What does Miss Universe know about girls and leadership?

This week's blog looks at leadership in the charity sector, and what we might be able to learn from looking at alternative leadership models.
Bijal Rama
 

When asked what the most important thing to teach young girls was, 2019’s Miss Universe, South Africa's Zozibini Tunzi, responded with ‘leadership’. I couldn’t agree more! Towards the end of last year, I spent a little over a week in Tanzania facilitating leadership workshops for women aged 20-30 years old. This event was part of the 2019 Juliette Low Seminar (JLS), which is the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts’ (Girl Guides) flagship leadership development programme. The programme was delivered in 18 countries, with young people from across the globe. I spent the week helping young women share their experiences of leadership and consider the type of leader that they wanted to be in a fun and interactive way. We covered things like presenting, networking and team building through a variety of activities, and had some incredibly inspiring guest speakers, such as a local Guide Leader who runs sessions on menstrual hygiene and advocates against female genital mutilation. We also took the women on a community visit so that they could learn about how local women were carrying out leadership in their own lives.

It was incredibly rewarding to see the women grow in confidence and feel empowered over the course of the training, and hear about the incredible work that they wanted to do when they returned home.

“I’ve never tasted so much freedom in my life. Where I can be who I want to be, do what I want to do and say what I want to say. Because of that I’ve discovered my fullest potential and my limitations. Thank you so much JLS Kusafiri (Tanzania) Hub for this experience.”

Girl Guide, JLS Tanzania Participant, November 2019

The event was so successful that #JLS2019 even started to trend on social media, and for a fleeting moment gave JLS fans hope that the band was getting back together! Before I go any further, I must thank Joe Saxton, nfpSynergy’s Driver of Ideas, charity sector champion (and my boss) for my five volunteer days.

When I went through the leadership training myself, it felt like an epiphany. My understanding of leadership through school and even university, was that it was just another soft skill I needed to have a successful career. Leaders were managers and CEOs and good ones had some kind of Jedi mind trick way of doing it. I never really had any meaningful conversations about leadership and my first leadership training was tailored for a managerial position – very useful and practical but still a very narrow view of leadership. However, the training I received from Guiding made me think about my behaviour in a completely different way. I started to see leadership as something that I lived and breathed all of the time, and identified times I’d been a leader in the most unlikely scenarios. The training helped me to consider and become the leader people needed me to be, without compromising the leader I felt comfortable being.

As a society we don’t have a very good understanding of what good leadership is and how to talk about it. We often frame leadership as a skill people use in their career, rather than a constant lived experience. It means that people often want to change the world, but have no idea where to start. I want to talk about a new leadership model that really tries to reframe what leadership is for young people. This model was launched at JLS 2019 and is called ‘Leading for Her World’. Although, it is a model designed for young men and women, I do think that using something like this can open up more opportunities for innovation and efficiency within charities.

Unlike most traditional leadership models, which focus on specific skills, knowledge and abilities, ‘Leading For Her World’ puts emphasis on personal values, perspectives and behaviours. What makes it unique is that is helps women to take the time to understand the needs and concerns of the people they are working with and lead in that context. It also encourages people to identify gender barriers to leadership, because, let’s face it; that is a context a very large proportion of the world is operating in. After participating in the training, the women have been challenged to return home and start a project that will impact at least 100 girls positively in their communities. In a nutshell, JLS is all about empowering a new generation of leaders to go out and make a difference in their own back yard.

I think incorporating something like this into professional roles will really help teams understand each other and find the best ways of working. The thing I love the most about this model is that by promoting leadership though values and behaviours, it really encourages more diverse leadership styles and characteristics. It counts every single member of the team as a leader, and focuses on making their role strong and effective.

Overall, my time in Tanzania truly demonstrated thow on the mark Zozibini Tunzi was when she said that “nothing is as important as taking up space in society and cementing yourself”. You will never have nailed being the 'perfect' leader, but seeing yourself as one despite the labels you may have in life can only help open up new opportunities.

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