Why is it important for leaders to help young women find their voices? This question arose following a workshop I led, tailored to young women who received our Junior Edition of Your Learn Lead Lift StoryTM. Women tend to absorb a popular cultural narrative from an early age not to talk too much about themselves or “worse”–brag about their achievements. However, changing and empowering the voices of future women leaders is necessary if we want to build collective leadership. Collective leadership is defined in a Harvard Law blog as “a group of people with diverse skills and experience come together to work toward goals that they develop jointly. As compared to traditional leadership, in which one person makes key decisions after consulting with others, in collective leadership, the group empowers the person or people with the most relevant expertise to tackle particular problems and implement solutions. When needed, the group engages in consensus building or conflict resolution to reach decisions and resolve any disputes that arise.”
Anyone can be a leader. Leadership isn’t about roles or titles. Leadership is about influence.
Collective leadership works when leaders are able to discern when to lean in and influence group action and when to lean back, which means inviting and/or holding space for others to take initiative. Without a strong commitment to and recognition of the benefits of collective leadership, women who attempt to exercise initiative in team settings are often ignored or otherwise experience negative consequences.
Those experiences tend to reinforce a mindset many people carry with them into the workplace, often unconsciously, that women are supposed to hold space for and attend to the comfort of others, especially when others in the room are men. However, when men–who have historically held more formal power and authority in organizations–actively invite and hold space for women or non-binary people to take initiative, the benefits of collective leadership begin to manifest.
Influence requires practice and so does taking initiative. One way to exercise influence independent of any formal authority in a group is through storytelling. Taking the time to uncover our strengths, understand how life experiences have shaped our thinking and behavior and then share those insights with others is a powerful way to influence. This is what I wanted to impart on the young women who participated in the junior session of Your Learn Lead Lift StoryTM.
The young women in attendance were asked to share their stories with one person they came with and one person they didn’t know. Then, I asked them to share out loud with the group, promising to reward their bravery. The dialogue that generated included young women sharing desires they recognized in themselves but hadn’t ever articulated as a result of the questions they answered. Women who accompanied their daughters to the session also shared their experiences. Hearing each other’s stories created deeper understanding between peers as well as mothers and daughters.
One young woman shared that she wished she could have stood up for herself more when she was being bullied in elementary school. This honest self-reflection illuminated how women may stifle their voices even when it’s to their own detriment.
Studies show that women communicate differently than men in workplace settings and these differences originate in childhood.
Statistically, women are often less assertive than men in workplace settings and more likely to experience microaggressions. These realities in the workplace can contribute to quiet quitting. As we shared in a previous blog, quiet quitting becomes less prevalent when all people feel their individual experiences, needs and goals matter to organizational leaders.
Leaders who regularly invite women to take initiative in group settings and hold the space for them to do so (e.g. redirecting interruptions when a woman is speaking, correctly acknowledging when an idea or recommendation originated with a woman on the team, etc.) are demonstrating that women’s voices should be seen and heard as often as their male colleagues. And this in turn fosters collective leadership.
Harnessing the power of collective leadership in your organization requires taking mindful action.
Start today by downloading our free Putting Learn Lead Lift Into Practice bundle to learn more about inspiring and motivating others through influence. Or, you can check out Your Learn Lead Lift StoryTM, available for purchase now. By empowering young women to use their voices through Your Learn Lead Lift Story we are building the foundation for greatness in future leadership.