Whether you are called to lead a team meeting, a group of volunteers, or a family, a service-oriented mindset is key to effective, meaningful leadership. In a 2014 address, Pope Francis noted: “For leadership there is only one road: service. There is no other way. Leadership must enter into service, but with a personal love for the people.” Looking into the lives of successful women leaders such as Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, we see that service was at the core of their leadership. But what else makes a successful leader?
After consulting with female leaders in my own life - and the Harvard Business School - here’s what I learned about the traits of successful female leaders.
Skilled at Communicating
As communicator-in-chief, a leader not only has to make difficult decisions, but she also needs to communicate with people of all walks of life, and on various topics. Having the ability to eloquently express an idea or calmly defend a perspective will support a leader in overcoming cultural and technological barriers. We can learn how to communicate better by taking classes on cross-cultural communication and reading about cultural intelligence.
Nowadays, many women who lead organizations are doing so remotely, and so good communication skills require more than just maintaining eye contact in person. To be a good remote communicator, a leader remains attentive to the tone of her emails and proactively checks in with colleagues.
Regardless of the setting or mode of communication, a good communicator asks questions and listens before jumping to a conclusion. When it comes to communicating well and successfully, sometimes it’s not what you say - but what you don’t say - that matters.
Empathy, or the ability to share in the feelings of others, binds us to one another. An empathetic leader will understand her employee’s challenges and try her best to meet them halfway. A friend of mine told me about a time when she told her boss that her son had been sick the night before and that she had not gotten much sleep. Her boss shared what seemed at the time to be empathetic words, and then proceeded into a complex discussion. She never asked her employee how she was feeling that day or how she could alleviate her workload. Her empathetic words were not followed by empathetic actions.
I remember my friend feeling disappointed and dispensable. Since her supervisor hadn’t shown genuine empathy through action, it was difficult for my friend to believe her supervisors’ words. A good leader will not only tell you that she cares, she will show you.
Humble and Resilient
A successful leader never stops learning. In her humility, she is willing to learn in every situation, including from those whom she leads. Agility and innovation characterize a humble leader who is willing to admit that there are better solutions than what she thought of. When a leader doesn’t let pride get in her way, she keeps an open mind to new ideas and opportunities.
In addition to keeping a humble mindset, a successful leader shows resilience. In the face of adversity, she can balance humility and confidence to have a strong character that her team can rely on.