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Leading with Character: The Power of Being Different Part Two

My last blog introduced the power of being different. I showed how that worked for me when I became the first or only woman to serve on US Coast Guard ships with up to 150 men. Sure, my experience as one of the few women serving on the front lines in the military was different in some ways than that of women serving in the public, private, or non-profit sectors. Despite those differences, I believe women who succeed in any walk of life have some common attributes.

Attributes for Success
I like to think of those attributes for success in pairs: hard work & perseverance partnered with competence & confidence. To me, each pair comprises two sides of the same coin; you can’t uncouple them. That’s because hard work only gets one so far. Too often, capable people quit at the least sign of resistance. To succeed, they’ve got to persevere. They need to tackle obstacles head-on and push through or find a way around them. Likewise, competence alone won’t get one promoted. An individual must display the confidence necessary for others to believe he or she is capable of stepping up to lead at the next level.

Most importantly, women who are successful in a majority male environment understand that being different can be a superpower. They learn to use that power in a positive way to not only achieve their goals and objectives, but to advance success of their team and their organization. Everyone wins.

A Model for Success
I’m always looking for positive role models who can teach me how to be a better leader. A few months ago, I came across an interview by Jade Scipioni for CNBC Make It. The piece, titled “Why the first black woman CEO in the Fortune 500 says ‘being the minority can be a career advantage,’” featured the former CEO and chairman of Xerox, Ursula Burns. Please check out the article; it’s worth the few minutes it takes to read!

The Courage to Take Your Place
I was pleased to learn from the remarkable Ursula Burns that my experience wasn’t just applicable to the military; a private sector woman executive also observed that being different can be powerful. Ms. Burns demonstrated a fervent work ethic, and she persevered to get ahead. She learned to thrive in business despite being a part of the demographic minority, explaining that “My natural comfort is being the only or the few in a room. I became very good at playing in that space.”

Wow, could I ever relate—that mirrored my own experience. Ms. Burns didn’t hang in the back of the conference room waiting to be invited to sit at the table. Rather, she had the courage to step forward with confidence to take her place at the table. And you can, too. I didn’t start out ready to take my place; it took time. It’s all about attitude and attributes; it’s about understanding the power of being different. You’ve got to believe in yourself and others. You’ve got to work hard & persevere, and present yourself with the confidence that matches your competence. That will lead others to believe in you, too.

Look in the mirror. Are you ready to take your seat at the table?

Please join me again next week for more on Leading with Character.

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