Lessons I’ve Learned As A Female Leader: Speak Up, Stay Real

female leadership tips

The bar for effective leadership is very high. Leaders, male and female alike, are faced with multifaceted internal and external challenges for their organizations or business units.

Throughout my tenure in leadership roles, and previously working directly with leaders of all kinds while driving organizational planning, I have recognized that despite facing like-challenges in our roles, as a female, my unique talents and how I achieve results were misunderstood and often times diminished from a value standpoint for the organization. This lack of understanding held me back from speaking up and offering my opinions, ultimately affecting how others perceived me in the workplace, in my executive presence, and essentially as a thought leader in my area of discipline.

This discrepancy bothered me greatly and eventually I experienced periods of resentment. But, then, I realized that innovative results require a dynamic, creative process and from that realization I spent time focusing intently on my value as a female leader and how to think and contribute differently — more boldly and effectively.

Over time, these realizations and focuses on my own leadership style led me to a position within a creative company, CreativeLive, where I oversee People Operations as a founding member of the executive team. My role comes with its challenges, as all leadership roles do, but being able to focus on creative solutions and dynamic output has helped solidify my learnings as a female executive to this point. Currently, I am also the sole female member of our leadership team, which has prompted more thought and intent with regards to the impact female perspectives have on the creative leadership process.

Inside and outside of leadership in a creative company, there are a few key areas that I’ve learned to focus on in my business leadership:

Raise Your Hand

Despite years of progress by women in the workforce (we now occupy more than 40% of all managerial positions in the US) within the C-suite we remain rare. Amongst the Fortune 500 only 6% of Chairman, President, CEO or COO titles are held by women. Yet, it’s been shown that companies with three or more women in leadership or board positions show exponential growth and profit.

The imbalance is still high, but I’ve learned that despite it, I still have a voice and I still have a seat at the table that I earned through my personal hard work, skill set, and contributions. I’ve grasped that it’s even more important for me to speak up and raise my hand on issues that deserve a diverse representation and approach to thinking than simply going with the flow.

I’ve spent time recognizing and learning ways to self-promote my ideas, opinions and areas of expertise authentically and to not fear saying what I think out loud.

Remain Authentic

Don’t be afraid to be yourself; being an influential leader is fully contingent on being able to be who you are and to speak and act from a place that is authentically your own. Offering a whole hearted version of yourself allows richer interaction for giving feedback, sharing opinions and ultimately having people believe in your passion and mission. Strong leadership is all about the ability to truly affect people and make an impact in their professions, focus and lives.

A part of authenticity is following your gut. Sometimes you have to make a leap of faith. As I was moving up the ranks, and even now, I’ll attend meetings in which  it’s clear a decision is needed and I realize it’s going to be me making it. Leadership is about being confident and actionable, and sometimes it happens even when you’re not 100 percent sure of the outcome, being able to act with decisiveness and from the heart builds confidence both for yourself and amongst the team.

Never Stop Learning

There is so much talk about natural leadership qualities, but I thoroughly believe you have to learn, cultivate and continually foster your leadership ability.

Leadership is something to always hone, assess and reflect upon. For women it’s essential to seek out mentors, industry resources and personal development tools to grow one’s social capital and leadership capacity. Further, understanding and grasping the psychological requirements, and sometimes barriers, that comes with female leadership is critical.

Women are most commonly viewed as less qualified or not as natural in leadership roles as their male counterparts and conflicting expectations based on gender makes it imperative to continue to advance your leadership philosophies and strategies.

Be Introspective

Many acts of leadership happen behind closed doors. Conversations with an employee or client, the difficult and pressure-ridden decisions on a business plan or accountability to the Board, makes the internal journey of leadership very private and  there are aspects as a leader that you alone carry.

Introspectively learning about yourself and the places in which you find your center of gravity and foundation are essential. Many times during the work day, I’ll take a walk outside, find a quiet corner or listen to music between meetings. Those moments of focus help keep me centered on the role I have taken and allows me to reflect on the responsibility I have for myself and others.

Be a Good Listener

Likely the most important thing I’ve learned along my path to leadership, is to be a good listener — an active listener — a genuine listener. Building an exceptional team and an amazing product means you’ve heard what matters to each individual on your team and your users.

Often times, thriving teams are a result of a leader who has listened and heard, directly and indirectly, what is needed for success. So often employees and colleagues don’t ask directly for what they need the most or immediately identify their own solutions.

Further, honing in on what your audience and product users are asking requires you to break through and identify product-market needs based on indirect feedback and requests.

Megan Zengerle

Megan Zengerle is CreativeLive's VP of people and ops. She's a tireless opportunist, eternal optimist, start-up grower, risk taker, coffee lover, and (BMX) mom.