struggling with her own physical ailments she is still a full-time carer for my Dad, and helps out in several church support roles. Yep – my mum is a truly amazing woman and one of my heroes in life!
Although my mum’s story and leadership role is significant in our family and local community – I have to say her example of leadership is not unique. All over the world, there are great women leading, initiating and contributing in business, social sector, government, community and in their family roles. It is such a shame that most women in leadership I’ve known mostly miss out all the media accolades, they also continue to put up with lower pay than their male counter-parts, and continue to struggle against the grain to overcome many societal and cultural biases. It’s to women all over the world that I write this blog post for – those who deserve to be loved, honoured and cherished for who they are, and not solely for the contributions that they make to family and their community. I sincerely hope that this blog  post affirms, recognises and celebrates the leadership role women share in our world today.
Here’s five lessons I’ve learnt over the years working alongside and with some great women leaders:
  • Character and integrity is more influential than Position and Power: the temptation to fall back on positional power as a leader is ever-present. However, I’ve learnt a lot over the years about leading through character and integrity thanks to those women I’ve witnessed in leadership who relentlessly seek to influence through soft /relational power rather than formal/positional power.
  • Leadership is formed through the many small but meaningful daily acts: Often the small things are most powerful in the day to day interactions in a workplace or business environment. I’ve learnt from many women who use empowerment, generosity, respect and trust to influence the people they lead!
  • Empathy opens up conversations that enable people to change: Many times when I have wanted to run like a bull at a gate (yes – it’s one of those Aussie euphemisms!) to force rank change, I’m reminded of some of the more subtle and tactful approaches I’ve seen by women leaders I’ve met. Seeing through the eyes of the individual and exercising empathy creates an environment where honest conversations can exist and enable change.
  • Keep the main thing the main thing!: As a bloke, I can often get caught up in competitive behaviours or confrontation to bring about change. I’ve learnt over the years to keep my focus on what really matters and avoid the trap of game playing based on issues of personality and pride!.
  • Never give up on people and your values. I’ve learnt from many women in leadership that the task of leaders sometimes is to never give up on people and never back down on what you believe to be right / true. This type of leader creates a culture of empowerment and confidence to keep going in the face of advsersity.
To honour the role of women in leadership further, I’ve asked six great leaders who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing (those who lead across business, social enterprise, social sector, and government roles) to share their most important leadership lessons in life. These women I’ve either worked with in some capacity or have developed friendships with over many years (mostly thanks to our experience living and working in Cambodia, from 2006-2012). I hope you will be as inspired as I am when reading through these life lessons in leadership. Enjoy and be inspired!
What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt in leadership?

Meas Vicheka (General Manager, Jars Of Clay Cafe – A Social Enterprise focused on employment for vulnerable Cambodian women)

“For me it’s very hard to build the right team and to have a healthy team is always challenging. I have to know what God calls me to be and believe that He is in charge. Also I have to keep working on the business and also with helping the girls by showing them love, always encouraging them and sharing what we want to be as a business. The most important for me is to be building myself in God’s love and keep walking with Him, using His wisdom to move forward.”

ChannRatha Nou (Cambodian leader in professional /Government and social sector roles)

“Being a leader is more than just having a lot of knowledge and experience. The most important things I’ve learnt is: respect & care. It’s about respect for others ideas and professional care for others, and understanding their culture of work. I’ve found these principles have helped build accountability among people I’ve worked with. It even effectively makes people feel that they can get together and participate in decision making that create the win-win-win strategy.”

Katrina Gliddon (Founder/Director or Mother’s Heart Cambodia – An NFP focused on supporting young mothers and their children)

“This is not an easy question to answer, because in many ways I do not want to be disrespectful to the culture that I worked in, but at the same time I want to be honest too. Founding a NFP as a woman in a developing country, where gender inequality is high is never an easy venture, and advocating for women’s issues is challenging in many ways, especially when women issues are under valued. I think the most important lesson I learnt was perseverance, and to overcome a fear of failure, to be bold and courageous.”

Jeanette Korporaal (Managing Director, Benkorp Management Services Pty Ltd, Sydney)

“Trust in yourself when making decisions. Trust in your hard work and experience. Don’t be easily swayed by other people’s opinions. Don’t operate from a basis of fear. Eg fear that you will loose a client or employee. Making decisions based on our well earned experience results in genuine, well considered and consistent decision making that people respect. Consistency & reliability wins in the long term. Trust in yourself!”

Rebecca Fadner (Previously, owner of Kingdom Ventures – an innovative social enterprise supporting global impact)

“People — individually and collectively — have value. May our attitudes and actions demonstrate love for them and respect for their value. Doing business gives one the opportunity to touch the lives of so many people – suppliers, customers & clients, and those on your team. Daily one must choose to be aware of others, to listen as one converses, to affirm others, and to make a moment-to-moment choice to be gracious and kind to one another regardless of their relationship with you. That in no way diminishes you in your role as business leader. However, it does affirm you as a investing member of the Human Race! Actually, in choosing to harness your leadership qualities for the investment and success of others, your impact is much more valuable than any product or service you can create. Be respectful of the authority you possess, be discerning, be aware of the power of your influence to touch the lives of others. Invest well in the lives of others ~ the returns are limitless!”

Lisa Cheong (Development Specialist / Advisor – Seeds Of Leadership Program)

“Having been in the NFP sector for close to 6 years working in the Anti-Trafficking movement in Cambodia, one of the most important lessons I have learned is the need to create a ‘’circle of safety’’ for my staff—a phrase coined by a leadership consultant Simon Sinek. A circle of safety involves creating an environment where trust and cooperation is developed as staff feel safe and protected to share their hearts including their vulnerabilities knowing that they will not be judged but where they know their opinions matter, feel their voices have been heard, feel listened to and where they feel empowered in their decision making. Such an environment as I discovered increases motivation and commitment and even if mistakes are made, grace was given and an opportunity to try again was always encouraged.

Jesus modelled such a circle of safety with us and I came to appreciate that in the Cambodian context where ‘family’’ is so important, creating a circle of safety at work, created an atmosphere where staff members didn’t just feel like staff, but felt like family members who knew they were protected from external challenges because they had a leader who would go to bat for them, protecting them and serving them. I found this to be such a valuable lesson as it released our staff’s potential by motivating them to try harder and do even more because they were no longer just doing their ‘’job’’ but were committed to the cause and vision that we worked together on. They felt valued and affirmed with each step in the journey and even during turbulent times, the circle of safety created a place where staff could be honest and were not afraid to speak truth. In Asian culture, saving face is such a big challenge but, I was encouraged that when our staff feel safe, when there is mutual trust and confidence with their leader, they are more open to receive truth and also more open to share or speak truth without fear of recrimination. In essence, they are more open to risk and be their true selves knowing that that are working in a safe place.As women, I believe God has given us the ability to naturally nurture relationships entrusted into our care. When we as women leaders provide such a nurturing environment, especially in places like Cambodia where there is such deep brokenness in relationships and the ongoing presence of trauma because of the genocide, a circle of safety offers not only a place of refuge but a place of healing and ultimately a place where staff are free to explore their potential and where we as leaders not only have the incredible privilege but, the opportunity to coach, nurture and encourage the releasing of that potential that facilitates greater achievement both individually and for the benefit of the organization.”

Well, I sure hope these life lessons from women who are excelling in leadership will be an inspiration to you! Have a great day and make sure you try to put into practice some of these lessons as you chart your own leadership journey.



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