June 3, 2015
When women know what they value, they naturally become leaders. Their lives have meaning, which gives them more energy. They take more risks in the name of their cause and are more resilient when things don’t go as planned. All of this adds up to more of that precious commodity known as presence. Without meaning, work is a Monday-to-Friday grind. With meaning, your job can become a calling, inspiring you to scale the steepest cliffs.
I’ve seen this ‘transformation to transcendence’ time and time again. One woman who values beauty has pursued a career in design. It brings her such joy to share her love with others that she will stay up all night to perfect a project. Interestingly, rather than draining her, the task becomes an all-night energizer.
Another woman who values adventure has a successful career as a travel writer. Her bags are always packed and her schedule would bury most of her colleagues, but she comes home full of energy and enthusiasm for the new worlds she has just experienced.
Then there is the woman who values health. She works tirelessly on fundraisers that enable her to spread her message and improve the lives of others. Her internal reserves seem limitless, making the rest of us shake our heads in wonder.
Oprah values empathy and has built a media empire on it, while others may value such things as inventiveness, thrift or independence. Each case is individual, but all these women are infused with extra energy to advance their goals when working on projects that are meaningful to them. That’s when life feels right.
Just because life seems right, that doesn’t mean it flows along effortlessly. Quite the contrary. Not accepting the status quo is risky. It dictates stepping outside our comfort zone, and that can be scary. It is fascinating that rather than hanging back, our values motivate us to take action despite our fears. We’ll take risks for a meaningful cause that we’ll never do for ourselves alone.
If I were responsible only for myself, I may never get dressed in the morning; but my belief in the value women bring to the decision-making table motivates me to reach and stretch on their behalves. Each year, when I see my protégés put up their hand and volunteer for a major work assignment or leave behind an ungratifying position to start their own business, I know the risk of starting a women’s mentorship program was worth it.
When you take risks, things don’t always unfold as you would like, and women often find that difficult. We tend to ruminate and blame ourselves as opposed to external factors. Resilience is the ability to put things behind you and try again. Something that means a lot to us makes it possible to get up, dust ourselves off and take another run ‘round the track.
Steve Jobs demonstrated this when he came back to a failing Apple Inc. eleven years after having been fired. The company had just gone through three CEO’s and were just a few months away from insolvency. They had only four percent market share and losses of over a billion dollars a year. It would have been easy for him to turn the other way, but instead he answered the call and delivered the following message to the employees at Apple: “What we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done — although we do that well. Apple is about something more than that! Apple at the core…its core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.”
With those words, Jobs imbued his staff with a sense of purpose. His conviction to change the world for the better brought him back to the helm and inspired the disheartened Apple employees. Connecting with their leader's stated value made the employees’ work meaningful. Convinced that life was expecting something more from them, they rose to the occasion, making Apple the world's most valuable publicly traded company a few short years later.
Jobs could not have achieved this without presence, the intrinsic characteristic people want to emulate and follow. Often called the ‘it’ characteristic natural leaders possess, presence garners loyalty from employees who also strive to reach their own potential. People trust someone who is undoubtedly authentic, who is really ‘walking the talk’, therefore making themselves more likely to be listened to and remembered. They have presence.
Be a Leader
We all want meaning in our lives, to know that what we do each day matters. Values provide the ‘why’ for our existence, for with it any ‘how’ seems possible. Therein resides the importance of values to aspiring women leaders: they provide boundless energy to overcome all obstacles, and resiliency to focus on the future. Furthermore, values provide the passion and conviction that deliver the magnetism of presence.
Follow your values, find meaning, and you’ll feel a sense of purpose. Like Jobs said, it isn’t simply making boxes, it is the larger cause. Believe in what you are doing and you’ll feel happier and more fulfilled. Your priorities will be deliberate and determined, and you’ll take risks to make to make them happen. It all starts with knowing who you are, uncovering your energy, your resiliency, and finding yourself to be a natural woman leader.