5 min. read
Easing Your Way Into Leadership
3 Steps To Kickstart Your Leadership Journey In Tech
To lead or not to lead?
For some, leadership comes naturally but the truth is that it’s not the case for everyone. If you feel like you’re in the latter group, we have good news for you! Leadership is a skill that can be developed and guess what … you don’t have to wait until your job title says accordingly. All you need to do is find your own leadership style.
If leadership is part of your new year’s resolution, we went straight to the source and had a chat with our Xena community member Katja Kolmetz, leadership expert and WaveMakers Founder.
First things first, Katja has a clear goal – she set out to redefine leadership and change outdated stereotypes around leadership by empowering diverse professionals. With a background in communications and marketing, she got into tech and there was no going back.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the art of becoming a leader, shall we?
How did you kickstart your leadership journey?
Retrospectively in kindergarten, I came to realise that it’s not a specific title or formal title that makes you a leader. There are people who have formal titles that are not great leaders but it also applies to the other way around. There are others that demonstrate leadership skills without the title.
Leadership is a life skill and I would have loved to have developed this skill much earlier or at least be aware of it. What accelerated my leadership journey was when I became an entrepreneur, previously I was managing projects and teams but it was only after that I realised it’s important to invest in my personal development and learn by practice, also known as the hard way.
Which leaders inspire you?
Authentic leaders who have the courage to show their real selves. The first person who comes to mind is my grandfather. He challenged professional and social norms, he grew up in a patriarchal structure but crushed social and gender stereotypes over and over. He would cry during speeches, cook family dinners, and was proud to be vulnerable. At the time, it was rare for a man to do this as they would fear losing credibility.
When people look at effective leadership, most qualities are associated with traditional masculine behaviour such as “tough, direct, fierce” but not necessarily feminine traits. For women, it’s hard to show feminine qualities, as they fear they won’t be taken seriously or they won’t be liked. This needs to change. There is no such thing as one perfect leader, you just find the right way to lead for you.
What have you learned after founding WaveMakers?
We designed WaveMakers to empower diverse leaders and built a program that is different from everything that is out there. We placed diversity at the centre of everything we do by addressing topics that reframe uniqueness and turn it into a leading superpower.
We work with people who are different than the current leadership norm. I’ve learned that gender plays a crucial role. It’s a fact that many women struggle to combine being likable and social while at the same time being taken seriously. Women constantly feel pressured to change themselves in order to blend into their professional environments.
However, my biggest learning after working with participants from over 38 different countries is that regardless of where you are based, some challenges are universal. Humans simply want to belong, make an impact, and reach fulfillment. Women, in particular, experience specific challenges and have to fight insecurities, microaggressions, and discrimination which of course make it harder to become a leader.
But the good news is, change is on the way. For instance, 1 in 3 WaveMakers leadership program participants have a new position within 3 months. For instance, they transition into a higher role, have a complete career change, or even start their own business.
How would you define diverse leadership?
I see diverse and authentic leadership as one. Being authentic when you’re a minority is a whole different story. A diverse leader is someone who has fewer role models and a different perspective due to gender, ethnicity, or different diversity dimensions. It’s a leader that doesn’t mirror the behaviour of white cis males necessarily and brings their own diverse perspective to the table.
What are the top 5 leadership skills essential for women in tech in the 21st century?
– Self-awareness: of your strengths and limitations, remember you’re human. Be aware of your needs and be compassionate with yourself. Developing an internal communication channel with yourself is essential, make sure to check in with yourself. Life gets busy, so it’s important to put yourself first and take care of yourself before others.
– Authenticity: Bringing your whole self to work requires courage. Being a woman in tech makes you a minority by default. This often leads to mirroring others and code-switching to blend in. In a study where both genders were asked how much they change to fit in at work, the stats are no surprise, 45% white male and for women 66%.
– Navigating biases: be aware of biases and their implications in a professional environment. We have normalised asking women to get a coffee for us or the excluding comment of “where are you really from”. These microaggressions influence the structures around us and are confronting and might even develop insecurities.
– Emotionally intelligent communication: leadership starts with a mindset, not a title. If you want to lead and influence, you have to understand every person has a different reality. We are all communicating all the time, even if we are not aware of it. We might experience the same situation but have different interpretations of it due to personal baggage so it is important to be able to put yourself into the shoes of others.
– Personal brand: this is all about how others perceive you and if they see you as a leader. Nowadays, a personal brand is reduced to it being just about your LinkedIn or CV but that’s not the case. It’s what people say when you are not in the room. As a woman in tech, you have a unique perspective. Make sure to stand up for yourself and what you believe in. Every action and word contributes to your brand, make sure to position yourself authentically.
How do you become a leader?
Most importantly, do not wait for a specific title, you can start now with 3 simple steps.
Step 1: Build your confidence
Trust yourself. Have the confidence and self-image that you are a leader. It’s not what your job title says. Only if you believe in yourself then can others believe too. I see that women worry or don’t feel ready. I invite you to discover the leader inside of you and other areas in which you are already leading. Stop trying to fix your weakness but also focus on strengthening your skills.
Step 2: Think Entrepreneurial
As an entrepreneur, you build something that wasn’t there before. As an emerging leader you can build your own leadership personality and mold it for yourself. You need to create it for yourself, find your approach to your own development, and be proactive in owning these skills.
Step 3: Team up with others
How do you manage successful projects? You need other stakeholders, the same applies to leadership. There is no need to hide your struggles, this will be a disadvantage especially if you’re in your early/mid-career because it limits your leadership development. Team up with others that are not your immediate colleagues. It’s what we call professional friends. Find people you can open up to and learn from.
What challenges to expect when you are exploring leadership opportunities and how to overcome them?
The main challenge will most likely be imposter syndrome. In any growth-orientated experience, you create a stretch and you will experience a discomfort and likely start comparing yourself with others. Make sure to stop judging or assuming where you “should be” and follow your own path.
The way to overcome imposter syndrome is to confront it and manage your own thoughts and insecurities. Turn doubt into positive motivation. Be critical about your own environment, it might not be a safe space so question where these thoughts are coming from.
How to jump the medior to senior barrier as a woman in tech?
Usually, the struggle is a matter of how you are perceived. If you want to overcome this barrier, it’s very likely you have already gained a lot of hard skills, and you’re performing in a certain way. But it’s more about your image and making sure to value the experience that you already have.
One model we use at WaveMarkers is the pie model, which says your professional success is 10% performance (what you actually do), 90% your image and exposure (personal brand). Focus on how you can make sure to be perceived as the right candidate for the job.
Invest in your personal brand, your visibility, and ownership of how others perceive you. It all comes back to you, your attitude, and your authentic way of communicating. Be aware of the biases. For instance, in some cases women are by default questioned and not seen as being ready, whilst a white cis male won’t face this barrier. It’s important to acknowledge this and remember you’re not the only one.
Anyone can become a leader, it’s a matter of choosing when.
WaveMakers program is a 6-week online program, developed to be a safe space that puts the needs of women and underrepresented groups at the center. This January 2023 we are opening a space specifically for women* to tap into their leadership superpowers and feel empowered to become leaders in their fields. Make waves, move mountains!
About the Course
At WaveMakers we have designed a 100% online digital leadership program that empowers young female professionals to transition into higher-level positions, start managing a team, launch their own business, or make a bold career change that is congruent with their values.
Who should attend?
Young professional women*, career changers, managers and non-mangers who want to outgrow themselves without compromising who they are and where they come from. Finally, anyone who feels their voice isn’t heard enough or their ideas aren’t recognized at work.
*Anyone who identifies as a woman.