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What Leadership Looks and Sounds like: The Anti-Stereotype

by Oanh Crouch Twitter LinkedIn

My mother is a strong and powerful woman. 

She is an influential leader who knew when to be blunt and firm, and when to be supportive and empathetic.

I regret that I did not always think that way about my mother. 

I did not see her as a leader. During my rebellious teenage years, I am ashamed to say I most likely did not accord her with the respect I now know she so deserved. In my immature mind, my Vietnamese mum epitomised the antithesis of the values of female leadership. She was a stay at home mum, who cooked, cleaned, did not know how to drive nor did she have any friends or interests outside of our family unit consisting of my dad and five siblings. 

It seemed to me that my mum was living and breathing the stereotype of the subservient wife and mother.

The predicament of course was that while I too was born in Vietnam, from the age of four, I grew up in Australia. And encountered numerous conflicting messages surrounding cultural values and societal expectations of being a woman, let alone a woman who leads.

When I think about my role models and who "I wanted to be like when I grew up", the image of my mum did not come to my mind. Instead, as I ventured into my career into education, colleagues and leaders who I was fortunate to be surrounded by became my "go to" of women to aspire to be – to look like them, to sound like them, to act like them, and to BE like them.

But one day, I did grow up… right around the time my second child was born – my daughter.

And suddenly I saw the world through my mum´s eyes. A kaleidoscope of images and snapshots of memories cascaded into my post pregnancy brain. And I realised that what I had mistakenly seen as weakness was in fact quite the reverse, it was calm and unwielding strength. 

My mum held our family together. Through the intricacies of emotional turmoil to the practical running of a household, to knowing how to get the best out of every one of us. She was the spine, the strength that made everything work and function. Without her, we would literally have crumbled.

Now when I think about about leadership and my role models, my mum is right at the top of the list. As I juggle the myriad of roles (and expectations) that I place upon myself, it soothes me to know that it is following in the footsteps and path that my mum would have also taken.

It was a long road for me to finally understand the essential truth - leaders and role models come in so many different shapes and sizes. There is no "one size fits all" and certainly not one way to be a leader. We communicate with different accents and in different ways. We look different. We are mindful in the choices we make, deliberate in the behaviour we model and the quality of interactions we embark upon. We inspire others to embrace authenticity and lead with our unique strengths and perspectives. We challenge outdated beliefs and pave the way for more inclusive and diverse leadership styles.

As I have witnessed repeatedly, it is not about the position that makes a person lead. 

It is the impact they have and the quality of relationships they build with the people around them that elevates them into being leaders. 

I have come to realise that is only by embracing my authentic self and leading in a way that reflects my values and strengths, I can be the epitome of the anti-stereotype leader and inspire others to do the same.

I can only hope that one day my daughter will know her path and live her dream in the way that she would like, without constraints or concerns about what a female should look or sound like in order to be of impact. 

I fervently hope that the leaders of today will continue to support the message that her way, whatever way that is, will be the right way - for her.

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Sunday, 14 April 2024

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