Women and Leadership: How to be More Like Michelle (Obama) and Less Like Donald

Posted on: December 20, 2016

I’ve always admired Michelle Obama for her combination of warmth, intelligence, groundedness and courage.

If you love her too the good news is that you can channel your Inner Michelle to be an influential woman and make a positive difference.

I speak and coach all over Europe and the UK and here’s something I see all the time: women are frequently uncomfortable with being seen as powerful, preferring to keep their heads down, do good work and focus on keeping others happy.

Maybe you’ve seen powerful people who have misused their power and become bullies, or people who have spoken out courageously and been sidelined as a consequence, so you’ve decided not to stick your head above the parapet.

Yet if you retreat from your own influence and ability to make a difference, this creates a vacuum that a bully can occupy.

Otto Scharmer of MIT wrote a powerful piece for the Huffington Post about the rise of Donald Trump and how the only person who challenged him effectively during his campaign was Michelle Obama because she spoke in an open-hearted, human way about the impact of his behaviour and values on her and others. In fact, she was so effective that the Trump campaign decided to stop attacking her as this only amplified the power of her voice.

I believe one of the lessons of the US election is that we have to stop looking to our political leaders to rescue us and instead step up and show leadership in our workplaces and lives.

You’re probably not a leader on the global stage, yet investing some time in looking at how you can best influence your environment for the better and live your values is time well spent.

When I was a young litigation lawyer back in the early 90s I felt frustrated and disillusioned with the adversarial process. I started to seek out alternatives – as much for my own sanity as anything. I found out about the new field of mediation, begged my firm to let me train as a mediator, started to give talks about it (up till then I’d been terrified of public speaking), persuaded my firm’s litigation department to rename itself “Commercial Dispute Resolution”, trained others as mediators and ultimately left law to be a mediator.

In the process, I had to live with lots of ridicule and being seen as a “tree hugger” and not a credible litigator, but in the end I feel I made a difference to my corner of the world. And I still do.

So please ask yourself…

Where do you have the scope to make a difference?

Where do you need to expand your comfort zone to create a change you want to see?

What could you do if you felt more powerful?

Often the easiest way to get clear about this is to take time out with like-minded and inspiring women.

It’s a great way to discover your Inner Michelle!

Liz Rivers is co-leading a Masterclass How to be a Powerful Woman (and still be liked) at CEDR on 9 March with Susanne Schuler.