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The female leader vs the female boss

I was humbled to be invited to the Women in Tech and Telco Summit, to sit on the panel discussing “the female leader vs the female boss”.

The program outlined discussion topics on perceptions, stigmas, personality traits, stereotypes and working with difficult people.

These apply to all genders, no doubt, but in different ways.

“He is so bossy” is something you just don’t hear. He’s all over it. He knows exactly what needs to be done. He’s great at delegating. Or when we have to travel for work, my male counterparts aren’t asked “who will look after your girls?” like I am.

Mostly, I agree; we are different. I have strengths in my personality that my male executives don’t, but I also have different strengths to my female executives, too.

My CEO tells me constantly that it is these diverse strengths in his leadership team that make it so successful. This is what he refers to as his “championship team” – a team who have shared values, work well together, but are different.

It doesn’t mean a team of champions as such. It’s that, once together, they work better. It is a team chemistry that combines to deliver exceptional results.

So it’s definitely not a one-size fits-all model, but here’s what I believe the traits of a good female leader to be…


Confidence, also known as the ‘back yourself’ trait. Confidence and self-esteem can never be overestimated in terms of their importance to demonstrating strong and effective leadership.

By confidence, I mean being sure of yourself and your abilities.

Can you take that next step into the bigger role up the ladder? Yes, I believe I can do that. I would be able to.

Self-esteem is more about how we value ourselves, how we perceive our value to others and the world.

So, why would I be better than the next person for that bigger role? I know that my experience and skills in X, Y and Z put me at an advantage, as that’s what the business needs and values right now.


While I’m seeing confidence as the inward care, I see compassion as the outward care.

A leader needs to have and be able to demonstrate compassion. By this I mean understanding, empathy, care and kindness. It’s a desire to help.

It is this desire to help, with kindness, that flips a situation from being a disappointed ‘boss’ to a concerned ‘leader’ who wants to understand why someone’s performance is slipping and how they can help coach them back to being their best.

Compassion is the driver behind a leader asking ‘why’ in an attempt to understand how they can help.


This is the toughest one. And it is quite intertwined with the first element of confidence. This is where we back ourselves to take the risks we need to take.

Courage is what we use to know our decisions can and will work. Courage is what we use when we know we need to change course and take the business in a different direction.

It is what we lean on when we ask, why? It is what is needed when we challenge the status quo.

Courage pushes us to speak up and appear different, to leverage our diversity of thought by insisting on being included. Courage is what can lead to the stereotype of being ‘different’ or ‘difficult’, but it is courage that needs to be celebrated, in yourself and in others, as the skill that teases out the benefits of a diverse workforce.

It is courage that is the enabler to inclusion.


And finally, with confidence, compassion and courage up your sleeve, every good leader leads with conviction. You know your strategy; you know the problem you are trying to solve.

Now empower your team to deliver this. Conviction in the workplace is expressed by delivering – by being a self-starter and leading by example.

It is about putting into action a strategy you know is right. It is demonstrated by delivering excellence and expecting it in return.

A female boss, in comparison, feels transactional and operational. At nbn, we have all our leaders participate in the Multipliers course derived from Liz Wiseman’s work, so we understand that just being a boss delivers only a certain level of output from your team.

But by being a Multiplier Leader, we are able to nurture a more engaged employee whose output is doubled. And given nbn’s scale task at hand, we are looking for a highly engaged workforce to get us there.

We need a workforce of engaged and empowered employees who turn up each day to do their best work.

We will only achieve this by insisting our managers act as real leaders and not just as a boss. And that’s regardless of whether or not you identify with any particular gender.

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