Leadership is critical to every company, as workers need someone to whom they can look up and from whom they can learn — it helps them thrive. A good leader achieves their own fullest potential, but a great leader helps other people achieve their fullest potential, too.
That said, the contingency theory suggests that there is no one way to best organize a corporation, to lead a company or to make decisions. Rather, the optimal course of action is contingent upon the internal and external situation, as well as any specific organization mission. So different leaders have different goals; they don't all share the same vision, skills or qualities. Every effective leader adopts a style of leadership that works for them and best fulfills their organization purpose.
For example, the late former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, nicknamed "Iron Lady," once said, “Don’t follow the crowd; let the crowd follow you.” Leadership to her was having followers.
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, says, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence, and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”
Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments and chairwoman of the board of directors for DreamWorks Animation, has said that discomfort is part of leadership. “Invite people into your life that don’t look or think like you," she told Entrepreneur Magazine. "If we can learn to deal with our discomfort and just relax into it we'll have a better life.”
Research published in the Harvard Business Review in 2000 dove into the definition of leadership and leadership theory, and actually listed a whole bunch of common leadership styles:
- Bureaucratic leadership, in which a task-oriented leader focuses on following every rule with an organization objective or organization purpose in mind
- Charismatic leadership, in which a leader boasts the skills to inspire and influence their whole team and is energetic in motivating others to move forward
- Servant leadership, in which leaders focus on meeting the needs of the team perhaps with specific goals or a vision in mind
- Transactional leadership, in which leaders inspire by expecting the best from everyone and themselves
- Situational leadership, in which a leader adjusts their style to fit the development level of the followers they're trying to influence
- Transformational leadership, which is a leadership approach that instills positive change in individuals and social systems and, ideally, turns followers into leaders with similar traits and qualities, too
- Servant leadership, which is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and strives for a more just and caring world
Likewise, there is a such thing as a poor style of leadership. Autocratic leadership (also known as authoritarian leadership), for example, is a leadership style characterized by individual control over all decisions with little input from others. In other words, autocratic leaders typically make choices based on their own ideas and judgments and rarely accept advice from followers — it's simply their decision-making style.
Laissez-faire leadership, is also far from an effective leadership style. It's known as delegative leadership, in which leaders are largely hands-off in their decision-making style. They practice what is known as democratic decision-making, which means that they give up ownership and control of choices and allow the team to vote. Researchers have found that this is generally the leader style that results in the lowest productivity among group members and, ultimately unsuccessful bottom-line profitability.
That said, Peter Economy, also known as "The Leadership Guy," listed the qualities of today's best leadership in an Inc.com article. According to Economy, leadership embodies: decisiveness, awareness, focus, accountability, empathy, confidence, optimism, honesty and inspiration.
Here are 13 inspiring women you should look out for in 2018 — all of whom fulfill a leader role in a variety of fields and disciplines, but all of whom share those aforementioned qualities in their own ways.
Hudnell is a transformational leader with traits that have helped her turn Intel Corporation into a $158-billion global technology giant.
“My mantra is that I march into a corporate setting every day and focus on the door," she says. "I’ve been working to hold the door open wider, but what I want is not a door; it’s a hangar, and it’s so big all who want to can walk through it.”
A champion of diversity, inclusion and fairness for two decades, Hudnell made Ebony’s Power100 List in 2015 and was named one of Fast Company’s most creative leaders in business. She's quite the effective leader.
2. Rebecca Saldaña, former Puget Sound Sage executive director
Saldaña is a good leader with vision and emboldened followers because of it. She won the appointment to the Washington state senate to take former state senator Pramila Jayapal’s seat representing southeast Seattle’s 37th Legislative District, according to Seattle Met. Saldaña, a Latina, said at her testimony that minority representation “does make a difference.”
“You need to identify your core values, and have a job where you can thrive, be happy and productive,” Najafi says.
She's most recently focused on “fashion with compassion,” and she raises money for non-profits that support and empower women and stand for the values of anti-hate, anti-racism and fairness. She's a great leader who fights for the people.
Dey has a career in finance and restaurant entrepreneurship. She says this on leadership: “You need to be in the thick of it. You need to know food costs, labor costs, inventory. And if women are not exposed, women are shut out... Empowering women on a grassroots level to create tangible progress is more vital now than ever before — especially given the glacial change in women's leadership across all arenas, whether political or the boardroom or culinary.”
“When women say things are not fair, the focus is on promotion and equal pay," Huang says. "But there are many other tools of leverage possible.”
Using the stories and data that women share with the Fairygodboss community, Huang reveals what women think about employer policies, practices and culture, she writes in her Forbes profile. This is all in an effort to better understand what helps or hurts half the labor force and build better workplaces and more successful businesses.
6. Lisa Hinkelman, executive director of Ruling Our Experiences, Inc. (ROX) and author of Girls Without Limits: Helping Girls Achieve Healthy Relationships, Academic Success and Interpersonal Strength
“I want the world to start paying attention to girls differently, to take them seriously and realize their contributions matter,"Hinkelman says. "We want to help girls see their value so they can add value to the world.”
ROX offers a 20-week curriculum for girls beginning in fifth grade that focuses on healthy dating, violence prevention, communication, relationships and leadership. It is now in nine states and this year is serving 2,000 girls in 153 programs. Since its launch, nearly 7,000 girls have been through this curriculum.
7. Miko Branch, co-founder and CEO of Miss Jessie’s LLC.
Branch helms a popular line of hair care products for black women sold in 1,700 Target stores, 8,000 CVS stores, 5,000 Walgreen’s Stores and 3,000 Walmart stores, as well as salons and smaller retailers around the country. She says it all began after she and her sister opened a Miss Jessie’s salon in Brooklyn in 1997 in their brownstone.
“Money makes people stupid sometimes," she explains. "But we are diligent in our vetting process and we are trying to think things out as if I didn’t have any money.”
Pearson has also led her own strategic consultancy firm and served as principal in leading marketing agencies including DeVries Global and Euro RSCG, where she helped drive strategy and performance for companies including Dell, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, American Express, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Stolinchnaya, ABSOLUT Spirits Company, Heineken Fetzer Winery, Champagne Krug, Champagne Perrier Jouet and Champagne G.H. Mumm.
“Get other women leaders out there to show what is possible — we need to show there are women executives who are happy and thriving,” Pearson says. “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
9. Charreah Jackson, author of Boss Bride: The Powerful Woman’s Playbook for Love and Success, founder of BossBride and senior editor of lifestyle and relationships at Essence
Jackson, who is also a career coach with an international speaking business as well as a mentor to many, says, “We succumb to pressure to be a certain way and mute ourselves — anytime you are muted, you are not in your power.”
She says she was often the only woman of color in the room, so she had to learn that her perspective “was a perspective that was needed." She adds, “If I can’t be myself in this space, why am I here?”
"Too often women try to conform and not tell people they are kicking ass — they try to blend in," Lohrenz, who is now a performance expert and leadership development trainer and author of Fearless Leadership: High-Performance Lessons from the Flight Deck, says. "It’s a huge challenge."
Lohrenz says that she has seen changes over the years for women leaders in many different arenas, from the military to business to global security.
ColorComm is an annual three-day conference founded in 2014 that brings together women leaders of color from large advertising agencies, communications firms, financial firms, publishing houses, broadcast companies and brands. C-suite executives from firms including CocaCola North America, Morgan Stanley, CNN, Wells Fargo, Univision, UNICEF, Olgivy, FleishmanHillard, Ketchum, IPG and The Ad Council have been featured speakers.
Wilson says, “If you don’t ask, you will be left behind.”
12. Michelle Morales, executive director of Mikva Challenge and a fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago
"When you move up through leadership positions, and you add on top of it Latina and Puerto Rican, self-doubt creeps in," Morales says. "If you don’t see images that look like you in positions of power, you truly wonder if you have a right to be there and if those spaces are there for you. The duality is our community is not ready for female leadership and it is not ready for women of color in leaderrship roles. If you are the only person who looks like you, it is daunting and exhausting."
By fulfilling a leadership role, Morales is giving her followers the vision they need to succeed themselves.
13. Jean Bennett, professor of ophthalmology at theUniversity of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine's Center for Advanced Retinal and Ocular Therapeutics
Bennett has more than one leadership trait that got her featured in the PBS documentary, The Gene Doctors for a reason — her wisdom on gene therapy is valuable. "I get to do exciting work and be gratified," she says. “We had an FDA meeting to review the data from our study and they unanimously approved it... I am a leader.”
Michele Weldon is an author, journalist, editorial director of Take The Lead and senior leader with The OpEd Project.