According to Danielle Macleod, the answer to everything can be found in the pages of a book. This self-confessed obsessive reader turned to her book collection when she began speaking publicly about female leadership. At the time, Danielle headed-up a 10,000-strong team for one of the UK’s largest corporations, and felt the weight of responsibility when speaking to and on behalf of her female workforce.
Danielle’s research led her to understand so much more about the different ways people lead, and the impact this can have – especially on women. So, in 2016 she co-founded her business, Remarkable Women, aimed at unlocking female potential with innovative new ways of thinking.
We sat down for a chat on my People&Digital podcast, where we discussed the difference between male and female leadership, and how we can all benefit from being a little more regal…
Why is it so important for women to develop leadership?
Danielle reveals that she made some worrying discoveries in the early days of her business. She spoke to many women in high-potential positions and found a common thread, as she explains:
“Women [were] telling us… I really want to make a difference, but I’m not willing to play at the very high echelons because I don’t like how they play up there… I don’t want to trade my health any more than I already am. And I don’t want to mess with my relationships any more than I already am. So I’m going to hang about here. And I’m not going to do the things I think I’m capable of because it doesn’t look like it’s worth the trade-off.
These women were not saying that they weren’t confident enough to do the job. They were saying that it wasn’t worth it. They were saying that the system didn’t work for them.
What Danielle discovered were some seriously damaging leadership mindsets, with roots that run deep in the formerly male-dominated structures of big Western businesses. For many women to succeed in these businesses, they’ve had to accept and adapt to these dated structures.
So, how do we rewrite leadership?
To answer this question, Danielle begins by explaining the two existing mindsets: victim and warrior.
“So, the first place is the position of the victim… The victim is saying, why does this keep happening to me?” The victim also places blame on others – in many cases, the organisation. This can then lead to feelings of bitterness and apathy. And by then, it’s a vicious cycle.
The second position is the warrior. Warriors are martyrs to their cause. The sort of people, Danielle says, who think “I will beat this if it kills me.” This isn’t something we can’t survive long-term. As anyone who’s kept fighting against something knows, it leads to burnout.
The antidote to being a victim or a warrior? Be a queen.
According to Danielle, queen leadership is about discernment and wisdom. It’s also about knowing who you are and what you want to create. She goes on to explain how it doesn’t mean declaring war – warrior style – by trying to force or convince others. Instead, it means taking a clear stand on what matters to you.
She says, “if I was a queen and my job was to live a long, healthy life and to create a prosperous flourishing nation, I would have to be discerning about where my energy went and where I put my time.” She adds the queen mantra: “If you want to come with me, great, but I don’t need you because I’m the boss of me.”
Not quite. One of the misconceptions, explains Danielle, is that people can’t see how this approach aligns with being a commercially successful organisation. But businesses can still be profitable and follow the principles of queen leadership. The key here is they need to start speaking with compassion – to their staff, to their customers, to everyone.
What’s also really important is honesty. Danielle recalls anecdotes of businesses going through restructures – something she works with a lot – and not thinking it necessary to have upfront, honest conversations with their workforce about what’s happening.
As though it’s perfectly okay to just drop a bombshell like: you’re being made redundant.
That’s never okay according to Danielle. People must feel considered and respected. Otherwise, she says “we get rebellion or we get submission, and neither of those are creating positive waves in the world.”
Are there other things people get wrong about this approach?
Danielle explains that there are plenty. Like confusing queen leadership with being passive aggressive – a common pitfall for women. As women, we’re trained to please, to peace-make, even when we’re being mistreated. So, we often think we need to respond to poor behaviour with good behaviour. But that’s not honest either. Get this – it’s actually manipulative! We mustn’t hide our true intentions and feelings behind this need to keep the peace. That’s not queen-like behaviour.
Be honest with other people, and perhaps more importantly, be honest with yourself.
How do we resist these urges to be victims and warriors?
Danielle admits this isn’t easy. It takes a lot of work, and even after eight years Danielle is still continually learning and re-adjusting herself.
One piece of advice is to practice containing that defensive reflex. It’s not easy, because when we feel a sense of injustice, we go into attack mode. We grab our weapons. Here Danielle draws on her personal relationship experiences, explaining how during an argument – and warriors love to win those – we should aim to recover the situation. And we do that by asking ourselves a simple question: Why am I creating this?
Another tip is to slow things down. Queens don’t rush. This applies particularly to conflict, where things get said in the heat of the moment and where reactions are more knee-jerk. Danielle suggests that we shift our response to this. Warriors create trouble by going fast, so counter this speed and pressure by offering alternative, creative ways to solve a problem. Then – and this is the key bit – walk away.
Leave the warrior to think it over.
She adds, “this way of being has never failed me yet with any of my clients.”
So, how can we take steps to become a queen?
Danielle advises that we make one wise decision a day. That may seem like a slow process, but as we now know, this process is not about racing to the finish line. One decision a day allows your whole mindset to shift, gradually at first, towards your goal.
Danielle puts it simply: “Commit to being 1% more queen today than you were yesterday. Just 1%. And if you do that every day for a year, you’ve nailed it.”
Role models also help. Jacinda Ardern, Michelle Obama and Brené Brown to name a few. Danielle tells us to listen not just to what they say, but how they say it, because most use a “really crafted tone and language.” It’s very much a tone of voice thing.
And how do we know when we’re getting it right?
This is easy for Danielle. She answers instantly, “when things come to you easier. And they really do.”
Because to be a queen is to say: “Let’s put the impact, the thing we want to create, above everything else – the small voice in our head, the way we want to please other people… And so we don’t please anymore, but we also don’t fight and we don’t make people wrong. It is glorious… When something shifts in your life that before has always seemed really hard.”
Sounds glorious indeed.
So, one last question – a personal one – what do you wish you’d known about being a queen before you started Danielle?
“That sometimes, the strongest move you can make is to walk away.”
Danielle elaborates, “there were jobs I hung onto like a warrior because I felt like if I can’t fix it, who can? [But] the queen knows her mission is more important than the voice in her head that says you’ve got to be the strong one… That is your warrior talking… Sometimes we walk away because that place is not ready for us”.
And that’s just the sort of killer move a queen would make.
Voilà! For more of Danielle’s wisdom on this fascinating topic, check out our podcast episode.
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