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Do you see yourself as ‘leadership material’?

Have you come across conversations where people comment on others that they are ‘not leadership material’? That they lack executive presence, they don’t have gravitas, they’re too soft, they’re too reserved? Often they are to do with styles, personalities and qualities. Have you ever wondered what they are saying about you and your leadership potential?


I’m sure there are many styles and qualities that gets talked about as being ‘not leadership material’. But how real are they? And have we allowed them to become internalised messages that we are ‘not leadership material’ and hold ourselves back?


After writing Bias towards style over substance is keeping your real talent hidden, I had a rich conversation with my friend, colleague, entrepreneur, adventurer and quietly powerful woman, Fiona Adler. She has started two successful businesses from scratch and is the third Australian woman to climb the top of Everest. She now writes practical advice for entrepreneurs in her blog Do the Things. We talked about one of her articles, Your Personality Traits are PERFECT for Entrepreneurship, how she sees that whatever personality, styles and traits we have, they are perfect, as there are useful side to it.


In my work with quieter professional women, I have also been helping women see that their natural qualities, even the ones they see as their ‘weaknesses’ can be redirected to be their strengths. Even better, they can be your differentiator and advantage.


Here are some examples. We may see them as ‘weaknesses’ and ‘not leadership material’ on first glance, but they can be enormous strengths when reframed and redirected.


Quiet/softly spoken: Allows others, especially more junior members to speak, listens and observes more so that they have a better grasp of what is really happening.


Non-dominant: Empowers others to take ownership for thinking and taking action. More collaborative and shares credit more freely. Can be an effective servant leader.


Slower thinking: More considered in decision making, can have more innovative ideas through reflection and connecting ideas.


Not action-oriented: More disciplined in thinking through complex problems rather than over simplifying or acting on band-aide solutions.


Indecisive: More inclusive of others ideas and make trade off decisions carefully.


Non-entertainer, lack charisma: Less attention seeking, more about the collective and deeper connections.


Emotional: Greater empathy, intuition, connection with clients, understanding of human motivators and behaviours.


Fiona and I discussed the need to be conscious of our natural tendencies so that we don’t go too far and get stuck. For example, it’s not useful to be always quiet and softly spoken – but it’s definitely useful when used at the right times.


So my challenge to women and men who may have doubts about whether they are ‘leadership material’ – reframe and redirect those qualities you believe are ‘weaknesses’.


My challenge to leaders and organisations – can we expand our definition of good leadership and who should be considered ‘leadership material’? How might this expanded definition of good leadership help to uncover hidden talent in the organisation?


And finally a question to the readers – what other qualities/styles are considered ‘weaknesses’ or ‘not leadership material’ can we reframe?


Do you feel held back by your ‘weaknesses’? The Quietly Powerful Women’s initiative aims to help quieter women to succeed on their own terms (see The Double Glazed Glass Ceiling). Talented quieter professional women have been overlooked for too long due to this bias against their styles. February and March Melbourne introductory events (22/2 and 22/3) are open for registration (Melbourne breakfasts registration) and waitlist is open for Sydney (Sydney breakfast registration). Other exciting Melbourne events are also happening – find out at

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