What It Means to “Lead Like a Woman”
A Q&A with Ivy Ross

It’s ingrained in many of us—and in our culture—to think of leadership as something that comes more naturally to men than it does to women. While the reasons for this are myriad and complex, at Women Together we are committed to making a change.

We sat down with Google senior executive Ivy Ross—who was one of our featured speakers in May 2019 for When Women Lead…, at which we explored the qualities of both “feminine” and “masculine” leadership. The ability to be an effective and impactful leader is inside each of us, accessible whenever we choose to reach for it . . .

 

WOMEN TOGETHER  A lot of us grew up at a time when no one talked about women as leaders in their own lives and in the world around them. What’s the first thing we need to know in order to become effective leaders?

IVY I encourage women to be themselves and to be fearless in stepping up and leading from a place that feels right to them, even if it might be a little unusual or different from the way people around them are leading. I believe people need to be their authentic selves. And that means being transparent, admitting mistakes. It means being human and really letting them in, letting them get to know you. People respect that. They want to know who their leader is, they want to feel who their leader is.

WOMEN TOGETHER  Until quite recently, women pursuing leadership positions often had to emulate men to fit in. But that leadership dynamic is steadily shifting. What are the feminine qualities we should embrace today?

IVY  We need to tap into our gifts and talents and not be fearful to bring them into the workplace in a relevant way. Collaboration and deep listening are natural traits of the feminine—it’s important to use them. Another important trait is intuition. We need to be able to tap into our own intuition, what we know to be true.

These feminine characteristics developed over time and are part of our DNA for a very special reason. We were the ones staying behind and taking care of the tribe when the men went out to hunt. We instinctively know how to organize and take care of people and bring out the best in them.

WOMEN TOGETHER  Are there other qualities we need as well?

IVY  I don’t believe we should lead 100 percent from the feminine. There are times when you need to use some of the gifts that people attribute to the feminine, and sometimes you need to use gifts that people attribute to the masculine. It’s a combination of both.

It’s about deep listening to people (feminine) then calling the shots (masculine) or saying, “You know what? I’m holding the vision. We’re going this way.” So if you don’t have both the feminine traits of collaboration and deep listening balanced by the masculine trait of decisiveness, you’re going to be in trouble. And I think people expect that in a leader—they want someone to lead them, not necessarily to tell them what to do but to lead them by paving the way and removing obstacles.

WOMEN TOGETHER Is there a simple formula for leadership that we can emulate?

IVY There is no one model of leadership. There is no formula. There are some guiding principles, but a lot of being effective is about being present with what’s happening and reacting to that in a very grounded way. And you can’t give someone a playbook for that because it happens in the moment. Over time, I shaped my leadership style based on seeing what didn’t work and seeing what did work and being a little fearless in trying different things.

WOMEN TOGETHER  What practices have you used to develop your leadership skills?

IVY  I have done a variety of practices including mindfulness to stay present so that I can feel what the situation calls for. I feel like I’ve got it so ingrained into who I am that it happens naturally.

WOMEN TOGETHER  What does it feel like when you’re leading effectively?

IVY  The joy for me of being a leader is really, really understanding and getting to know who my team is and then bringing out their gifts and talents. I think of myself as an orchestra conductor, knowing all of my musician’s gifts and talents really well. And then together we decide on what piece of music we’re going to play. My job is to, at times say, “Okay. A little more drums, a little less trombone.” I get them to harmonize as best I can.

 

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