The Leaders We Need

We often speak of our life’s work in terms of a career “path,” implying that there exists for us a single route in the sole direction of “up.” Modern careers don’t work this way of course—a lesson many mid-life workers have learned all too late, in the direst of circumstances, like the disruption of a once-stable industry.

As women, though, we have long been accustomed to disruptions in various forms and we’ve often had to make sharp turns and take long pauses on our professional journeys.

The key to our success—and we are succeeding, albeit entirely too slowly—is that we don’t stop moving.

In my early years as a strategic advisor to law firms, I watched many talented women leave law firm jobs for in-house counsel positions and opportunities with start-up firms, perceived to offer them a better quality of life. Perhaps in theory, there was no ceiling blocking these women’s advancement at the big firms, but the requirements of that steep, upward path from associate to partner felt, to many, impassable at that moment in their lives.

A decade on, some of those women are now general counsels at corporations—and they’re coveted as potential clients by some of the same firms that failed to accommodate their desire for better work-life balance. Others are leading boutiques that are competing, and winning against their former firms in fast-growing practice areas. They might not have shattered the ceiling, but they found ways to continue their journeys.

The skills women have had to develop and rely on at those moments when we’ve found our progress thwarted—blazing new trails, discovering ourselves as entrepreneurs, and inventing new jobs for ourselves and new ways of working—are the very skills most vital to success in today’s global economy.

Major corporations, big law firms, and large enterprises of all kinds are realizing that they need leaders who are nimble, creative, passionate, and resilient. They need leaders who are highly skilled at communicating and multitasking. They need leaders who see a world that is changing and embrace that change as an opportunity rather than fighting it off like a looming defeat.

They need leaders, in other words, who are women.