Best Tips to Identify the Qualities of a Leader

By Mariela Dabbah

Female Leaders: Are You Looking in the Right Place?

Jenny G. is a 24 year-old Air Force Guard pilot who works as an actuary at an aircraft interior design company. Finding female leaders like her inspires me beyond words! A few weeks ago she noticed that one of the teams at her job was having some trouble and she offered her help. “I noticed they were having some communication and leadership issues and I knew I had the experience to help them resolve them,” shared Jenny.

Qualities of a Leader: Female leaders may be right in front of you

Qualities of a Leader: Female leaders may be right in front of you

She never expected the kind of answer she received from her supervisor via email: “Number crunchers don’t have leadership skills. In a few years I may reconsider your offer.” Really? At a time when companies are looking for ways to encourage and promote female leaders, this supervisor couldn’t recognize all the qualities of a leader in this young ambitious woman?

This is what happened next. Rather than believing her supervisor’s words and downsizing her aspirations, Jenny sent a note to the big boss suggesting that she might be able to help the troubled team. And she sent along her credentials: 12 years as a civil air patrol volunteer (which got her interested in joining the Auxiliary U.S. Air Force, part of Homeland Security), her involvement with the Red Shoe Movement, and all the other activities she’s always been involved with that clearly show she has all the qualities of a leader.

Impressed, the big boss asked her to come into his office and, after a nice conversation, promoted her to Program Manager of the team in question. And one more thing: The former supervisor? She now reports to Jenny!

Unfortunately, this is one of many examples of managers missing opportunities and overlooking great potential female leaders.  This happens either because they look in the wrong place or because they hold stereotypes that prevent them from seeing what the people they have right in front of them have to offer.

Qualities of a leader: They’re right in front of you

Missing out on some incredible talent can often be a function of old habits dying hard and of our tendency to take shortcuts. But if you’d like to avoid overlooking women (and men!) who possess the qualities of a leader here’s what you can do:

  •  Pretend your (metaphorical) glasses are broken and borrow the glasses of a colleague who has a different background than you do. Then ask yourself: How would Andrea/Tanisha/Bo/Michael/Ricardo look at this specific candidate? What would she/he see? When you do this exercise you’ll start noticing different aspects of people that you probably didn’t notice before. You can also ask those colleagues to tell you what they see when they look at your candidate so you don’t even have to imagine it.
  • Female leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Make sure you look in the right place.

    Female leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Make sure you look in the right place.

    Explore the lives of your diverse employees outside of work. What experiences do they have that might have given them a solid if non-traditional leadership foundation? Okay, they weren’t in the Girl Scouts, but did they lead their church fundraiser every year? Were they in charge of their household early on? Do they run a family business on the side? Keep in mind that female leaders come in all shapes and sizes.

  • Admit that nowadays leadership is no longer the exclusive realm of senior employees. There are many young employees who are natural leaders and who have practiced those skills in school, in clubs, in volunteer activities and so on. Give them a chance to prove what they can do and you’ll be amazed.
  • Recruit outside of your traditional top 30 schools. Often diverse talent doesn’t make it to those schools because nobody guided them along the way. They didn’t start preparing for admission early enough in their education, or they couldn’t afford those schools financially and didn’t know they could get a free ride if admitted. Recruit at state schools and smaller schools and you’ll find some hidden jewels that have all the qualities of a leader you’re looking for.

So if you want to avoid losing young female leaders like Jenny on your watch, I suggest that you start looking in less obvious places and avoid making any assumptions. You’re probably surrounded by these amazing women who are waiting to be discovered.

Do you have Executive Presence? Take our Quiz and Find Out!

Do you have Executive Presence? Take our Quiz and Find Out!

Do you have Executive Presence?

Right now, the buzzword for female advancement in the workplace is executive presence, a desired trait for certain leadership positions. But for many women, that concept brings up a good deal of questions. What does executive presence mean exactly? Are you born with it or can you acquire it if you don’t have it? Who determines if you have executive presence or not?

The fact is that executive presence is itself a pretty elusive concept, one that is more in the eye of the beholder than anyone would admit. At its worst, it’s used in the expression, “He/she doesn’t have executive presence” when selecting a candidate for a top executive position, which is code for, “The candidate doesn’t look like the executives currently serving in our organization,” which in turn is often code for, “The candidate is not a middle-aged white man.”  So saying that someone lacks executive presence is often nothing more than a way of saying that they don’t fit the leadership mold in that company.

In this situation, the first question you should ask yourself is how much you need or even want to fit the mold before you go about changing your style. In some cases, not fitting the mold is actually good. If the organization is looking for someone with a different experience and perspective, having a diverse background or a style that’s unlike that of the reigning executive pool works to your advantage. The next question you must ask yourself is if executive presence is a requirement for the type of role you’re interested in —for example in finance or human resources. Continue Reading the Article


But if, at critical points in your career, you’ve heard the feedback that you lack executive presence, you might want to consult with trusted advisors on ways you could develop a bit more. The truth is, no one is born with executive presence, but there are some basic traits on which to build the executive presence required to lead. Some things you can learn – such as maintaining eye contact, speaking with clarity, controlling your body language. But others – such as inspiring confidence, intelligence, and making snap decisions that are consistently good ones – may be more a function of your psychological makeup and not something you can pick up from a coach.

If you want to be a leader in your organization, however, it’s critical to hone your executive presence to attract the attention of those who can offer you the right opportunities.  So take this quiz and find out if you already have the kind of executive presence needed to be promoted to the highest levels of a company, and what else you could do to refine what you’ve got.

Should you find out that you lack some of the characteristics that are inherent requirements of a person in a leadership role, you can redirect your career path towards one that better aligns with your internal assets.  And if you still want to pursue a leadership role, one option might be to seek a leadership role outside of a large corporation where certain rules apply. There are many successful women making a huge impact in all sorts of organizations where they can channel their interests and valuable talents.

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Developing Effective Leadership Traits with Training for Latinas

Teaching effective leadership traits at McDonald's Women Career Development training - Hilda Gonzalez McDonald's Facilitator

Teaching effective leadership traits at McDonald’s Women Career Development training

Take a peek into the McDonald’s Women Career Development program that teaches effective leadership skills to Latinas to help them move up the ladder!

It was arctic cold at the Hyatt Lodge in Oakbrook, IL, when a group of forty Latinas came together for a full day of leadership training organized for them exclusively by McDonald’s. The frigid temperature (single digits Fahrenheit!) continued outside, but inside it was all excitement and warm camaraderie.

Handpicked by their supervisors, these restaurant managers spent a day away from running multimillion-dollar businesses and identified effective leadership traits and skills that could help them continue to grow in their careers. With the help of a professional facilitator and five “Big Sisters” (senior women in the organization) they spent eight hours bonding with each other while discussing high impact topics.  You could ask why would people who are already so successful need to be made aware of effective leadership traits. Shouldn’t they already have those leadership traits in order to manage multimillion-dollar restaurants?

The truth is that these powerful Latinas are extremely talented managers who have proven to be invaluable to the organization and who posses many of the typical leadership traits you’d expect in people in their positions. But the corporation believes it would benefit even more if these leaders continued to climb the corporate ladder and to do so, they need to expand their skillset. So McDonald’s is set on helping them achieve their full potential and, in the process, continue to develop the pipeline of outstanding women leaders.

Appreciating specific and effective leadership traits

Through engaging small-group discussions followed by larger group sharing, participants discovered a host of leadership traits that they had in common as women and, particularly, as Latinas.  Among them:

Forty restaurant managers meet to identify effective leadership traits that can help them grow even further within the organization

Forty restaurant managers meet to identify effective leadership traits that can help them grow even further within the organization

"Big sisters", senior women within the organization collaborate with professional facilitator to carry out leadership development program

“Big sisters”, senior women within the organization collaborate with professional facilitator to carry out leadership development program

  • Ability to listen to their customers
  • Family orientation that extends to the way they treat employees
  • Ability to multitask and get things done
  • Strength while able to show emotion
  • A focus on getting their target goals accomplished
  • Supportive of other women’s career advancement
  • Focus on the bottom line
  • Excellent communication skills— Many of them are able to speak two or more languages
  • Courage —In many cases as part of their family’s immigrant history
  • Strong ability to work with teams
The Women Career Development program that McDonald's tailored to Latinas teaches them leadership traits needed to move up the ladder

The Women Career Development program that McDonald’s tailored to Latinas teaches them leadership traits needed to move up the ladder

Focusing on areas of opportunity

The setting of the day, a leadership training program exclusively created for Latinas, was a safe backdrop for a candid conversation where participants could openly admit to cultural elements often responsible for holding them back in their careers. These included:

  • Too much emphasis on overcoming weaknesses rather than on becoming better at one’s strengths
  • Fear of asking for feedback
  • Fear of disappointing one’s family by failing
  • Dealing with different family expectations of a woman’s role than participants’ own expectations for themselves (Families that expect women to be home and take care of their families, husbands who may resent their spouses for making more money than they do, etc.)
  • Lack of confidence in one’s leadership abilities even when the evidence points to strong leadership traits
  • Lack of strong written communication skills needed to move to next level
Discussing key concepts in small groups and reporting back to the group at large helps to build confidence in effective leadership traits

Discussing key concepts in small groups and reporting back to the group at large helps to build confidence in effective leadership traits

By admitting to these cultural characteristics (or baggage, as the group decided to call those Latino traits that may get in the way of career growth) and by learning ways to deal with these characteristics, participants felt a sense of relief and possibility. They also opened themselves to being mentored by more senior women in order to take full advantage of the opportunities available to them at their company.

The resounding success of the leadership-training day underscored how programs designed with a specific demographic in mind and delivered by a sensitive team can positively impact employees. McDonald’s made these Latinas feel valued by offering a space to share culturally relevant insights and by making them feel part of a larger network of women ready to support their career success.

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”13″ size_format=”px” ]What is your company doing to engage Latinas in the workplace and to promote them up the ranks?[/typography]


Want to Develop Effective Female Leaders? Turn on the Executive Leadership Switch

Qualities of successful female leaders

Whenever the question comes up of what are the most common qualities of a leader research seems to agree with one particular trait: Internal locus of control. In other words, most successful female leaders share the notion that they can exert control over their circumstances rather than being controlled by them. Much like their male counterparts, these female leaders feel they can make decisions to affect their environment and change what they don’t like in order to move forward with their vision.

The most common qualities of a leader research seems to agree with one particular trait: Internal locus of control

The most common qualities of a leader research seems to agree with one particular trait: Internal locus of control

To me, that sense of internal control goes hand in hand with trusting yourself instead of relying on others to make decisions for you.  Unfortunately, many women were raised to rely on others rather than trusting themselves. Let me explain.

Turning on the Executive Leadership Switch

Children naturally place all their trust in their parents to make decisions.  But as children grow up and become adults, that trust should be transferred internally so they can make their own decisions that align with what’s best for them.  Many women never develop that sense of self trust to make decisions, most likely because they have traditionally moved from their parents’ home to a husband’s or partner’s home without developing the independence to trust themselves. They keep on seeking permission or approval from someone else before they make up their minds.  So it seems that, although women may become independent from their parents as they move away, they frequently may not become completely autonomous. They may not be exercising their decision-making skills as much as needed in order to graduate to executive leadership positions at work.

There are probably more, but I remember very clearly two occasions when I transferred the responsibility for making a decision to someone else.  First, when I was trying to get divorced and kept hoping that my husband would give me permission to do it. It took me several years to recognize that he didn’t agree with me, and he would never make that decision for me. It was I who needed to make the decision, take the risk, and face the consequences.

The second was when I was about to publish the Spanish edition of my latest book Find Your Inner Red Shoes, and my publisher sent me a series of unappealing cover options. I kept asking for something more powerful, more in line with the topic of the book, and hoping that he would decide on a cover that I could live with. My agent (another man) even warned me that were I to suggest exactly what the cover should look like I would carry the responsibility if the book didn’t sell well.

And here’s where we reach the crux of the problem. When you make decisions, you have to face the consequences of the decisions you make. That’s exactly what executive leadership is all about. Unfortunately, many women have not shaken off their childhood fear of these consequences. But as long as women seek permission from others who they trust more than themselves, as long as they expect others to make the decisions for them, they will continue to live in the past. They will continue to be dragged down by old mandates that subconsciously interfere with their career growth.

How to Turn Your Managers into Female Leaders?

By helping women locate and turn on their executive leadership switch you can shine a light on the path away from the past and into the future. It’s about making visible what’s under the surface by naming it and openly discussing the effect that not trusting yourself to know what’s best for you will have on your career.

Find out how to turn your managers into female leaders

Find out how to turn your managers into female leaders

A great way to elicit internal trust is to celebrate autonomous decision making in your employees. By resisting punishment of calculated risk-taking, you can send a strong message that this kind of behavior is welcome. Invite your female managers and high potentials to embrace their autonomy and feel comfortable with making their own decisions without having to check with their supervisors every step of the way. Encourage them to trust themselves to know what’s best for their teams and for your business, and you’ll see how fast a new group of female leaders emerges from the shadows of fear.


Managing Generation Y in the Workplace: How Can Managers Motivate Their Employees?

The secrets to managing Gen Y in the workplace

The secrets to managing Gen Y in the workplace

When it comes to managing Generation Y in the Workplace (Millennials), one of the most frequently asked questions is: How can managers motivate their employees? —These young, hyper-connected, multi-screened, don’t-want-to-pay-my-dues employees who share the workspace (when they agree to come to the office) with older generations.

Funny enough I don’t seem to have a problem with this idiosyncratic lot. They are smart, exciting, have an unprecedented ability to learn new things fast, to be in touch with what’s going on in the world, and a passion for making an impact in society. And their connectivity doesn’t only mean their smart phones are an extension of their arms, it also means they are global citizens who don’t see race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or even geography the same way their parents do. They have a deeper sense of how connected all humanity is, how one’s actions have an effect in someone else’s life, even when that someone lives thousands of miles away.

The 6 Secrets to Managing Generation Y in the Workplace

There are six secrets to effectively managing Generation Y in the workplace:

  1. Leverage all they have to offer and allow them to impact you and the way you work rather than trying to push them to conform to what the workplace looked like when they entered it.
  2. Learn from them as much as you want them to learn from you.
  3. Give them their own project with specific guidelines on outcomes and deadlines and then give them as much freedom to manage the project as possible. Have checkpoints to make sure they are on task but avoid being the helicopter parent they grew up with.
  4. Invite them to offer their own ideas on how things can be done differently to obtain better results, and then implement as many of their ideas as feasible.
  5. Provide as much work flexibility as possible. If there’s no compelling argument to have them physically in the office 9:00-5:00 PM, let them work from wherever they want.
  6. Treat them with the respect they expect and deserve.
Generation Y in the workforce

4 Key strategies to Engage Generation Y in the workforce

How can managers motivate their employees and strategies that work

But we all know that managing Generation Y in the workplace is only part of the deal. What’s more challenging is to motivate these employees, to engage them with your company in such a powerful way that they don’t feel the need to jump to your competition. It’s been said that loyalty is not one of this generation’s strong suits but I disagree. Here are a four key strategies that have worked wonders for me.

  1. Find out what their personal and their professional goals are and make sure to align them with the projects you assign to them. It is in this alignment that you’ll tap into their passion and their loyalty for the work they do and by extension, to you.
  2. Offer public recognition for their contributions and whenever possible, offer additional awards such as certificates, special opportunities, etc. as part of such recognition.
  3. Provide plum opportunities or assignments to those in your team who excel at what they do. It could be to meet executives in the organization that can function as career sponsors, or attendance to conferences your employees are particularly interested in (even when they don’t relate to the work they do for you.)
  4. Support the causes that are important to them. This is a generation that is involved in many causes outside work. Find a way to tap into that involvement by either providing financial support, time off to attend to activities related to that cause, or even having your company partner with some of the organizations your employees value most.

The best part about working with Millennials is that they are hard working, creative and passionate people. When you start implementing these very simple strategies suddenly managing Generation Y in the workplace becomes the most rewarding part of your day. Suddenly you realize that you have been looking at this group the wrong way and that they are your most loyal employees, your best brand Ambassadors who will promote your company without you even asking.