Strong Women – Teaching Me to Lead Horizontally

by | May 1, 2019 | Professional Growth

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”.
– Isaac Newton

Men have stood by my side as I have developed into the leader I am today. However, the shoulders I have stood on over the years belong to strong women.

They are my giants.

My heritage of inspiring women begins with my family. The shoulders of my mother, wife, daughter, sisters and extended family members have supported me on my journey to becoming a great leader. Their advice, and how they lived, taught me an important lesson – you need to be a good person first if you want to serve others.

But in my professional life, men typically have the primary roles while women serve in a support capacity.

Today there is a greater understanding and appreciation of the positive impact women leaders have in the workplace. For example, a number of studies have confirmed sales and profits of companies led by women exceed those led by their male counterparts. This tracks with my experience – a testimony to the ability of women to bring people together to promote a positive culture and bottom line.

I recall a powerful lesson from one of my first supervisors in the corporate world. She saved me from myself. I was convinced my position was correct on an issue, battling a peer who disagreed. When I asked her to endorse my view, believing I was right and that she would quickly agree, she asked me the question I still remember today – what are you not saying?

What I was not saying was that this peer was very aggressive and someone I personally disliked. Winning this battle would be satisfying. My supervisor asked the question that revealed my motive, and in doing so she called me out. Thank goodness for strong leaders to see through our small thinking and large egos.

Strong women have taught me:
• The importance of fair process and of everyone having a voice
• To listen – not just hear – when resolving conflict
• To understand the impact of decisions on those who are on the receiving end – clients, peers and team members
Most importantly, to pay attention to others and not yourself.

As my career progressed I realized the importance of moving from individual contributor to team player. My new reality was effectively working across the organization – to lead horizontally. I was interdependent on others, and my resume was one of many. Learning to master this new horizontal skill was primarily met through the wisdom of female voices.

Three keys to effectively lead horizontally:

Mutual Needs
To work effectively sideways you need to know what your peers need, and they need to understand your needs. Discussing challenges and pain points leads to understanding and partnering. Superficial peer networking to check the box does not work – you need a mutual exchange of value.

Assists v. Goals
In competitive sports, athletes are often rewarded for scoring individual goals rather than setting up a teammate through an assist. Scoring goals in the workplace is certainly rewarded, yet there is a greater focus today on teamwork. Horizontal leaders initiate, rather than wait for, the opportunity to assist.

Trading Places
What can I do to make your job easier? This question projects your interest in helping others and also may identify internal problems in your operation. Enter their world and you will probably learn more about your own.

When we drive through an uncontrolled intersection, we look side to side – not just straight ahead. Our work relationships require the same attention. Peripheral vision keeps us out of trouble and opens us to new opportunities. Look both ways and become a giant others look up to.

All My Best,