Do We Need a New Definition of Leadership, Especially for Our Female Students?

Sabra Brock, PhD
Interim Dean
Graduate School of Business, Touro College

What a challenge to educators to train the next generation of leaders, especially young women. They will have to meet the challenges and opportunities that come with globalization, robotization and interconnection.

When I gave a keynote presentation at the NatDC Women in Leadership Conference at the Harvard Faculty Club October 2-3, 2018, I drew some pointers from my survey of 50 C-Suite women. This generation of female leaders realized early that they were on the path to leadership, some as early as the teenage years. Rather than pointing out the sacrifices necessary, they focused on how much they enjoyed leading their organizations. Their dominant emotions were excitement, gratitude and pride.

I asked the conference attendees brainstorm what it would take to train new generations of girls and young women to embrace the traits key to leadership success that the C-Suite women identified:

  • Persistence
  • Resilience
  • Risk taking
  • Team building
  • Hard work
  • Attention to detail
  • Positive attitude

What did these female higher education leaders recommend?

  • Push forward despite the odds. Get out of your comfort zone with confidence and determination. Model and radiate as a female leader.
  • Surround yourself with people and mentors who will speak truth to you. Mentor younger women.
  • Create lots of “low stakes” and “high stakes” leadership opportunities for girls and younger women.
  • Recognize and reward the men who acknowledge that female leadership is necessary to solve that issues the world faces now and in the future.
  • Lead with grace and kindness, knowing your power comes from your abilities, not your position.
  • Recognize that you have cultural biases hidden to you, so be willing to listen and learn from all, including the marginalized.

But the most insightful comment was the request that we need to change the definition of leadership to include traits women have been practicing for generations – facilitating, serving and helping. Demands created by globalization, robotization and interconnection require leaders to have more skill in communication, building confidence, and conflict management.

I strongly urge higher education professionals to create more opportunities for their students, especially women, to practice persistence, resilience, risk taking, and working with other in teams in the academic environment where stakes are lower than in the workplace.  And, let’s remind ourselves to reward our students who work so hard with so much attention to the details of collegiate work and do it with a positive attitude throughout.


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