Reluctant Leaders – Why You Might Be Readier to Lead than You Think


Guest contributed by Sarah Dixon

Ann thought that she knew herself well.

At 45-year-old, she’d been tested by life often enough to know her strengths and weaknesses. She’d done a few personality tests over the years and had a handle on how she worked most effectively at work.

Then Ann’s firm called in team-building experts, who carried out personality evaluations on the whole team. As Ann read her report, she saw something that she’d never considered before. She had tested well for leadership ability.
Ann had never thought of pursuing more responsibility in her career. Work, for her, had always taken a second place to looking after the children. But with the kids at university, Ann began to think about the possibility. Once she turned thought into action, it wasn’t long before she started rising through her organisation.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone, let alone to Ann. Many of the qualities that make a good leader are gained through the sort of life experiences that women deal with day in, day out. There are examples of these kinds of experiences throughout this article, but these are not the only way those qualities can be acquired. Hopefully they will enable you to identify a similar experience in your life, if you have not had that particular one yourself.


There have been many studies over the years which have shown that women are more empathic than men. While this empathy is sometimes perceived as a weakness, when you’re building a team being able to understand your staff and find ways to motivate them has obvious advantages. Rather than adopting a dictatorial style, it allows you to build a deeper connection with staff which pays dividends in terms of loyalty and commitment.


Girls compete, women empower – or so the meme goes. But this isn’t just about feminism and giving your fellow females a leg-up. Managers who delegate tasks within their team, and give their staff the tools they need to excel are more successful than their more controlling counterparts. As women, we spend a lot of our time facilitating for others. Whether it’s our partners, children, or friends we are used to supporting others to achieve for themselves. Carrying this instinct into a leadership role brings you a loyal, talented and effective team.


Whether it’s banging your head on the glass ceiling, or dealing with the sorts of experiences highlighted by the #metoo campaign, women have a head start in continuing in the face of adversity. Resilience doesn’t mean bullishly pushing on regardless of what comes your way. Cassandra Stavrou of Propercorn wrote in The Telegraph explained how for her, resilience was about thinking strategically rather than simply being strong. It led her to develop recognisable packaging to ensure that her boxes were not lost in vast warehouses.


Because women take on the burden of emotional labor, we also become adept as communicators. Being well organized, and finding the right words to get things done are skills that we often overlook, simply because they are taken for granted by society as a whole. But if you’ve ever had to talk down a toddler who has been given triangles of toast when they wanted squares, you’ve been prepared for negotiation. Handling relationship breakdowns gives us experience in making deals, even when the stakes are high. Life teaches us the importance of saying what we need to say.


Ultimately, a good manager needs to be able to hold their hand up and take responsibility if things don’t go to plan. If someone on your team screws up? The buck stops with you. But, doesn’t it always? Whether it’s birth control, avoiding sexual assault or many other issues women are constantly being asked to stay accountable for the actions of others. While those expectations are often unfair, perhaps the silver lining is that they prepare us to be willing to shoulder the burdens of our team.

No Better Time

There is perhaps no better time than the present to look for more responsibility. The world is changing. Women’s voices are finally being heard and men are beginning to really see the equality problem. We can hope that the coming generations will find their lives so much easier, their paths to leadership more assured.

But for those of us who find ourselves standing on the threshold of management via a more circuitous route, we can take comfort in the fact that while the journey may not have been easy, it has at least prepared us for what is to come.

Sarah Dixon writes for Inspiring Interns, which specializes in sourcing candidates for internships and graduate jobs.

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