Women in Leadership

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Women in Leadership

Never before in history have we had the opportunities we, as women, have today.

Women are coming into roles of leadership and power, effecting change with a more intuitive and inclusive approach. This brings me hope that we’re slowly changing directions. Today I’m talking with Jo Wise, a mentor and inspiration to women in leadership.

Jo is a successful entrepreneur, business coach, speaker, and behavioural trainer, who is passionate about empowering high-achieving women. With more than 20 years’ experience in training and leadership, some of which was spent with a Fortune 100 company, Jo has trained in extended DiSC profiling, life and performance coaching, and neuro-linguistic coaching to help her clients shift blocks, transform relationships and break through their own glass ceiling to effect lasting change quickly and meaningfully.

It’s an absolute pleasure for me to introduce her to you on International Women’s Day.

I’m going to get controversial right off the bat. Let’s first talk about the elephant in the room of almost every workplace. Women are, in reality, the gender who get pregnant, have children and raise families which naturally stunts their career opportunities when compared with their male counterparts, so isn’t it to be expected there’s less women at the top?

I agree it is a choice, but I think a lot of the time it’s a choice that’s made because women don’t feel there’s any alternative. When we work in larger corporations or advance to higher levels in an organisation, there is an expectation that to succeed, we need to work long hours and be available around the clock. For women who want to leave early to do something with their family for example, they will often feel shunned—even unconsciously—and feel like they’re no longer part of the boys club. I believe that as more businesses start to visualise the bigger picture, especially with the advance in technology, they will slowly realise it doesn’t have to be the way it’s always been and this will facilitate more trust and equality.

On that point, to what extent do you believe we can start influencing a different approach to move away from the 60, 70, 90 hour weeks?

Most of the women I work with are in traditional organisations with traditional working hours and a predominantly male environment. They work within and they influence where they can. And opportunities vary. Some businesses may say they’re all about diversity, inclusion and flexibility, but in practice, it comes down to the manager that’s in that department at the time. That’s where I see a lot of women influencing the structure and culture—beginning in their own department. It’s a slow burn that spreads and creates a ripple effect from within their department. As employees come up through the ranks below these women, they have a more flexible mindset because they’ve seen the positive impact this has both on culture and productivity. If applied right. But, it can’t only be that way. It needs to be hit from all the different angles.

How would you encourage women to effect change in the workplace without learning the hard way through their own experience of burn out before realising there needs to be a better way?

One of the first things we talk about is expectations. Because they’ve quite often set expectations for themselves which are either (1) unrealistic or (2) made up, based on what they believe the expectations of the organisations are. I always call them on these expectations and ask them where in the contract it states that, for example, they need to work 24/7. (Granted, one of my clients who is quite high up in her organisation is on call 24/7 and she’s paid for that).

Once we’ve identified where the expectation came from, they can then have the conversation with their boss. You might say for example,  “I’m on call 24/7. I’ve realised it’s not in my contract. Is this like an unwritten expectation or something that we’ve just always done?”. More often than not, their boss will say that there’s no expectation and it’s just what has always been done. Perhaps someone in the role previously worked 24/7 and they’ve just naturally taken that on.

I help the women I work with to define who they’re going to be in that role (whether new or existing).

#WomensdayThis includes looking at:

  • what boundaries they’re going to set and how they’re going to maintain them;
  • what they are prepared to give unquestionably and what they want to pull back on;
  • what hours they’re prepared to put in; and
  • what they’re willing to compromise on and what they’re not willing to compromise on.


A lot of our expectations are based on what we see around us. Often, we create them. When we take the time to pull back and get clear on these things, it can help refresh their position.

A big part of that is self-leadership isn’t it? I know that’s something we both talk about, would you mind expanding on that a bit?

I think all leadership starts with self. It’s really important for us to recognise that that’s when our strengths really come in. When we focus on self-leadership and how we’re leading ourselves, that’s obviously going to impact how we lead others. It means getting really clear on what our success criteria is. We work out what success means to us and then we base our self-leadership around that. Traditionally we see money, productivity, and profits as success criteria around business, which are all important. But beyond the traditional guideposts, we need to get clear on what else our success criteria is.

When I first started in business, my primary criteria was making profit. But I’ve since realised that’s not my only success criteria. For me, it’s not just external, it also needs to be internal. It means whether I’m enjoying what I’m doing, whether I’m in flow with business and my family, and using my strengths, how I’m feeling. But it’s also about money because one of my favourite things to do is travel internationally with my family every year. When I achieve these, I’m feeling good. When I’m not ticking those boxes, I don’t feel good and it’s usually because I’ve switched back to thinking just about the money.

And success is incredibly individual for each person. Success to me means travel and financial freedom, but it’s also doing something I love, connecting with amazing people in my network, setting my own hours, going to the beach when I want to and having that real balance of achievement and quality.
How can women who don’t have the same freedom we do as entrepreneurs achieve that more holistic level of success in an organisation with a patriarchal mindset?

This is a two-tiered approach. The first step is to select the people who resonate with your beliefs and align with your message then start having conversations in a positive way. Start from the inside out. Secondly, and especially in organisations where you don’t feel you have that connection with anyone, it’s NOT simply about telling people what you think, because you’ll be met with resistance.

Begin to influence your network by finding what’s important to them and start building relationships. The most influential leaders show the people around them three things: (1) they care, (2) they can be trusted, and (3) they’re committed to excellence. By finding just one thing another person cares about, you can begin to develop a relationship. When this is done genuinely, it’s always going to have more impact than when you have this as a strategy.

I also believe influence starts with building relationships before you need them, and that takes time. Wouldn’t you agree?

Absolutely. Just knowing one or two things about each person, whether or not you care about those facts, enables you to have a conversation. We know people love to talk about things that are important to them, so start with the basic things. Think about things like: How can I build rapport with this person?  What are the key access points? What does he or she talk about? What lights him or her up? Find one or two things and that’s all you need. By making that part of the conversation, it suggests that you care about them and that helps to create influence.

At the end of the day, people relate to those they can connect with. So even if there is one fact you can draw on, it gives you that access point.

And remembering too that connecting is not just about connecting in the way we want to. Everybody connects in their own way and we need to take the time and energy to work out what that is. That’s what sets the great leaders apart. Personally, I believe that’s one reason why women make great leaders. Connection is one of our superpowers. So even in an organisation with a patriarchal mindset, although that may not have been the way things worked before, when we just start doing this stuff, that’s when we start being really effective and getting results. We all have such fabulous strengths, let’s all step up and own them. Let’s work out what they are and be visible about it because that’s what sets us apart.

In addition to acknowledging the traits that women are naturally good at, such as being more empathetic, good listeners and good negotiators, it’s also important to balance them with the masculine traits of being assertive, creative and drawing boundaries when they’re needed. Wouldn’t you agree?

Absolutely. We talk about getting in touch with our feminine energy, but every single one of us – male or female – needs to balance the masculine and feminine energies to run a successful business. I think misalignment happens when we try to move too far one way or the other. The way I’m put together, I actually have a lot of masculine energy and I used to shut out the feminine side because I saw it as a weakness. But when we’re coming from an authentic place and trusting ourselves, we get the balance right every single time. On the other hand, when we compare ourselves to others, we get out of alignment and that’s often when we’re misunderstood as well.

Now, I know from my days in corporate I was quite adverse—as I’m sure many may be—to the concept of masculine and feminine “energy”. So to reframe that for people, we could equally refer to it as being either right brained or left brained, or more cerebral v heart-based. It’s just about integrating and balancing both aspects to be in balance and on path. How do you manage to do that and balance your busy schedule?

international womens day

My output day will start at about 10:30am most days. What I’m doing before that is creating my alignment by doing the things that I need to do. And when I do that, the output part of my day is way more effective. It’s one of those things, like working long hours without taking a break: you might be doing the hours but you’re not being efficient. I know when I don’t take the time to get into alignment, I can work all day but it doesn’t mean I’m achieving the outputs or quality I want to achieve. Everybody has their own way of doing it. One of my client exercises every single morning and that’s how she gets into her zone of genius. It’s not always about sitting on a pillow and meditating every day, or journaling, it can be a whole bunch of things and we need to get clear on what it is for us.

It’s also important who we spend our time with and they say we’re the sum of the 5 people we spend the most time with. Talk to me about that.

I think it’s important to understanding that different people play different roles in our lives. It’s not about expecting every person on our management team to be our mentor or friend. As long as we’ve got those 5 people around us to call on, we can have these needs met. It’s also important to have people who don’t necessarily agree with us. We grow through the conversations we have with people who call us on our stuff.

Because a lot of us are naturally unwilling to have challenging conversations, if someone disagrees with us or they aren’t automatically on our team, we can get defensive or view ourselves as a failure. To be influential, we’ve got to be willing to not have everyone agree with us and for that to be okay. And to have the conversations that we need to.

You’re right, because at the end of the day, we build a team to bring different strengths to the table.

That’s exactly right, and when I come up against this resistance it means need to tweak or change how I do things and that’s how I grow. We’ve got to be willing to have these tougher conversations and find out what’s going on, otherwise the walls are up and we don’t get anywhere.

In order to communicate effectively, it can’t be purely self-motivated. We need to know what other people respond to. Tell me about your approach.

I always start with myself by asking: Where can I influence myself, how can I build motivation for myself, what works for me, and then I consider: what’s my approach with this person, how can tick their boxes, what’s going to allow me to influence them. Ultimately, people are all very different and we have to be thoughtful in our communications. We’re all trying to do the best we can.

If I’m looking to influence people in an organisation, it’s so I can add value in a bigger and better way. It’s from a place of service. But, at the same time, we’ve all got to be strategic in our networking and who we collaborate with. We need to be interacting with the right people. We need to think about where we’ll be in 5 years and work out who we need on our team; what are the conversations we need to be having; who do we need to be having them with? How can we get in front of the right people and be visible for the right things?

And, if we want to be seen by influencers and management, it all comes back to adding value. By being in their line of vision on a consistent basis, by adding value over time, and building rapport and familiarity without expectation, we will be in a better position when an opportunity comes up to work with them.

That’s exactly right. Quite often it’s the relationships it comes down to when you want to get a foot up. Regardless of whether it’s within your management team or your relationships with people you admire, if you’re not showing up, then no-one’s going to notice you. You create the perception of you.

Being of service is different to everyone. For example, I think it’s important to recognise there’s different levels of community and different ways of being altruistic. It really comes back to our own personal values and interpretations of service. Talk to me about your experiences with that.

It comes down to our success criteria as well. If we want to be doing something that gives back to the community and really adds value in a heart-centred way, that doesn’t mean we have to drive ourselves into the ground and do it all for free. Whether you do that or not, understand that you need to be clear on how you’re giving back and how it supports you. If you see what you’re doing as valuable, then feel confident enough to charge for it.

We all contribute in our own way. Even in the boardrooms, where privileged white women have made it to the table, we can begin to make space at the table for women of minority groups. This is the future I see for inclusive leadership.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying “we’re the narrator of our own story”, to what degree do you think we have control over where we’re headed?

I think when we’re talking about our brand and the perceptions people have of us, I think we have a huge influence over those things. Broader than that, I think everything is the way it’s supposed to be. The quality of our journey is highly impacted by us though and there’s not just one way to get from here to there. So whether we resist or choose to go with the flow, that will impact how we feel each day. I really believe we can change the course of our lives, but I don’t necessarily know that we have control over the outcome.

This was such a fantastic conversation. If you would like to work with Jo either in person or have her speak at your event, you can get in touch with her over at http://jowiseleadership.com/

So what are the key takeaways?

  • Get clear on where your expectations are coming from. Are they real or imagined?
  • Define your success criteria, based on external and internals. What are you willing to compromise on and what are you not willing to compromise on? Set your boundaries and maintain them.
  • Begin to influence your network by observing how the people around you communicate, then find one thing that’s important to each person and start building relationships.
  • Be of service without compromising yourself to do it and add value in a heart-centred way.