Young Women Should Be More Ambitious

We encourage women to be ambitious but we don’t say why it’s important

Laura and Elena from Compass Consultancy believe that young women should be encouraged to become more ambitious and undertake leadership positions.

Last year, I spoke to a young woman in her final year of university. She discussed her plans of becoming a manager after she graduated because she was good at delegating. It was a far cry from the sort of thing I would have said when I was in a similar position ten years ago. I had vaguer, more romantic notions of work. It took me a long time to understand what I was good at and what I wanted to do.

I have to admit I was thrown by what she said. She did not seem worried about the industry she would work in, or the kind of projects she would manage, or the impact she would make. Her confidence was impressive. I cannot blame her for a more practical approach than I was capable of at her age. Entering the workforce in a pandemic will be even worse than trying to get a job in the wake of the last financial crash, as my peers and I had to do. However, I do think she missed the point of management and of her career.

Delegating is not really the crux of a good manager. It’s not even a skill that is particularly sought-after in the workplace. Frankly, it’s quite easy to tell other people what to do.

We tell young women to be ambitious and aspire for leadership positions. But we never tell them why this is important and what it really is about. We tell them to dream big, to bring a fold-up chair to the table if they’re not offered a seat, to apply for the job they don’t have all the skills for because they can learn them. We tell them to use their voice.

Leadership and management is seen as the ultimate goal in our careers. However, bad management and poor leadership seem to be ever-increasing. This raises several questions;  Are we training people well enough to flourish in these roles? Are we chasing these lofty positions for the wrong reasons? Why shouldn’t we all have jobs where we get to tell people what to do?

The simple answer is that delegating work or telling other people what to do is not a foundation upon which anything good can be built.

Why are we rejecting the Girl Boss persona?

The Girl Boss persona that dominated the 2010s is now being rejected. This rejection was well-received because the term was meant to be empowering but instead felt infantilising. The encouragement to “lean in”, and adopt the more aggressive, stereotypically masculine tropes of leadership has ultimately failed women because that kind of leadership by and large does not work. Want to motivate your team by yelling at them? All you’re doing is showing you lack emotional stability in the workplace (a tenet of professionalism). This will also drive your team away to new perhaps more supportive companies. Want to push people until they break? Why are you breaking things when as a leader you should be building? As the saying goes, if you think you have to be an asshole to succeed, it means you’re an asshole.

Being a strong leader doesn’t mean breaking things or being destructive. By aping the behaviour of the boys, we aren’t bringing anything new to the table. We were just copying the kind of leadership that has consistently failed most of us.

Why is it important to encourage and support women in leadership positions?

It is absolutely imperative that women are recognised for leadership and receive encouragement and support into leadership roles. Good leadership is never about position or power because leadership is not a position – it’s an activity.

The real reason young women should be ambitious and use their voice is because our voices are not included or valued as much as they should be. It’s not just because they deserve a place at the table, it’s because they’re needed at the table. The workplace needs to be a choir, and not a solo act. This is what strengthens it.

Simply put, we cannot have workplaces that function well when they have been dominated and created for the small minority of white career men. Everything works better (business, productivity, innovation) with diverse leadership. It brings in different experiences and outlooks to avoid groupthink and ultimately, problems. A successful leader has a vision and a mission that they want to achieve. They clearly envision what is happening in the workplace, and what changes are required in the workplace.

What do we need to let go of in the workplace?

We need to let go of the idea of the corner office, the briefcase, the job title and see these things for what they are.  They are outdated accessories, perks and status symbols that do not add any value to the workplace or leadership.

Leadership is hugely important in the workplace. It sets the tone. It creates the environment where people can thrive. There is a huge misconception that leadership is about power, when really it’s about responsibility.

One of the biggest things people get wrong about leadership is that it’s one-size fits all, that it looks a certain way. Our notion of how leadership works is still tied to military tactics or even sports-based analogies. It’s not just c-suite or top management that display leadership qualities. We need to normalise the idea of multiple leaders in the workplace because there is never just one leader. A lot of leadership behaviour and responsibility goes unnoticed and unacknowledged, which needs to be changed.

This is where authentic leadership comes in. You do not have to change your personality to lead because you might already be leading the way without realising. There are no innate leaders and no one type of personality which is more suited to leadership. An authentic leader knows who they are. They are aware of their strengths and weaknesses. An authentic leader also works on their emotional intelligence, also known as EQ. It is the ability to manage your own emotions, and understand other people’s emotions. Anyone who is throwing temper tantrums or their weight around is not passionate about what they do. They are simply unprofessional. The key element to authentic leadership is trust and openness and you can’t trust someone who is unstable.

Of course, managing your EQ can be an on-going journey because we change depending on the environment we are in. It’s difficult to understand complex emotions in fast-changing environments without jumping to conclusions. Authentic leaders understand how they’re perceived and know that they need to demonstrate their values, not tell people what they are.

The reason why more young women need to be recognised and encouraged into ambitious leadership roles is because community and allyship are important and powerful as they’re all about responsibility; collective responsibility. Our ambitions are important – not because of the position of power they may lead us to, but because of what we will be able to achieve for everyone with that power – equality for all. And so to the young woman who aspires to be a manager and delegate tasks – why not think about becoming a leader? Your voice matters.

Laura Hamilton from Compass Consultancy

Laura Hamilton

Laura is a communications specialist who has worked in the Middle East as a journalist and magazine editor, and in Scotland at organisations including Weber Shandwick, Skyscanner, and LADBible. Laura is an MBA student at Edinburgh Napier University. She is passionate about changing misconceptions about leadership.

Elena Hogarth from Compass Consultancy.

Elena Hogarth

Elena has spent a decade working in sports communications, predominantly rugby union, which sparked her interest in leadership, values, and ethics. From the English Premiership to the Commonwealth Games, Elena has seen how great leadership can bring great success, build community, and give people a sense of purpose and achievement. She firmly believes that everyone has the potential to lead well, both for themselves and for their team-mates and colleagues.

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