Lessons from the Omniwomen Leadership Summit
If self help books did their job and taught us the magic formula to everything then life would be simple. But the fact is there is rarely one way of doing something. This applies to parenting, relationships and work.
And so it is with women and leadership.
Sometimes the best thing is hearing it from someone who has done it already. Ideally you don't want a nice, romantic version that spares you the gory details. You don’t want someone who tells you about his or her perfect life, perfect children and perfect journey. You want inspiration that’s grounded in reality. You want people you can relate to in some shape or form.
And that was what we got (in spades) at the 2016 Omniwomen Leadership Summit. The speakers - women (and men) all had personal stories to share. They showed the light and shade. There wasn't much mincing about or romance. The truth is becoming a leader is tough whatever your sex. And for women it’s particularly hard because of a specific range of challenges.
Sometimes these sorts of events can feel rather trite. Lots of inspiring catchphrases, a blast of Beyoncé and not much content. But the day had A LOT of great content. It was fun. Breakout sessions were designed around specific problem areas like confidence, building resilience and authentic leadership. These were small, dynamic sessions where you could really drill down to the nitty-gritty. The speakers were a mix of academic thinkers, women heading up SERIOUSLY LARGE organisations and a nurse who had sailed across the Atlantic in a canoe. It was an eclectic bunch to say the least.
So what does it take to be a modern female leader? Well across all the great speeches, stories and breakout sessions, this is what stood out:
Be your own style of leader
It's okay to have role models but you need to be the kind of leader you want to be. If you're naturally introverted then you may need to turn the volume up but in essence don't act like someone else. People will think you’re weird. But if you're feeling vulnerable or unsure of yourself, it doesn't hurt if you pretend to be someone else for a little bit. The 'fake it till you make it' concept isn't just a catchy slogan. It actually works.
Be more memorable than a plate of sandwiches
It’s no good sitting through an entire meeting and saying absolutely NOTHING. You might as well be a platter of Pret sandwiches (in fact the sandwiches will be more memorable). Say something early on even if it's just to point out the inclement weather (we Brits are particular good at talking about weather and you’ll find a good five minutes will pass talking about the need for an umbrella/coat/scarf/sunscreen today). If you leave it TOO long, then everyone will look at you aghast (because the sandwiches have suddenly started shouting about brand strategy).
Don't be a martyr
Women can be terrible martyrs. They expect colleagues to notice that something's up. If you're having a personal crisis then TELL someone. Don't announce it to a client but pick someone who can offer practical advice and support. If it's going to impact on your work then make sure someone knows. Otherwise people just think you're uncooperative/grumpy/a bit crap.
You can have children
The media may say it's impossible. You may get a lot of people judging you but successful women have trodden this path many times. It's not easy. It will be a path peppered with compromise, negotiation and a fair dose of guilt but there are lots of positives. Again listen to women who have led the charge. Heed their advice. Nothing really worth having is easy (said a mother trying to comb nits out of her child's hair whilst reciting the first ten minutes of a pitch for a very important and difficult new client).
Find a mentor that you like
I know 'mentor this mentor that' but having someone who believes in you and can offer objective advice is worth their weight in ‘Charlotte Tilbury Magic Glow' foundation. A mentor will tell you when you're making a mistake. They'll tell you when you're coasting. A good mentor will leave you feeling energised. If you feel flat and sad after chatting to them, then you possibly don’t like and need to find someone else.
Deal with criticism like a grown up
Don't be a saddo when it comes to critique. Men are very good at shaking off negative feedback whereas we women sometimes carry it around like a Cath Kidston rucksack full of woe. We all make mistakes. If you take it personally all the time then the journey will leave you low on resource. But don’t admit to mistakes that aren’t yours either (and also don’t point out mistakes that you’ve made if no one has actually noticed). Many people are winging it and hoping no one will notice.
So there's no magic formula but there are clear tips from women who've done it before you. But we also need to remember men. They’re part of this rich ‘leadership tapestry thing’ too. If they're your partner then they're hopefully cheering you on and helping with the domestic stuff. If they're a male colleague then they want to learn and soak it all up just as much as you do. They’re also likely to be going through some of the self-same things (they might just be better at faking it than you).
And if it's your Dad then he's secretly boasting about your success to anyone who'll listen. He doesn’t understand what you’re up to but he sees how you’re growing, evolving and stretching. Times have changed and his daughter is part of that change.
'It's time,' he whispers under his breath, 'It's time.'
And he’s right. It is.
Flamingo also produced a video to coincide with the research that they conducted for the Omniwomen Leadership Summit, where we spoke to a number of women across Omnicom agencies, in addition to experts to understand a new vision of leadership. Take a look on our Flamingo Vimeo channel here.
- Article by Anniki Sommerville