Girl Scouts CEO On Developing Women Leaders

Leadership is an important skill in today’s world. I once heard a supply chain executive from Elizabeth Arden tell me he used to always be encouraged when he would receive position applications from young candidates who could clearly articulate their experience and goals. He knew he could hire one and she would go far in her career because she already demonstrated leadership potential.

For all of us who are out there looking for positions or any opportunity to show we can be leaders, we can never stop learning about the skills we will need to get ahead. Ruth N. Bramson, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, knows that it is important to always work on learning those skills. She also knows it is important to start teaching those skills to the next generation. “If we are to build a strong new generation of female leaders, we need to introduce girls early on to topics of science and math and engineering and encourage them to explore these fields.”

“Around the world and across our nation, young women are gaining the education and work experience needed to enrich public opinion, affect national policies and influence global change,” said Ruth. “Fifty-seven percent of those enrolled in US colleges are women. Nearly fifty percent of the US workforce is women creating more opportunities than in the past to increase their numbers in professional leadership positions.”

Ruth believes that leadership is a key skill that one must work on over time, but it requires other leaders to share their experience. “It is a talent that needs to be encouraged, nurtured by those with shared ideals, recognized and validated,” said Ruth. “We have each benefited from having powerful leaders in our lives and have also been in the position of being leaders.”

Be Prepared: A college education is only the first step in moving toward a position of leadership. An undergraduate degree is the bare minimum. Advanced degrees are now essential in some career categories. For many women, who enter their professions after four years of college, gaining a Masters or beyond means working and going to school part time. If that’s what it takes to continue the climb to the top, be prepared to take on the challenge. Even after earning an advanced degree, the learning should not stop. Future leaders must continue to dedicate time and energy throughout their careers to understand innovations in technology and communications and advances specific to their profession.

Be Accountable: Responsible leaders understand that the work of today is the history of tomorrow, and they are its makers. Leaders take responsibility for their actions and for the consequences of those actions. Failure is equal to success in terms of accepting one’s part in decision-making and learning from our choices. Leaders find ways to get things done, regardless of the challenges they face. They are the ones who, when they were young, were encouraged to try despite the potential for failure, to accept responsibility for a poor decision, to accept success with humility, to recognize the lessons learned and move forward.

Be Adaptable: It is important for young leaders today to look back and realize the huge strides women have made by initiating, demanding and affecting revisions in their own independence, expectation of educational attainment, financial stability, professional achievement and political standing. Women in leadership positions today understand adaption and growth. They manage change by allowing themselves and others to embrace new ways of doing things.

Be Accessible: Leaders know how to bring talented, innovative people to their cause. They are genuinely curious about other people, open to sharing ideas and available to listen to the thoughts and opinions of others. Leaders are sounding boards and sponges. They soak up daring new innovations and value creativity.

Be Authentic: Knowing who you are and being open and honest when dealing with people gains respect and trust. Collaboration requires authenticity and collaboration is the most comfortable leadership style for women to work within.

Be Generous: The simplest way of saying this is-do a good turn to someone every day: that is, be a giver and not a taker. Leaders give the most valuable thing we have in this life: time. Through volunteering, even young girls have the opportunity to improve lives and meet people who they would never encounter in their own neighborhood. They can begin to develop an appreciation of how they can help change society for the better.

Ruth Bramson, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, has recently contributed to the book, Elements of Successful Organizations. Her contribution is focused on how to prepare for the next generation of female leaders, and how foundations can foster and build an organization that is prepared for this change. Ms. Bramson is an international lecturer and published author, writing on issues including strategic change, corporate philanthropy, STEM education for girls, sexual harassment and violence prevention, and work/family balance.

Girls Scouts of the USA is also celebrating 100 years by creating programs in 2012 to support leadership and development for girls and women. To find out more, visit the Year of the Girl website.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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