As we begin National Women’s Month in South Africa, I have taken some time to reflect on the interactions I have had with strong successful women during the past seven years of training and coaching. What I have noticed is that these women are not necessarily the ones with several degrees behind their name and not all of them are in senior positions.
What make these woman stand out for me is their approach to daily challenges and how they navigate storms. The women I would like to celebrate are not necessarily the loudest voices in the room but when they speak people listen despite their position. I call them our Workplace Warrior Women, not because of their propensity to start wars, but because I would willingly follow them into any war.
Recognition that they have battle scars, unwavering dedication to a cause, and devotion to the wellbeing of others make these women natural leaders regardless of where they are on the career ladder.
What I have found is that these women all have three characteristics in common when it comes to the way they think and act.
How Successful Women Think and Act
Their Resilience to Shame
*Thandeka is a single mother of a 6 year old son and 3 year old daughter. When we met she had just started a new career as a Call Centre Manager and was fired from her previous job because she had developed a drinking problem. During our third coaching session, Thandeka told me that she was fired from her previous job and openly admitted to the reason. There was no shame in her admission and she proceeded to tell me with great excitement that she had been sober for 8 months and how her life had changed for the better. She also told me how she openly shared her story with colleagues.
Thandeka taught me that even though we fail at certain things, we cannot let shame and disappointment become our self-made prison.
What successful women understand is that we need to build a resilience to shame. According to Brene Brown’s ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’, shame is the intense feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of belonging. It is all about fear. We’re afraid that people won’t like us if they know the truth about who we are. Shame is something we all experience and our resilience to shame makes the difference between moving forward with confidence or staying locked up in our prison.
According to Brown, people that are resilient to shame share four characteristics:
- They understand shame and recognise what messages and expectations trigger shame.
- They practice critical awareness by reality-checking the messages and expectations that tell them that being imperfect means being inadequate.
- They reach out and share their stories with people they trust.
- They use the word shame, they talk openly about how they’re feeling and they ask for what they need.
Thank you to the Thandekas of the workplace who are not afraid to own their stories and make space for the rest of us to share our flaws and not hide behind false facades because of our fear of being rejected.
Their Happiness Action Plan
I met *Santie during a change management process at a large organisation. As an Executive she was under a lot of pressure as the process would include downsizing. Despite the obvious pressure, Santie exuded joy and contentment. It wasn’t a ‘smile through the pain’ fake front but it was sincere and people were naturally drawn to her. It was like her colleagues wanted to catch whatever she had.
When we had time on our own, I told her that I was curious about what kept her going and she then told me that she was intentional about her happiness and had a formal Happiness Programme. The way Santie’s daily Happiness Programme works as follows:
- She has at least three good belly laughs a day. If she has nothing to laugh at in the workplace, she looks for a video on YouTube; in her case she enjoys Ellen Degeneres’ stand- up comedy.
- She looks for opportunities to do something kind for someone in need.
- She sits down to an evening meal with her family and asks, “What’s the best thing that happened to you today?”
- She gives a tight hug or kiss to someone she cares about on a daily basis.
- She get’s eight hours of sleep a night.
To all the happy Santie’s out there, thank you for investing in yourselves so that you can have a positive impact on the rest of us.
Maintaining Healthy Relationships
When it comes to maintaining healthy relationships, I have been blessed to know and work with a number of women who understand the importance. A number of these women are in support roles in the workplace and their influence can be felt throughout the organisation. Position or power does not dictate how these woman treat individuals.
They understand that everyone within a relationship shares responsibility and they actively work on maintaining healthy relationships.
Trustworthiness is evident in all their relationships and their approach to people clearly communicates you can rely on them. They are readily believed, are consistent , and respect the confidences of others.
They are also accepting and forgiving. Their acceptance of others is not conditional on how others behave, what others think or the mistakes they have made in the past. This doesn’t mean that they like everything about everyone, but that their caring for others does not require people to jump through hoops to please them.
As I’ve said earlier, it is a privilege to have been part of these women’s lives and they deserve to be celebrated daily. I know you go through struggles that you do not discuss, thank you for allowing me to see your battle scars, and remaining strong in the storms.
To the Warrior Woman reading this article right now, I honour you and you remain my inspiration. Thank you for living fearlessly and touching our lives as you boldly go forward and shine your light on others.