So you want to lead? Be a leader.

I recently ran across this blog post, entitled, “For Aspiring Female Leaders,” by Angela Maiers. In part, it’s another reaction to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Maiers urges women aspiring to lead, in the spirit of the oft-quoted “Be the change you want to see in the world” (which it turns out Ghandi did NOT say – but I digress; if you want to read about that go here but please come back!), “Be the leader that you imagine yourself to be.”

In contrast to Sandberg’s book, which is filled with great advice on what to DO to get ahead in business, Maiers focuses on what we should BE if we aspire to leadership.

  • Be a Learner.
  • Be a Question Asker.
  • Be Courageous.
  • Be Kind.
  • Be Patient & Persistent.
  • Be Passionate.
  • Be Hopeful.
  • Be Humble.
  • Be Empathetic.

Be a LeaderAs I read it, I couldn’t help but reflect on a former employee of mine, who I’ll call “Ambitious Annie.” Annie was bright and capable, very sharp at the ripe old age of 26. I never had to worry that Annie wouldn’t focus on her development or ask what she needed to do to get that next raise or promotion.  She was always working multiple checklists – her project checklist, her home checklist, her life planning checklist and her career development checklist. She believed that she needed to move up to a more challenging position every two years, and wanted to make sure she knew what she needed to do to make that happen. The main thing she really needed to do was to focus a little less on what to DO and a little more on just BEing a leader.

My interpretation of Maiers’ post is that leaders don’t just master their checklists; they embody these qualities in the way they show up in life (both at work and elsewhere) every day. All day you are making choices about who to be. Are you the person who gives the dog a little love before heading out the door, smiles at the bus driver, says “Good morning,” and “Thank you,” to the kid who made your latte, and asks your co-worker if her mom is feeling better? Do you find a few interesting tidbits in that 3-hour seminar everyone else sleeps through, and make notes on how to apply what you learned? Do you raise your hand and ask to lead that “skunkworks” project, or hope they don’t choose you, making snarky comments to your teammates about “Here we go again!”?

I don’t claim to have been Little Miss Sunshine every day in my career (I am truly enjoying the vision in my head of several readers spitting out their coffee).  Some days it’s hard. Some bosses make it hard. Some cultures make it nearly impossible to maintain a positive attitude and don’t recognize real leadership.  I firmly believe that real leaders choose not to stay in situations that don’t enable them to lead, at least not long term (sometimes we all make tradeoffs in the short term). When I say “enable them to lead,” I don’t just mean “don’t recognize them with promotions.” My even stronger belief is that you can lead from any level, any position. That kid who made your latte can lead every bit as much as the CEO of his company.  At every level of my career there has been a peer I wanted to follow, to learn from, to BE like.  I aspire to be the kind of leader others want to follow, to learn from, to be like.

That said, I have to say, it’s not that simple – especially for women. Too many women fall into the trap of assuming (or is it hoping?) that if they work hard and BE the leader they want to be, management will recognize and reward them. It doesn’t work that way. You really do have to BE AND DO. While being the best leader you can be, you will have to fight the “double bind,” you must take risks and “sit at the table.” You can’t do it yourself – you’re going to need mentors and sponsors and a supportive family.

One of the most common criticisms of Lean In I’ve  heard is that not everyone wants to climb the ladder, and we shouldn’t denigrate women who don’t. Fair enough. I honestly felt that Sandberg went out of her way to reassure her readers that it’s NOT for everyone and that’s OK, but that we shouldn’t “lean back” too easily. I agree with her that we NEED more women leaders in business. It’s good for business and it’s good for the people that work there. Like Sandberg, I want to encourage women to lead because I know the world will be a better and more prosperous place if more of us do. Maiers’ post helps women who don’t necessarily want to be CEO someday to see how they can lead where they stand right now.

Note: Both Sandberg’s book and Maiers’ post are targeted at women, but these leadership principles apply to any gender. I would like to stress that I am not trying to achieve female-dominated leadership, but balanced leadership. I believe strongly that cultures where women and men share leadership and power are most effective and successful.  For great resources on shared leadership between women and men, and tools to develop the leaders of the future, I encourage you to check out The Leadership Investment.


Monica Hahn is a branding & marketing consultant & career coach based in San Rafael, California

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6 comments on “So you want to lead? Be a leader.
  1. Great Article Monica ,but I am not sure that the majority of female mangers realise the mountain they have to climb when they start the process of managing a team.
    Are they aware that according to survey by The Mail newspaper 20.000 male and 20.000
    females 73% would rather be managed by a male
    .I am a male and I must say that this does not make sense to me ,because during my time as Call Centre Director at BT 80% of my managers were female ,and they were just as good and in some cases far better than their male colegues .
    The main point I am trying to make is I made all my female managers aware of this survey
    and in all fairness to my managers , instead of having negative consequences it had the opposite and they all strove to be the Best people managers possible .
    Meanwhile I had a Great team of managers who in turn motivated their teams and I had thee most successfull call centre in the company .
    But that would not have happened without my people

    • Monica Hahn says:

      Mick, thanks so much for your comment and for sharing that information. I agree that most people – female or otherwise – would probably be surprised by that statistic. I’ve had great managers & not-so-great managers of both genders. In either case, it wasn’t their gender that determined their effectiveness. I am sure that if someone had shared this statistic with me when I first started managing others, it would have motivated me to prove them wrong – and I would have welcomed the thoughtful dialogue that’s going on to help me do it. Thanks again for sharing your experience and for your support!

  2. Monica Hahn says:

    I’ve received a few emails from women who are not in Colorado (home of The Leadership Investment) asking about other supportive networks. Here are some I’m aware of:
    – The Moxie Exchange Movement ( is in several cities around the country.
    – Women’s Foodservice Forum ( is specific to the foodservice industry. Many industries have similar networks, but this is one I’ve had great experience with myself.

    I invite my readers to share other you’re involved with.

  3. Aerik Carlton says:

    Monica, I have been noticing a trend in mainstream media discussing employers prioritizing following skills since the onset of the recession. The arguments appear sound from my perspective; the entrance of the “entitlement generation” into the work force in their overconfident glory, reduced opportunity for early career advancement due to economic factors, and overall deficiency in early career job opportunities.

    Personally, I have found that most leadership training neglects the aspects of following and being a team player in advancement to true leadership positions. There is an art to applying management skills not only in a managing down (toward subordinates) but to managing up (to superiors).

    So, what would be your advice to soon-to-be graduates entering the workforce concerning resume and interview presentation of leadership skills? Should we be touting leadership skills, giving examples of our team playing abilities, or should be be trying to balance our presentation between the two?

    • Monica Hahn says:

      Great question, Aerik, & brilliant observations. “Managing up” can be really difficult, & is not often focused on in leadership development – I think partly because managers don’t feel comfortable communicating (or aren’t even aware) what they personally need from their subordinates.
      To answer your question, I think the reality is that (at all levels of one’s career) we need to demonstrate a balance of talents – leadership skills, team playing effectiveness, technical competencies (I don’t just mean technical in the sense of engineering, but whichever function you’re in, which could be marketing, sales, HR, etc.) & results. And they’re not always different things, especially when you’re in an entry-level position. When your manager is looking for someone to lead a project, raise your hand – that demonstrates team skills because you’re volunteering for extra work, & leadership skills because you’re stepping up to lead. You won’t succeed in leading that project unless you apply both types of skills either.
      I should also point out that research indicates that how you need to demonstrate this balance differs by gender. There’s a great review of this research in Sandberg’s book. To summarize (& really oversimplify), men can generally get away to a greater extent with taking more credit for the work of the team than women can. Women aren’t “liked” (& yes, that matters) if they take too much credit – but they are also discredited if they don’t take enough credit. This is known as the “double bind.”
      Thanks for your comments!

  4. […] movie, likewise, doesn’t save the world in a day. He just starts small, doing what he can do to lead from where he stands.  In this campaign, the message is communicated in a way that really hits me emotionally, & […]

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Monica Hahn is a consultant who provides marketing and brand strategy, based in the San Francisco Bay area. Monica is also a career and executive coach who works in person or virtually.

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What clients say about Monica Hahn: Monica has been one of the most influential and valued Career Coaches I've had the pleasure of working with. She's always shown a genuine interest in helping me achieve my career goals. Monica’s integrity, passion, and intellect distinguish her in her field. Her ability to envision and pave new pathways to our brand and concept are unparalleled.
Kevin Price interviews Monica Hahn of Hahn Solo Strategy. Monica Hahn is a consultant who provides marketing and brand strategy, based in the San Francisco Bay area. Monica is also a career and executive coach who works in person or virtually.

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