6 leadership traits of successful female leaders
Sally Miles talks with Kasia Gospos, Founder of Leaders in Heels about the leadership traits of successful female leaders.
This week Kasia Gospos published the Leaders in Heels manifesto – a set of ideas and traits exemplified by the dynamic and successful women in the Leaders in Heels’ community. The six traits are: passion, creativity, innovation, confidence, determination and kindness. Here you can read the full version of the Leaders in Heels Manifesto.
What has led you to write and publish the Leaders in Heels manifesto?
It was a gradual process. While reading about, meeting or interviewing successful people I realised there were certain characteristics shared by them: they were passionate about what they did which gave them energy to stay long hours or not to give up even when the odds were against them. They were creative in achieving their goals no matter if it was about implementing new products or running effective meetings – they looked for innovative ways of doing things. Passion was giving them confidence to stand up for their beliefs and determination to keep going when things were falling apart.
But the manifesto wouldn’t exist without our readers. In 2013, we asked them to describe in one-word: ‘Leader in Heels’ and they responded with hundreds of characteristics. We used these to create a word cloud in the shape of heel. The bigger the font the more often the word was repeated. After analysing these characteristics along with the interviews, I selected the six traits that best describe the people in the Leaders in Heels community.
Who does the manifesto apply to? How can we use the manifesto?
The Leaders in Heels manifesto is an aspiration. It is a set of affirmations for female leaders. It applies to anyone who is willing to improve their career, business or life.
The manifesto drives my decisions every day; it is a reminder of the values I want to live by. I have printed the manifesto and hung it over my desk. Every time I need to come up with a solution or need a pick-me-up, it is there for me. I am currently working on a set of notebooks full of inspirational quotes and thoughts that relate to the Leaders in Heels values. The notebooks will teach and help create the habits required to be a ‘Leader in Heels’ in everyday life.
The manifesto drives my decisions every day; it is a reminder of the values I want to live by.
The first trait you mention is passion. Sometimes people lost in daily tasks find it difficult to understand what their passion is. How can women find passion?
Ha ha. This one is tricky for everyone. There are a few simple tools and methods that help in discovering passion.
Firstly, the most time consuming method but the one that is inevitable is that we need to expose ourselves to new things. We can’t find our passion sitting at home. When I started Leaders in Heels, it was meant to be a blog and I was going to be a blogger. I quickly discovered that I wasn’t a good writer, however, I realised that I loved web-design, marketing and strategy. So I learnt something new about myself and that is what I do mostly now.
Secondly, there are a few simple tests you can do at home now. Sit down with a cup of coffee or glass of wine, have a pen and some paper and take a few minutes to answer these questions:
- What are you good at? It is easier to be successful in something that you have a talent for than in doing something that is very hard with your set of skills. If you can’t answer this question yourself, ask your partner, a friend or even your boss. Your talent is your calling.
- Imagine you inherited $100m. You and your family don’t need to work anymore. What life would you live? What would you do on a typical day? You can but don’t need to work.
- Imagine every job pays the same. A banker, lawyer, shop assistant, dog walker, interior designer and garbage collector are paid $50 per hour no matter how good they are but everyone has to work. What occupation would you choose?
- What makes you happy? When was the last time you felt truly happy? What was the situation?
- What would make you excited to wake up in the morning?
- What would you do if you could not fail?
Lastly, what we need to understand is that no one ever had 100% confidence that what they started was what they were born to do. It is a decision we need to make and then stick to, or as I discovered with blogging, change the direction as we go. The worse thing we can do is to do nothing.
We can’t find our passion sitting at home.
You have mentioned kindness as a trait of Leaders in Heels’ women. With the idea that ‘Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office’, is it okay for female leaders to show kindness at work?
Absolutely! You don’t gain respect by being a bitch. Most successful women I meet are kind, honest and transparent. That’s what makes them a leader and other people wanting to follow them.
One day I interviewed a very powerful, successful woman. I felt a little bit intimidated at first, especially as it was not easy to make the appointment and I had been waiting for months to meet her. When she arrived at the interview, she was very sharp and direct. I felt as if she was rushing for another meeting. I could have easily assumed she was a tough, difficult person. But she very quickly revealed a warm, kind nature. She was very passionate about advancing women’s careers and without hesitation agreed to chair the event I was planning without judging me for my age or my foreign accent.
Most successful women I meet are kind, honest and transparent. That’s what makes them a leader and other people wanting to follow them.
Creativity and Innovation
What sorts of ideas do you have in mind when you describe using our creativity to advance culture and create a new reality?
Not so long ago women couldn’t vote, we couldn’t fly to the Moon … there were no mobile phones, people thought Earth was flat and we didn’t have simple things like Post-its. All these big and little things required thinking out-of-the-box and challenging the status quo and in their own way, they created a new reality and advanced the human race. This is what I meant. Big and small things we create change people’s lives. We should always be as innovative as we can.
The traits you have outlined are quite aspirational. Often reality sets in and we can’t always be all that we hope to be. What would you say to motivate us on our bad days?
One of the traits I mentioned is determination. Big things are not easy. They seem easy. But when you see someone who made an overnight career, it is usually something they were doing for many years before. Think about Pharrell Williams. He had been in the music industry since he was a teenager but most of us only heard about him when his hit single “Happy” went viral. He just turned 40. People must not give up. I have had lots of downs in my life but I learnt that every time I was rejected from something good, I was actually redirected to something better. I just didn’t know it at the time so I cried and suffered. The strength is in the speed of bouncing back and you learn that once you experience how tough you really are.
You mention confidence, which can often elude us – how can we get more of it?
There is only one way to overcome lack of confidence – to expose yourself to the things you fear. When I came to Australia, I had problems with understanding spoken English. Speaking on the phone was the scariest thing on Earth because I couldn’t even see the person. At work I did everything to avoid phone conversations. Then the time came when I had no choice other than to start having phone conversations with recruiters. After I called twenty times I no longer had a fear of talking about my achievements.
But confidence is not only being brave. Confidence is self-worth. It is believing in oneself. It is about feeling unaffected even when someone says a nasty joke about you. It is about not losing enthusiasm when people say no. It is about resilience. It is about not being afraid to stand up and speak up for yourself, even if you have to stand alone.
But confidence is not only being brave. Confidence is self-worth. It is believing in oneself.
What can women do to keep these traits top-of-mind on a daily basis?
I have the manifesto printed on my desk to remind myself of these traits daily. I also encourage reading Leaders in Heels as all editors at Leaders in Heels are striving to focus on topics that develop these traits and provide inspiration on how to live the manifesto. The notebook I am working on also aims to develop a habit of using the traits on daily basis. It is divided into chapters and every page of each chapter has inspirational quotes related to that trait. I love beautiful things so I am working on making the notebooks artistic and inspiring, perfect for a gift to inspire someone you love.
UPDATE: The notebooks are now available and can be purchased from our online store.
Do you believe we need to possess all of these traits to consider ourselves successful women?
To some extent yes. Success is in keeping a healthy balance. You don’t need to be a creative genius or an inventive visionary to be a successful leader but you need to be creative to some extent and you need to have a passion for what you do, confidence to be able to sell yourself and determination to persist. As the old proverb says, success is about whom you know and not what you know, so being kind to people can also take you very far. You need to have a combination of all traits but they don’t need to be distributed equally.
What do you hope to achieve by publishing this manifesto and declaring the traits and values of Leaders in Heels’ women?
I want to see more women fulfilled in life. I love freedom so I don’t define success as an executive position in a corporation or running a successful business. Success in life is about loving what you do and doing it with passion. It is about surrounding yourself with people you admire and who challenge you. I hope the manifesto will inspire people to live the life they want. I hope it will inspire them also to be good citizens and empower others to do the same.
Success in life is about loving what you do and doing it with passion
Will the notebook be aimed at women already in leadership positions?
The notebook is an inspiration tool so it can be used by anyone, both women in leadership positions and aspiring female leaders; and really by anyone who wants to bring quality to their life. It is also a beautiful gift to inspire your staff, colleagues, daughters and to drive employee engagement in your organization.
Which traits of the Leaders in Heels manifesto resonate with you, and why? Share your comments below.
Interviewed by Sally Miles, Women’s Editor at Leaders in Heels.