Authentic, Influential Women Make Impactful Leaders: 9 Practical Steps to Take You to the Top

Mar 5th, 2020

In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”

Sheryl Sandberg

The central focus of this year’s International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual. For me, it’s a motivating theme, as I strongly believe that, for more of us to become leaders, each woman must both be her own advocate and champion her peers.

For now, though, there are far too few women in leadership roles. A government-backed review published in November showed that the UK’s biggest 100 companies had only six women CEOs. And, although women accounted for 28% of executive positions in the FTSE 250, almost half of those companies still had all male executive committees.

As the Wall Street Journal reported this month, this imbalance is partly because of invisible walls as much as glass ceilings. Early in their career, women are often pigeon-holed in specialist areas like HR, administration or legal and bypassed for C-suite positions because they have not held roles with P&L responsibility. I applaud the stance taken by Michele Buck, CEO of Hershey Inc., who, leads a review of the company’s top 70 roles five times a year, to discuss what career-critical assignments the men and women in those roles – and the high potentials just below them – should take on, including P&L experience. This ensures a highly qualified diverse set of executives are ready to lead the business.

The many ambitious women who may not have this kind of opportunity need to find ways of skilling up in areas like finance, strategic thinking and running business operations.  I have recently been working with one of them, a Chief Marketing Officer, who has her eye on the top job, but whose true passion is branding and driving growth. In our work together, we have been looking at how she can have the mindset to be the CEO she wants to be now, and build the skills to take her there. We recognised that her marketing experience means that she probably understands customers better than anyone else in her organisation and that increasing her financial acumen could position her well for this next step up.

Another client, a leading professional services company, runs a program to prepare its top ten potentials for leadership, including an open-ended opportunity to be mentored by senior people within the organisation. One of the three young women on the program felt hesitant about discussing her leadership ambitions with her mentor because she didn’t yet feel ready to achieve them. In my experience as an executive coach, these sorts of doubts are much more common in women than in men. Women often aim for perfection before promotion, instead of realising that they’ve already got 80% of what it takes, plus the talent to make up for the rest on the job. I encouraged this young talent to seize the mentoring opportunity with both hands, preparing for every meeting and sharing her ambitions – the bolder, the better. In time she may become a mentor who can champion another ambitious young woman (or man) and help them build their career and their confidence.

Because confidence – or the lack of it – is one of the most common things holding women back from their ambitions. One of my clients decided to leave a job she loved as she felt she didn’t match well with her company’s new CEO who did not recognise her contribution to the company’s success.  Today she has a great new job, but carries the blow to her confidence with her. As a result, she tends to take a more cautious approach seeking approval instead of being the proactive, successful global business leader she really is. To help her get back in touch with the woman who has achieved so much, we have been working on re-connecting with this true identity so she can walk into a meeting and have an impact that is authentic and powerful.

Are you a woman with ambitions to get to the top, but feeling stuck between walls or under a glass ceiling? Do you have a talented female colleague who needs an engaged champion to help her skill up? If so, here are some ideas to make it work:


  1. Power up your identity

Be who you believe you can be, even if you’re not quite there yet. If you want to become the CEO or join the board, be the CEO and leader now, in your current role. That way people will notice the value you add, and you’ll be ready when the big job calls.


  1. Find your successor

You can’t move up if you don’t have a successor waiting in the wings. Build your own profile, but develop your successor too, so she (or he) is ready when you are.


  1. Seize your destiny – or build a bridge to it

We all hope that a promotion or career change will be positive and lead to our ideal role.  If it does, great, you’ve found your destiny, but if not then seeing it as a bridge to something better can build your skills and give you the resilience to meet other challenges in the future. Times of change are often testing and if you are thinking of a move, you might like to consider our Vision Intensive program, which has often proved helpful in providing clarity for people wondering what’s next?.


  1. Take ownership of your success

If your company does not have a mentoring programme, take ownership of your own development and seek one out.  A young high potential leader I am coaching had a great mentor in her previous boss and recognises her current boss does not have the same interest in developing her.  She has now decided to actively keep in touch with her old boss, so that he continues to be aware of her achievements and ambitions and opens up opportunities for her continuing success.


  1. Be somebody’s champion

Champion another woman in your team, choosing someone you believe in, who has great ideas, but may lack belief in her ability. Confidence is not a quality, it’s a state of mind and we leaders have a responsibility to build it in others.


  1. Channel your inner swan

A swan is serene and graceful, but only above the waterline. Under the water it is paddling hard to move forward. Centring techniques can help you become that beautiful swan and keep the inner paddling to a minimum. Take time to breathe and reflect and make it the most important thing you do. Centring yourself to quieten the mind so you can think clearly is essential, more so than staying up until midnight to prepare for tomorrow’s meeting.


  1. Align with your values and don’t compare

Women sometimes tend to compare themselves with their peers instead of focusing on what works for them. Finding your own balance, in line with your values and your identity is essential. Connecting with a mentor or coach can help put things in perspective.


  1. Work smart

Women are often carers – juggling work with caring for their home and children and increasingly for elderly parents. Why not make the most of today’s tools to work smarter, like a client of mine who discovered while off work with an injury that she didn’t actually need to be at meetings to be a part of them. She is now back to full health and is still using technology to work from home when necessary.


  1. Take care of yourself

To make the difference at work and have time for the people you love, you need to make time and space to nourish yourself. Some read in bed, some do yoga, others book a holiday. In any case, do something that brings you joy. And if that’s being with your children, put important dates – sports day or school concerts – in your diary now. If you don’t have to squeeze them in, you’ll enjoy them even more.  And remember you are human – if you can’t make all of them – know it’s a considered choice and stop feeling guilty and make the most of the ones you can.


Find Out More

Are you ready to take your career to the top? Do you feel you need to build your confidence to get there? If so, begin the conversation by emailing Oona at

If you would like to know more about what our clients have gained from our coaching we have lots of testimonials that you might find interesting.

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