Women may still not hold as many leadership positions as men, but our numbers are climbing. More women join the ranks of CEOs, members of Congress, and supervisors each year. Therefore, opportunities abound for women to learn lessons in leadership from others just like them.
Women are just as capable of excelling in leadership positions as men. They show just as much ability (or more) in key leadership traits such as intelligence, innovation, and resilience.
But as all good leaders know, leaders are constantly learning about ways to better themselves. Leadership lessons help leaders improve their teams and the organizations they lead.
What are lessons in leadership?
We can find lessons in leadership by studying the skills and traits of great leaders who have come before us.
Most leaders must be creative problem solvers and accustomed to thinking outside the box. But all leaders can benefit from leadership lessons learned from those who have already been there.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel as a leader. The problems you face in your own organization may be very different from problems solved by others. But learning what other leaders have done can provide you with wisdom and inspiration.
The stakes of poor leadership are high. Poor leaders risk the disintegration of their organizations. They risk a toxic work environment and unhappy team members. And of course, they risk their ability to create a lasting legacy that inspires others for years to come.
All leaders who are committed to greatness can benefit from lessons in leadership.
Why are lessons in leadership especially important for women?
Lessons in leadership may be important for all aspiring leaders. But they’re especially important for women. Women face many obstacles to leadership that men simply do not. Leadership lessons learned by other women can help new female leaders overcome those challenges.
Sexism continues to harm women in the workplace. Ongoing sexism in the workplace is dangerous and damaging to women's career prospects. Similarly, social conditioning teaches women to be less assertive and demanding. Both these qualities are necessary for strong leadership.
Women have traditionally been excluded from leadership roles, so they often have to work harder to achieve those positions now. They're also under closer review by their male coworkers to be good leaders.
For these reasons, women can benefit from lessons in leadership. Leadership lessons learned from other women can provide ideas, inspiration, strength, and resilience.
8 Key lessons in leadership for women in business and their careers
Women can leverage lessons on leadership to invest in their people, their organizations, and invest themselves. Below are 8 leadership lessons all women leaders can benefit from based on impactful quotes by key women in leadership positions!
1. Prioritize a team mindset
“Leadership is about the team—the culture they keep and embrace. It’s about empathy for your customers, clients, employees, and the communities where you do business. It’s about doing the right thing for the right reasons, being confident enough to take risks and responsible enough to think of those who your decisions and risks may affect.”— Kat Cole (Former COO & President of FOCUS Brands)
Successful leaders don’t put themselves first. They put their teams first. They rarely think in terms of “I,” but instead in terms of “we.”
And good leaders know they have many “teams” to think about. They have a team of employees to manage, grow, and inspire. They also have their teams of customers or constituents to serve well.
Great leaders know that investing in their teams allows them to reach goals that would otherwise be out of reach. Prioritizing a team mindset is perhaps one of the most valuable leadership lessons learned.
2. Develop others
“I’ve always subscribed to the belief that the best leader is not one who has the most followers, but one who creates the most leaders. I strive every day—to create more conscious, confident, and soulful leaders who, in return, will build a better world for all.”— Stephanie Courtillier (Founder, Integrous Women)
“Magic happens when you connect people. I credit much of my success to truly getting to know people and helping them whenever I can. It’s become the backbone of our firm’s success. Women founders are often highly skilled at making connections that can help advance their businesses.”— Susan Macpherson (Founder & CEO, McPherson Strategies)
As Susan Macpherson said, women leaders are good at developing others and helping others to grow. This should be the goal of every good leader.
Many people who end up becoming great leaders start with little or no experience. In fact, one of the most successful women leaders of all time, Oprah Winfrey, got her start by working at a local radio station. The station managers at her first radio station were impressed by her passion and helped her work up to bigger roles at larger stations.
Good leaders should never seek to keep their team members stuck. This is not inspiring leadership. Leaders who don’t develop their teams risk losing valuable members to other organizations that will develop them. Developing others is another important lesson on leadership.
3. Take criticism as feedback
“Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”— Hillary Clinton (American Politician)
Hillary Clinton is probably one of the most widely criticized women leaders in the world. But Hillary has made some extraordinary accomplishments for at-risk and underserved populations. And she offers a great lesson in leadership about how to take criticism.
Criticism can be tough to swallow. But being able to take criticism is an essential part of being a leader. Criticism often contains valuable feedback leaders can use to grow and improve. Criticism will likely be a fact of life for every leader. Taking criticism well is an important leadership lesson learned.
4. Learn from your team
“It’s okay to admit what you don’t know. It’s okay to ask for help. And it’s more than okay to listen to the people you lead. In fact, it’s essential.”— Mary Barra (CEO, General Motors)
“Great leaders find people who are best at different things and get them all on the same team.”— Eileen Bistrisky (President & CEO, Effective Leadership Consulting)
A good leader knows when to rely on her own expertise. She also knows when she can benefit from the expertise of others. Team members who feel comfortable sharing their expertise can come up with even more creative and innovative ideas.
Additionally, team members can tell when they're valued. Members who know their contributions are valuable are more invested in the outcomes for the organization. Leaders who allow space for team members to shine end up inspiring others to grow and reach new heights. This lesson in leadership can help women leaders reach new heights.
5. Keep your team focused
“People respond well to those that are sure of what they want.”— Anna Wintour (Editor-in-Chief, Vogue)
A distracted team is not effective. Neither is a team that doesn't know its objectives. Great leaders excel in keeping their teams focused on the most important tasks.
Likewise, leaders should ensure that they have the right people working on the right tasks. If team members are working on tasks unsuited to them, the whole team can lose momentum. It’s a good leader’s job to delegate properly so the team can do its best work.
6. Care for your team members as whole people
Poor leaders drive their team members to work harder with only the organization’s goals in mind. Yes, it’s important for leaders to keep their teams focused and inspire them to work hard. But good leaders should remember that their teams consist of people with struggles and motivations of their own.
Great leaders remember to treat their team members as whole people. They recognize that the people working for them are not robots. Leaders who show genuine care for their team encourage the best efforts. This lesson in leadership inspires team members to do their best because they want to.
7. Seek to inspire
“Leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader.”— Indra Nooyi (Former Chairman & CEO of PepsiCo)
“A good leader is able to paint a picture of a vision for the future and then enlist others to go on the journey with her. A truly conscious leader recognizes that it is not about her, but that the team is looking to her for inspiration and direction. Keeping her ego in check is essential.”—Tamra Ryan (CEO, Women’s Bean Project)
Truly excellent leaders are inspirational. Leaders like Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Malala Yousafzai have all inspired people all over the world.
These leaders weren’t born knowing how they were going to influence the world. They all came from modest backgrounds. Throughout their lives, they grew to be inspirational leaders over time. Every female leader has an opportunity to inspire just as deeply as they have.
8. Learn continuously
"Continuous learning leads to continuous improvement. Commit yourself to advancing your knowledge, skills, and expertise. Be a lifelong student."—Pamela Gill Alabaster (Head of Global Sustainability at Mattel, Inc.)
Leaders don’t suddenly reach a certain point of success or knowledge before they start leading. Instead, they trust they’ll figure things out as they go along. Great leaders know they need to continue learning and growing throughout their lives.
Resources for lessons in leadership
We live in an age where lessons on leadership are literally at our fingertips.
Reading books is one of the best ways to learn about leadership. Reading can help you make stronger connections between things you learn. It can also help you gain deeper insight into yourself.
Leadership podcasts are great for women who prefer listening over reading. You can plug into a podcast while commuting or exercising instead of listening to the same old playlists! Use your time to invest in your growth and self-development.
Finally, find a mentor or group of mentors to help you in your journey to leadership. Mentors are like coaches who can provide you with helpful insights and feedback. You can ask your mentor specific questions and learn from their real-life experiences.
Consider joining an in-person or local networking group to find a mentor who can help you. You may also be able to find a mentor at work!
Use these lessons in leadership to become a successful leader!
Lessons in leadership will always benefit you. Being an excellent leader is a lifelong growth process. The leadership lessons you learn will build on each other throughout your life.
Great leaders today may seem like they were simply born that way. But the truth is, they all started somewhere. Every journey into leadership begins with small daily actions and habits. By starting these lessons on leadership, you're well on your way to being a successful leader!
To find inspirational stories of other women leaders just like you, tune into the Clever Girls Know podcast. Or you can subscribe to our YouTube channel! We can't wait to cheer you on in your journey. Here's to you and inspirational women leaders all over the world.