Puncturing pervasive myths about ‘being a leader’ and what it takes to get there — by senior women in business

There can often be an element of mystery surrounding leadership at a certain level and what it takes to get there. For example, while 49% of everywomanNetwork members can see themselves rising to senior management levels- they struggle to see themselves stepping beyond that and into the C suite. In addition, just 31% of everywomanNetwork members surveyed feel they have all the qualities of a future leader—which shows that preconceptions about what and who can be a leader still have a tenacious and negative hold on many women. 

Smashing outdated and inaccurate ideas of what modern leadership requires and who is suited to it- is essential for enabling more female talent to see themselves in senior roles—and then for them to aim towards such a goal confidently. Research on current rates of progress shows that just 34% of senior leadership positions will be held by women by 2025 [1], it’s never been more important to change the conversation you’re having with yourself around your future ambitions. We asked our everywomanAmbassadors—senior leaders from a cross-section of industries and job functions—to puncture some of the most pervasive myths around modern leadership and open the path to progress for more talented women coming up behind them.

1. Leaders make all the decisions vs Success as a team event 

While strong decision-making skills are arguably key to being an effective leader, the idea that it is all up to one person to achieve in a vacuum- needs to be updated. Collaboration is one of the most impactful business strategies, and the best leaders know that success is made up of many individuals (and many smaller decisions- leading to bigger ones). The ability to inspire, impact and influence others—and outcomes—is directly proportional to factors such as your skill in asking great questions of the right people, building trust, breaking down unhelpful silos and fostering diversity. No woman is an island, and no success is achieved alone.  

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2.   Leaders lead behind closed doors vs Transparency as a key leadership skill 

Of course, not everyone in a company will be privy to every aspect of how and why decisions are made, but the old power-tinged idea of decisions being presented from on high as a mandate is out of line with a modern need for transparency.  

According to Forbes, 50% of workers feel that the organisations they work for are held back by a lack of transparency, with employees now valuing the ability to understand the input that drives the strategy and progress of their organisation and how it affects them in real-time. Leading with transparency means being open and honest with your team, sharing information that best supports the future decision-making of your employees and creating a culture of trust and empowerment at all levels.  

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3.   Leaders need all the answers vs The power of the ‘I don’t know’ mindset 

Great leaders are always willing to learn and to recognise that knowledge is a collective thing, gathering expertise around them and being ready to listen. The ‘I don’t know’ mindset is far from the idea of the traditional top-down mandate, where creativity and collaboration were stifled in favour of hierarchy and a sense that the higher up you went, the more you intrinsically knew. Today’s leaders don’t have to have the best answers; they have the best questions and understand who best to put those questions to. Leaders must also retain curiosity and the ability to draw together all the strands of knowledge to make the strategic decisions that best further the company or organisation’s aims.  

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4.   Leaders must get it right all the time vs Leaders make mistakes 

All great leaders make mistakes—how they deal with those mistakes is what really matters. Part of that is being transparent and open and seeking feedback to move forward with confidence. The myth of the ‘perfect leader’ is exactly that—a myth- and 81 per cent of employees now consider it important for leaders to admit mistakes [2]. Researchers have also found that a leader’s willingness to ‘admit when they are wrong’ has a powerful impact on employee job satisfaction and talent retention, making this kind of self-awareness and emotional intelligence a crucial lever for authentic success in modern business.  

5.   The idea of the ‘strong’ leader vs The importance of showing your vulnerability

Today’s effective leader is far from the distant and ‘infallible’ figure of business history. Emotional intelligence is the skills toolkit for progressive leadership of generations in which expectations are changing around what success is and how we achieve it. Within that, vulnerability is now seen as a crucial leadership quality; being open about our feelings, actions and mistakes speaks to a growing need for authenticity and trustworthiness. And neuroscience confirms the power of being ‘human’ in a business context [3]—employees recalling a boss who resonated with them showed enhanced activation in brain parts related to positive emotion, while the reverse was true with a boss who didn’t resonate.  

A special thank you to our brilliant everywomanAmbassadors for bringing their expertise and experience to our leadership series.


[1] https://www.grantthornton.global/en/insights/women-in-business-2023/the-push-for-parity/

[2] https://www.td.org/magazines/the-public-manager/the-value-of-acknowledging-your-mistakes

[3] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1048984311001263

everywoman’s Ambassadorsare senior women in business, representing a myriad of roles, job functions, sectors and industries. They are exceptional female role models who share everywoman’s commitment to advancing women in business, and who play an active role within their organisations and the wider community to enable greater diversity and inclusion, with a particular focus on gender.


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