Starting as early as grade school, throughout University and now as professionals, it has been clear that one of the most sought after skills is the ability to lead. But what does “great leadership” even mean? Sure, we blast it on our resumes and seem to use it as a measure of career success, but how does one actually become a great leader and why do women seem to have a harder time getting there? On May 22nd, in a small room amidst Urban Capital’s River City community in Toronto, more than 60 women of ULI gathered to delve further into these questions. This WLI event was sponsored by Bousfields Inc.
Leading us through this journey was President of Mosaic People Development and leadership coach Vanessa Judelman. Published and quoted in the Globe and Mail, the National Post and author of the book Mastering Leadership: What it Takes to Lead in Today’s Fast Paced World, Judelman has been playing a crucial role in developing effective, self-aware leaders. Combining her experience in corporate leadership with her positivity, coaching certification, and passion to develop confident leaders, Judelman has been an inspiration to countless people.
The evening began with identifying some barriers that women face in the workplace. We not only discussed the barriers that come with working in a predominantly male industry, but also the fact that for a big chunk of history, our role models when it came to organizational leaders and influencers were mostly men. The inability to see ourselves in our role models discouraged women from reaching for those high-level positions simply because they didn’t believe they were obtainable. This, in combination with the competitive, self-promoting and bottom-line-oriented cultures that are often dominant, influenced our ideas towards leadership and what it takes to become a successful leader.
Judelman showed us how many of these barriers, although very real, can also be self-imposed. The world is changing and we, now more than ever, have a number of women leaders to look up to. Consider Safra Catz (CEO of Oracle, named 2017 highest paid CEO in the US), Sara Blakely (founder of Spanx), Arianna Huffington (founder of The Huffington Post), Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (former president of Liberia) as well as great Toronto-based leaders like Qi Tang (CFO of RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust) and Taya Cook (Director of Development at Urban Capital). We now have women who have shown us that women leadership is not only possible but very necessary. Women leaders tend to bring a completely different perspective and leadership style then their male counterparts by being more compassionate and employee-focused, which often leads to higher morale and productivity.
Unfortunately, women often fall into two very limiting traps — we either wear ourselves out reaching for perfection and waiting for our efforts and achievements to be noticed by our peers, or we wear ourselves out attempting to act more like the men in our organizations in order to be appreciated and recognized. This only leads to frustration in our careers due to feeling like we are overworked and yet overlooked for leadership positions or feeling like an inauthentic version of ourselves at work.
This is when Judelman introduced the notion of masculine versus feminine energy. She mentioned how the world is experiencing a shift in energy and how the divine feminine is on the rise. I must admit, I was apprehensive at first but the more she explained, the more it made sense.
Throughout history, she explained, the world has been leaning towards and rewarding the masculine (competition, hierarchical structures, individualism, bottom-line orientation, etc.). Recently however, there has been a shift in which the feminine (internal focus, process orientation, collaboration, relationship focus, etc.) is slowly rising. She goes deeper to clarify that these energies are not inherently bad or good, or have anything to do with being a man or woman as all of us have both of these energies within us. The key is to find the right balance.
We can all agree that as humans, perfection is unattainable, so why do so many women still strive for it? As a recovering perfectionist, I can confirm that this not only sets us up for failure and disappointment, but also stops us from putting ourselves out there, from applying for that promotion, or pitching that idea, because of a fear that it’s not perfect. This often leads to working hard but in silence, waiting for efforts to be recognized by peers and superiors. Judelman said it best, sharing that “You are the CEO of your own career, you cannot expect others to notice and reward your contributions if you are not willing to raise your hand and say, here’s how I contributed!” In this trap, finding balance could mean allowing yourself to tilt more toward the masculine, being more direct and vocal about your accomplishments and making sure that your strengths, efforts, and capabilities are recognized.
On the other side of the spectrum are people that compromise their authentic selves to fully conform to what is rewarded in the workplace. Judelman mentions that these women often feel like this is what is needed in order to be taken seriously and not ignored in important conversations. She also notes that although it is important to maintain some masculine in these situations, it’s also important to attempt to find balance by incorporating some down time, possibly by allowing yourself to pick up an old creative hobby which had been sidelined in the name of career advancement.
We only spent a couple hours together, but so many important lessons were covered and the shift in the room was evident by the end of the night. Women left this workshop energized, empowered, and ready to take their careers paths, leadership opportunities, and overall satisfaction into their own hands.