Open Minds, Open Doors - Janet Luongo
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  1. The “Two Types of Women in This World”
  2. Qualities of Women Who Lead vs. Women Who Don’t


“Leadership that relies on such characteristics as relationship building, trust, nurturance, intuition and letting go is the leadership of the future. These traits have often been associated with our feminine side, whether we are female or male…”
Margaret Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science

There are two types of women in this world: those who support each other and those who don’t. It sure seemed true ten years ago when I was new working in a school with all women teachers who readily took their place in the “pecking order” headed by the sole male “rooster.” I’d had different kinds of experiences, like eloping, for one thing, and living abroad and taking time out to write a novel for another. Some of my views didn’t conform to theirs and I was treated like an outsider.

The course of my life was changed when mid-way through the year I took a workshop called, No Limits for Women Artists, a national network established by Betsy Damon, a woman who thinks BIG (for example, she does public art projects in China about important environmental issues like the quality of water). Immediately after Betsy introduced me to the national organization, Women’s Caucus for Art (WCA), I attended their national conference and found hundreds of women from around the country who were creative, accessible, inclusive, and open minded.

Which group of women would you choose to be with? By the end of the year I had founded a chapter of the WCA in Connecticut, eventually serving for four years as president, obtaining their non-profit status and becoming a national leader. At the end of that year I also left full-time teaching to start my own training company.

Think about women in your own life who were leaders or who responded to you when you took a leadership role. Do any of these characters seem familiar?

  • The Queen Bee who will sting if her power is threatened
  • The Fortress Keeper who rules over her Fiefdom and keeps intruders out
  • The Guardian of information and power who keeps others in ignorance
  • The Petty Gossipers who maintain a pecking order
  • The Cry Baby whose only interest is her own
  • The Old Guard whose purpose is to keep all new ideas out

I have met all the above characters. They can be very taxing, but luckily they are rare. Ninety-nine percent of the women in my life have been friendly and supportive and happy for me when I took the lead. Following are profiles of women, one who was not supportive, and one who was.

Not Supportive: I had a young woman supervisor who was the least communicative person I ever met. Once, soon before I quit, I found out what my department was supposed to be doing from reading it in the newspaper! Her friendly demeanor masked an old-fashioned top-down style. She thought it a good idea that departments compete against each other. She kept all the power and information. Projects suddenly appeared as finished products, all decisions final with no input from key people.

Supportive: I was blessed with an assistant who was excited by my vision, totally grasped the challenges of a situation, anticipated my needs and initiated solutions intelligently, cheerfully and efficiently. (It’s no surprise that within two years, she had a new position and her salary went up 250%!)


As a result of my research, experiences and observations as a manager, president, and consultant in various types of organizations – whether they be corporations, schools, museums or boards of trustees - I have identified five qualities that make women (or anyone) excellent leaders.

Women who lead creatively and support women leaders

1. Develop vision and possess passion

They believe they have something of value to contribute and want to make a difference. They have a vision and set clear goals. hey are decisive, take a stand and speak up.

2. Solve problems creatively

They relish learning new things and are continually growing. They look for better ways of doing things, even before problems arise, always anticipating future possibilities and direction.

3. Communicate with power

Their conviction leads them to be persuasive. They share information openly, are accessible, listen well and get their point across with impact.

4. Build positive relationships and teams

They believe in cooperation rather than competition, and work to develop the potential of everyone on the team. They transcend personality disagreements and work for the general good. They employ managerial styles that work for them as women, such as mentoring. Once they themselves have “made it,” they then turn to lend a hand to help other women become successful.

5. Inspire change and willingly transform culture

They work to inject good feminine values into the workplace that will change the culture for the better. They are successful at balancing work and personal life.

Women who don’t lead and who criticize women leaders:

1. Think small, hold on to their “turf”

Many women have been so minimized they do not feel they have anything to contribute. Because the culture devalues them, they devalue themselves. They are afraid to make decisions. They allow themselves to be shut down and don’t want to offend anyone for fear of conflict. They especially want to please the male authorities. They hang on desperately to the few things they CAN control.

2. Try to solve new problems using old methods

They like to do things the “way they have always been done.” This arises out oflow self-esteem and the fear they can’t learn new things.

3. Communicate poorly or not at all

They guard information, and have no system in place for open exchange of ideas and for routine updates to staff. They may even lack the basics of human relations such as smiling, saying hello! They don’t take time to listen and establish rapport, lead dictatorially, don’t encourage questions and when evaluating may be accusatory and negative.

4. Cannot let go of personal disagreements, ego, and self-interest

This category includes The Cry Baby who cannot see beyond their own needs; The Queen Bee, who may have “made it” in the man’s world and has stopped identifying with women; and The Petty Gossipers who compete with others for recognition and benefits, believing there is only so much to go around.

5 Fear and resist change

Deep down they fear they are inadequate to learn new skills and make changes and therefore block any new idea. They are usually so overwhelmed they cannot balance work and personal life.

Leadership is not easy, but it is rewarding. I’ve seen too many talented women hang back from leadership because of various fears and negative attitudes. I took my first adult leadership position eighteen years ago when I became chair of a department at the International School of Geneva, Chataigneraie. I had been living in Switzerland for six years and had a two-year-old son and a husband who was very willing to work part time so that I could assume that position. A support group of family, friends, colleagues, supervisors, mentors – and especially other women - is crucial if a woman is to be successful in leadership.

After several crises and an intense campaign, this month I was elected to lead the NY Tri-state chapter of the National Speakers Association with my co-president, Juan Negroni. My husband remains a supportive partner and I work on balancing work and personal life. I am excited about the opportunity to absolutely thrill members of this organization by inviting their input and quickly instituting the services they desire; in other words leading in a style comfortable to me as a woman.

In conclusion, I would like to encourage women to examine themselves in regard to their own leadership and the ways they can be more supportive of women leaders.

“Now that female executives occupy more upper-level management positions, women’s leadership skills – the ability to empower employees, build relationships, facilitate change, empathize, communicate, plan, and make decisions – are becoming more evident and respected. In fact styles of leadership identified as ‘female’ seem to be blossoming in a marketplace that emphasizes relationships and teamwork.”
Virginia O’Brien from Success on Our Own Terms

Note: Janet has a chapter in an anthology due out this year, The Princess Principle: Women Helping Women Discover Their Royal Spirit.


Collins, Jim. Good to Great. NY: HarperCollins, 2001
Goleman, Daniel. Primal Leadership 2001
O’Brien, Virginia. Success on Our Own Terms. NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1998
Wheatley, Margaret J. Leaderhip and the New Science. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 1992. Transforming Organizational Culture and the Management Development Process

This article was sent as an electronic newsletter, Vol. I # 3, Summer 2002
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