“I hit a glass ceiling. I felt like I had my breath kicked out of me,” Anita Borg, Ph.D., remembers feeling. She had been leading a successful project at work when suddenly, it was taken from her. For no given reason, it was handed over to a man with no desire to lead it—a person with whom the project floundered and was soon cancelled. But this wasn’t the first time she had encountered gender discrimination in her field throughout the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Women working in highly technical roles during this time period were often given lower-level, non-technical titles than their male counterparts—and low paychecks to match.
Rather than letting these experiences bring her down, Borg was instead motivated to bring about more diversity to the field of technology. When she discovered she was one of just 30 women at a 400-person tech conference, she gathered the women present and decided right then and there to found Systers, a private online forum for women involved in technology. And she didn’t stop there. Borg then co-founded the Grace Hopper Celebration and later founded the Institute for Women in Technology (later renamed the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology, or AnitaB.org), one of the most impactful organizations in furthering women in technology. Her vision was to connect women in tech at every career level, empowering them and leading them to succeed.
Due to Borg’s leadership and long-term vision, her organization has continued its mission 15 years after her death. AnitaB.org is present in 80+ countries and partners with Fortune 500 companies and academic institutions across the globe to help ensure that women have a fair chance at making “significant contributions to technical fields.” There’s no doubt that Anita Borg was a phenomenal leader, but what does this example teach us about leadership?
What makes an effective leader?
Leadership is defined as the “action of leading a group of people or an organization,” but the act of leading isn’t really that simple. For one thing, leaders must gain the respect and trust of their teams while also understanding and guiding their team members individually and collectively toward their organization’s overall vision.
“To be effective, leaders must understand the needs and goals of the people they are trying to lead,” says Luca Semeraro, Head of Badenoch + Clark Switzerland. “This will guide them on how to best inspire their people, so together they can reach their goals.”
How can you develop your leadership style?
While there are numerous leadership styles, from servant leadership to autocratic leadership to situational leadership, and more, there are core leadership principles that everyone can use when aspiring to be a great leader:
- Look beyond your own experience and perspective. To become a great leader, you not only need the capacity to understand and guide a diverse group of people, but also use their unique perspectives and experiences to the team’s overall advantage.
- Use your personal experience to help others who are in similar situations. Borg used her experience to identify and connect with others suffering in similar circumstances, later creating a network of support. Relating to people in this way and guiding them from your own experience is often a meaningful way to build trust.
- Lead by example. “Showing is often a better way to teach than telling,” says Serge Shine, Adecco Group’s Global Head of Professional Recruitment Practice. “And leaders who lead by example during hard times are especially likely to gain a higher respect from their teams.”
- Be transparent in communicating the larger vision. “More becomes possible when you sell a dream,” says Semeraro.
- Help others learn how to help themselves. Many have heard the adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This platitude persists because so many find it to be true. Good leaders don’t merely tell their team members exactly what to do and how to do it, rather they offer guidance and mentorship to best develop each person on their team.
Every great career is a constant work in progress. No matter how accomplished you are, we believe you should always seek more, demand better and look for the next step, especially if you aim to gain more leadership opportunities.
You may see that Badenoch + Clark has a new look and feel. But there’s something much bigger at play here. We’re also taking a whole new look at how we help you set your long-term goals, as well as how we guide you there, one milestone at a time. Our clients are consistently looking for their next great leaders, and we’d love to speak with you about how to grow your career.