On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the 31st Annual Leaderhship Conference sponsored by The Women's Center of Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. The conference honors and celebrates excellence in leadership by women. Notice I didn't say "women's leadership". Effective leadership is not different based on the gender of the leader. My favorite leadership model is by Kouzes and Posner, described in The Leadership Challenge. Their model applies to both men and women; they make no distinction. Certainly, women face many unique issues and challenges when practicing leadership that men do not have to face, but great leadership is great leadership.
Conference attendees heard from several influential and accomplished leaders who discussed their journey and the lessons they learned along the way. None of them experienced a Point A to Point B to Point C path; there were many zigs and zags. However, there was one common message among all of their stories. They all attributed much of their success to being authentic - by showing up true to their values and leading in a way best for them and not being overly concerned with what others thought.
In fact, Deborah Rutter, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts, described it as being "courageously authentic." Where does courage come into play when being authentic? Women receive messages from our organizational cultures, our families and our society about how women should and should not act and be. I once worked at an organization where, in the same day, I was told that I both talked too much and not enough in meetings. I seriously doubted whether my male colleagues received the same feedback.
It takes courage to know our values and strengths and lead with them even when we are receiving messages that our values and strengths are counter to what is expected. The more we tie ourselves in knots to figure out what is the "right" and "wrong" way to be, we drain our energy and diminish our presence. Certainly, it is a smart practice to be very aware of the cultural norms and expectations of our environments and do our best to honor them, as long as we are not sacrificing our ourselves in the process.