A: I'd like to quote a colleague, Susan Madson, who wrote the book, On Becoming a Woman Leader. Susan refers to women who move into leadership roles as, “participant observers.” They’re people who participate in their environment and observe the behaviors and leadership styles of those who are occupying positions that they wish to occupy one day.
Participant observers are people who learn from other leaders.
They look at their credentials and ask, “Do I need a Masters?” “Do I need a doctorate?” “What kind of experience do I need?” Once they figure that out, they put themselves into positions or on to committees or into volunteer spaces where they can hone those skills.
I’ll give you an example. As I was moving through my career, I knew that I wanted to run a college and I hadn’t come up through the ranks of higher education as a traditional faculty member. So I built what I call a portfolio of skills that someone who runs a college needed to have. I got my doctoral degree. I got it a little bit later and it took me a little bit longer but I absolutely earned it. Through volunteer work and committees I joined, I learned how to raise money. I learned how to lobby. I learned about student affairs. After I got my doctorate I spent time as a visiting professor so I could get some faculty experience. I have some understanding of finances but was never a strong numbers cruncher. I put myself on a credit union board to learn the about world of the financial services and speak intelligently about budget and financial regulations. By the time I was asked to be a dean of a college, I felt I had the competencies to move into that role.
So I use that example to say to women who are looking to move into senior leadership roles, look into the backgrounds of people already in those positions. Then craft for yourself, either through formal education, volunteering or informal committees, ways in which you can develop those skills so that when you're ready for that senior leadership role, you can point to those things and say, "I know this. And I know this. And I know this."