All Articles Leadership Development Release the untapped potential of your female leaders 

Release the untapped potential of your female leaders 

Companies need to be more intentional to tap the talents of their female leaders. Joel Garfinkle offers a three-step process.

5 min read


female leaders

Martin Barraud/Getty Images

Winning the talent war isn’t about finding the right employees. You already have the right employees. They are just waiting to be engaged, empowered and leveraged. If you’re wondering how your organization is going to find its next rising stars in leadership, don’t have them rely on recruiters to identify outside talent when top talent exists within their organization. In my corporate training called “The Invisible Leaders: How to Find Them and Let Them Shine,” I discuss how you can uncover the undervalued female leaders in your company. If you want to release the potential of the talent you already have and gain the competitive advantage of promoting from within, read on.

ENGAGE female employees

What does your company do to involve its female employees? Think about the types of ways you elicit input, conduct meetings or request idea sharing. If you only favor those who speak first or loudest or who are always bold enough to challenge ideas in meetings, you may be missing out on the significant potential of those who struggle to be heard at meetings. Not everyone has a style that includes the assertive behavior we’ve come to associate with leadership potential. Many women prefer a more collaborative approach and may not stand out in the same way. Often, they may be working toward consensus instead of shouting down others or would rather highlight gaps and problems one-on-one, away from the group setting. 

What you can do to engage: Adjust the ways you evaluate potentials by engaging women in how they already work. Make space at the table, and notice the different styles that sit down. When you really listen, you may see your hidden female leaders encouraging others, building on ideas and asking thoughtful questions to steer the conversation. If necessary, encourage round-table discussion, and make it clear you expect to hear from each person in turn. This can allow you to evaluate the more quiet members of your team. Don’t forget to offer opportunities for people to share with you offline later, in your office or via email. 

EMPOWER female employees

Once you change the lens by which you evaluate leadership potential, what do you see? Do you notice skill sets that would be perfect for an upcoming project or a new initiative? Consider how less traditional leadership styles might be just the thing your company needs to achieve some critical objectives. Whether you’re looking for a robust collaborative effort, deep analysis or diplomatic change management, consider how the women in your organization might already possess the essential skills you need but lack the critical influence and visibility.

What you can do to empower: Instead of only singling out those who are bold and assertive for opportunities to lead, empower your more subtle and understated leaders to achieve your business objectives. Find your hidden leaders – those who have escaped notice because of their lower-key ways. There are likely capable women in your midst who have plenty of talent but less visibility and influence. You can notice their skill sets and empower them by providing those chances to raise their profile.  

LEVERAGE female employees

Finding and empowering your underutilized female leaders isn’t about diversity for its own sake – everyone wins when you bring female leaders to the forefront of your organization. When we broaden the definition and scope of leadership traits we admire, we include more styles and are more likely to include more women. When our leadership includes more diverse styles and opinions, studies show the company and the employees will both benefit – better margins, more employee engagement and more agile decision-making, to name just a few advantages. Don’t just find one woman to add to your leadership team and call it a day. Change your evaluation criteria, and start broadening your talent pool without setting foot outside your doors.

What you can do to leverage: Start talking about those underutilized leaders in your organization at every reasonable opportunity. Make sure others know about the great work women in your company are doing. Encourage, praise and acknowledge women to start raising the profiles of those who might not naturally self-promote. Advocate for opportunities of increasing importance to give women paths to success by leveraging their existing skill sets. Start changing the landscape to value the styles your female leaders have. Both your company and your employees will benefit. 

Consider how your organization could benefit from diversified leadership and the valuable talents of your existing, underutilized women leaders. When you broaden the definition of leadership skills, you will no doubt find many women who bring great value and who could make a significant impact on the company’s success. Women with a seat at the leadership table benefit us all, so start making it happen today. When you change your focus, you’ll no doubt unleash a lot of untapped talent from within.


Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


Take advantage of SmartBrief’s FREE email newsletters on leadership and business transformation, among the company’s more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.