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Leadership Skills for Women in Management Roles

wil foundations article

Women aren’t new to leadership positions. They may not occupy those roles as often as they should, but the world has been influenced by strong female leaders for thousands of years.

Catherine the Great ruled (and revitalized) Russia for more than three decades. Indira Gandhi served as India’s Prime Minister for nearly 20 years, during which she drastically reduced hunger and poverty nationwide. Wu Zetian used her wisdom and insight to transform the culture of seventh-century China. Boudica—an ancient Iceni queen—led an army of men in revolt against the Roman Legion.

What can be learned from these women—and the thousands and thousands of others who have impacted the course of history? What did they all have in common?

Introspection might be the most important ability for any leader—regardless of gender—because it offers an in-depth look at one’s strengths and weaknesses. It helps kickstart a critical and thoughtful evaluation of a leader’s personal biases, leadership preferences and unique values. Insight into these attributes can provide the blueprint for continuous improvement and development, and more importantly, the growth of every other skill on this list.

How do leaders promote introspectiveness? It’s simple, but not easy. Introspective leaders must examine their thoughts and decisions through a nonbiased lens, and there’s a very straightforward way to do that. Talk to peers. Find mentors. Build a panel of trustworthy advisors and listen closely to what they have to say—both the constructive and prescriptive feedback.

For decades, women in business have asked to be valued and respected for their unique backgrounds, expertise, and perspectives, instead of judged by their gender. They’ve demanded empathy from the people around them, and they’ve been absolutely right.

Channeled outwardly, that same empathy can be a cornerstone for female leadership. Women understand what it’s like to not have a voice or a seat at the table. They know what it’s like to be overlooked and misunderstood. Because of these experiences, they can—and should—recognize others who are stuck in that same position. Those people might be teammates or colleagues, but they also might be customers and business partners.

Take the time to listen to others. Value their unique experiences and backgrounds. Provide them the opportunities and inclusiveness they deserve.

Every effective leader must practice resilience, but it’s especially true for women in decision-making roles. According to a 2021 KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Report, 95% of executive women say that being resilient has become more important as they have advanced in their careers and risen through the ranks.

When a female leader practices assertiveness or firmly articulates her vision, there’s bound to be jeers and second-guesses from those who disagree with her. This pushback can create real and debilitating burnout, personal confidence issues and worse.

That’s why resilience is especially important for women in leadership positions. But how is resilience cultivated? By making decisions that are supported by research, numbers, or experience. And being receptive to other opinions—but not waylaid by them. Adhere to the vision. Steadfast. Keep moving forward.

Leadership is, quintessentially, about working with other people. And people are always changing, which makes leadership roles inherently unpredictable and organic. How do effective leaders keep up with the ever-changing nature of the role?

They’re inquisitive. They ask questions. They’re open to learning from the people around them. And they actively practice this behavior. They not only seek out answers, but also questions. And they use those questions to build their resilience, develop their empathy, and promote their introspectiveness.

These skills are timeless. Foundational. They’ve been proven again and again, over the thousands and thousands of years of women in leadership positions.

Learn more about the Emory Women in Leadership Certificate program.

Emory Continuing Education is a division of Emory Academic Innovation.