The Courage to Excel as a Female Leader

The Courage to Excel as a Female Leader

Having the courage to excel as a female leader starts with being willing to face your fears, speaking up for what is right, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and leveraging the possibilities on the tough road ahead. Courage carries with it a certain level of risk and vulnerability. It signals that you can lean into change and embrace change dynamics. It also means that you are willing to set and attain higher goals and take ownership of your career.

So, where does this courage come from? Why do some people seem to have courage and others do not? In many cases, females that have courage attribute it to having strong women in their lives, strong leaders and role models (men or women), being raised to believe that they could aspire to do better and be more because it was possible, or being the oldest in the sibling lineup. They were raised to be independent and to “Believe that you can,” which ultimately translated into confidence and drive for many of them.

I have coached a lot of professional females over my career. Some of these females contribute their lack of courage and confidence to: 1) Not having the positive reinforcement experienced by other females; 2) The way females are socialized; 3) The culture and historic male dominance in the workplace; and Implicit bias. Developing confidence and learning to be more assertive has been a developmental focus for them and other females as they progressed their career.

As females, we need to set our own standards and realize that success comes from accepting that it is all right to feel, think, and be different than males. In fact, this thought process drives inclusion and reinforces diversity. Stop trying to be someone that you are not, stop mimicking male behaviors and tendencies, and strive for the courage to break down the status quo. In essence, stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

True leaders are authentic and realize that in life, each of us has to make choices. The choice for females is not whether you can have a career or a family. You can have either or both, and it is your choice. You can aspire to be a physician, top role in Corporate America, or decide to have a more balanced approach.  Whatever you choose, the choice revolves around finding a work-life blend. Prioritizing what is important to you and finding quality time for yourself is really important. There are trade-offs, but with a little planning and prioritization, you can find the appropriate work-life blend that allows you to excel.

It takes courage and tenacity to follow your dream and not give up when you run into roadblocks or the journey gets tough. The journey to success builds character and makes you a stronger person and leader. Sometimes, you have to take an unexpected detour to achieve your goals, relocate, or make a vertical move to get there. Years ago, a mentor of mine told me that, “Successful people do things other people won’t.” By this, he meant that I should be open to opportunities that represented advancement, exposure to global experiences, and to not limit my options. This was great advice and helped me to carefully consider and evaluate each career step to make sure it aligned with my goals and broadened my professional experience.

Females admit that they tend to create self-imposed stress and worry too much about how they are perceived. Many of the females I have coached felt that they had to work twice as hard as a male colleague to get the recognition they deserved. Did they, or were they imposing higher standards on themselves? Learning and growing as a professional means that you are going to experience failure at some point and make mistakes. The feeling of failure is inevitable at some point since we are human and not perfect. So, it is important to find a way to alleviate that stress, maintain a sense of humor, and rebound with renewed experience, confidence, and a healthy competitive drive.

Thus, the importance of a Support Network that you can trust when you need to work through issues, develop new skills, and have someone who can relate to your challenges. This network can be a group of female professionals, a mentor (male or female) or a coach that creates a safe environment for you. This network can help you validate what you are thinking, open up new possibilities, and create positive reinforcement combined with constructive feedback. This network is very valuable and helps prevent failure and/or the urge to give up.

One thing is for certain, the courage to excel comes from within, sticking to your values, and making a commitment to support other females. You have to believe that you can achieve your goals and drive for excellence. Ultimately, the journey is that females will see themselves as and be viewed as a professional, without the reference to gender. You are paying it forward for your children, grandchildren, and the next generation that promises to deliver even more equality.

Hrthought is dedicated to helping companies and individuals leverage change through the benefit of leaders and teams. Our services include executive and leadership coaching, talent development programs, assessments, and HR consulting.   Visit us today at to find out more about our professional services, or you can reach Robin at 508-667-3664 or