Question: What do Angela Merkel of Germany, Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Kamala Harris of the USA & Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria all have in common?
Answer A: They are in the top ten of Forbes' 23 Most Powerful Women In Politics & Policy.
Answer B: They have all risen up and won against their respective male counterparts.
Answer C: They are all female leaders that have been able to break the glass ceiling and reach the pinnacle of their careers.
All the above answers are correct, but arguably, Answer C is the most important. So, what makes these women so successful? And what character traits do they possess that have led them to such great heights?
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, was born in Hamburg, West Germany. Her childhood was shaped by the Cold War - Merkel's Socialist father held politically charged gatherings at his seminary and as she grew up, vigorous debates rang around the dinner table. The young Angela had to learn to keep her cards close to her chest for fear of drawing the attention of the Stasi, the secret police.
Merkel is now one of the most notable female public figures in the world. She is authentic and doesn’t need to get in the last word. She makes decisions silently, without fanfare, and has been known to be a problem-solver who puts other people’s best interests first.
Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, has led her country to success in dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic, with New Zealand going months without community transmission. The country closed its borders entirely to almost all non-citizens or residents early on in the pandemic, aiming to eliminate the virus.
Ardern embraces the word “we” more often than the word “I”, and also seems to mean everything she says - an authenticity that is rare in political leaders. She is aware of her strengths, but also acknowledges her weaknesses, all the time maintaining a warm, down-to-earth and human approach to her leadership.
Kamala Harris, Vice President of the USA is now the most senior woman politician in US history.
She is the first woman vice president and the first black and South Asian American to ever take on that job.
Harris has a leadership style that is empathic and exudes executive presence. She unapologetically merges her femininity with gravitas. But, perhaps more importantly, Harris comes across as relatable and authentically herself: she is alert, yet relaxed and comfortable in her own skin. She's confident in who she is and proud of where she came from.
Kristalina Georgieva, Chair and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund is dealing with one of the biggest crises in history (beginning at only 6 months into her tenure) yet she is eternally fighting for emerging economies that have been hit hard by COVID-19. She grew up behind the 'Iron Curtain' of the Soviet Union so she clearly understands the need.
Georgieva is authentic, she's always lively and outspoken, yet listens carefully to whoever she speaks with. She is knowledgeable and doesn’t shy away from conflict, yet doesn’t seek it for its own sake. Former President of the European Commission and Prime Minister of Portugal José Manuel Barroso calls Georgieva "a good communicator and team builder".
So, what are the traits all these women have in common?
If we dig deeper, we can find a few key words that resonate with all these leaders – the first is authenticity. Authenticity is a rare trait in an online era, especially in politics. The public wants to know that their leaders are real people. If they can be authentic, that means they really do love themselves and that makes us love them more.
For example, Jacinda Ardern has claimed in an interview to suffer from “imposter syndrome” and says she tried to turn her self-doubt into “something more positive” – how beautifully honest is that?!
Talking about Angela Merkel, Stefan Kornelius from the Guardian says:
“Her private character, the base on which all of this stands, has changed remarkably little. Yes, she has become, through and through, a political animal... But on the other side, her character has not changed at all — the way she deals with people, the way she shows interest, the way she engages. She has not disappeared in the fog of prominence or of being a superhero.”
An additional shared trait amongst these leading women is the ability to see others and empathize.
Being the first black and South Asian American woman vice president of the USA, Kamala Harris has become a beacon of hope in fighting for racial justice, police reform and marriage equality.
An additional example is what Kristalina Georgieva has said in an interview with journalist Prannoy Roy:
“Macro decisions have micro consequences. And we always have to think about how the decisions we make impact the lives of people, especially people who have no access in the high corridors of power."
We could go on and on as there are endless examples from each of these political warriors showing their empathy and authenticity, proving that these traits are keys to success.
The next time you need to step up and lead - whether it's in a work meeting, a sports game, or even at home - remember to be authentically you, and know that leading means nothing if you don’t respect your followers.