Exceptional Leadership for Women

  • DeakinCo.
  • 30 April 2015

By Dr Wendy Sutherland-Smith,

School of Psychology, Deakin University

This month DeakinCo. hosted the Exceptional Leadership for Women workshop, an opportunity for women from within Deakin and from external organisations to interact and engage in problem-solving and discussion. Presenters included Dr Athena Vongalis-Macrow (Deakin, School of Education), who focused on knowing yourself and shaping your own leadership within a gender intelligence research framework; Dr Sheila Nguyen (Deakin, School of Business), who focused on entrepreneurial leadership; and Dianne Jacobs, private consultant with The Talent Advisors, who focused on board leadership. Each presenter not only highlighted the latest research and practice but also provided practical activities to engage participants. Some of their key ideas are described here.

Dr Vongalis-Macrow discussed gender-smart leadership, drawing on the work of Barbara Annis and the Gender Intelligence Model. The group engaged in activities about building leadership power through an awareness of referent power – that is, how a leader uses strong interpersonal skills to convince followers that they are the right person to lead. Key behaviours of exceptional leaders were discussed, and a number of them applied to group members’ organisations. The discussion concluded with a practical exercise on using Theory U, which means articulating a diagnosis of the current state of an organisation then how to move it towards a desired future, with practical, implementable ideas.

Dr Nguyen introduced the notion of entrepreneurship. She spoke about the move for companies to engage in socially responsible business practices and support existing social projects. This is known as Environmental Social Governance (ESG), a new way of measuring good corporate performance and management. Several case studies illustrated ESG, including an automotive business that supports local homeless youth by donating the proceeds of wrecked vehicles to a support project. Dr Nguyen highlighted how individuals can successfully action entrepreneurial ideas—by committing to a new idea for social change, linking with a network of influence that can help to realise it, and being prepared to work on it for a number of years. The group used case studies and rotating group input to articulate how leadership change could be achieved.

Ms Jacobs discussed the concept of insightful directorship. Using her many years of experience as a board director and member, she focused on a four-stage model for operating as a board director. Individual group members’ experiences were drawn on to flesh out each stage, covering the context, style, perspective and adaptive nature of leadership. However, the key to any real transition in an organisation is a change in mindset, including a move to a collaborative influence model. The group then considered what other transferable skills were required to operate at the level of board leadership.