Leadership Stories: Tamara Box on how to be a SASSY woman
Tamara Box is the Managing Partner, Europe & Middle East at Reed Smith. She is a recognised authority in the area of securitisation and a champion of gender equality. She is a founding member of the 30% Club and Chair of Cancer Research UK's Women of Influence initiative. Tamara has received numerous awards for her expertise and support of women.
What does being a leader mean to you?
Leadership comes in every size and shape, but I think that certain characteristics form the basis of any leader’s success.
An old boss of mine used to say the difference between management and leadership is this: a manager can get people to do what she wants them to, but a leader can get people to WANT to do what she wants them to. How does that happen?
First, there is the vision. Leadership is not short-term or short-sighted. It has to have vision, a long-term view of what an organisation and its people can become. It’s about “reach”; even more specifically, if I may paraphrase Robert Browning, “A person’s reach should exceed one’s grasp.” The vision needs to be aspirational and ever-changing so that as goals are achieved, the reach extends even further. The end of the rainbow is in sight, but the journey to get there never ends.
Second, leadership implies a positive outlook. A happy disposition goes a long way in making one a successful leader. Who wants to follow a sourpuss? A smile can light up a room and attract people like a magnet. That opens the door for meaningful discourse and an open exchange of ideas.
Which brings me to my third characteristic: respect. People respect true leaders because those leaders, in turn, respect and value individual contributors. In an inclusive workplace, everyone is equally capable of producing the next big idea; it is the leader’s role to create a safe environment where those “different” ideas can be voiced and explored. Valuing difference has been a theme in my career for many years, and I believe that it is the primary expression of leadership.
What have been the one or two biggest challenges in your life and how have you overcome them?
Probably the biggest challenge has been women’s empowerment. We all know that women are equally—if not more! —qualified and capable as men in most of society’s roles. Yet the gender gap persists; women are considered more suited to support roles and men are more appropriate for operational and leadership roles. This bias, now mostly unconscious, is prevalent in both women and men. Yes, that’s right; I said that women are also biased against women. Starting at a very young age, we are bombarded with societal conventions that teach little girls and boys that women are the inferior sex. Why is it an insult to tell a boy “You run like a girl” when telling a girl “You run like a boy” is a compliment? I could give you a thousand examples, but the point is that we have to change the narrative in our homes, our schools, our workplaces and our communities if we are ever to achieve gender equality. The power point presentations don’t always have to use pictures of men in suits to represent leaders. When we see women in leadership roles on a regular basis, the unconscious brain starts to accept this as “normal.” Accelerating that shift has been my biggest challenge – admittedly one I’ve chosen as well as one I’ve experienced in my own career – and while we have made progress, that challenge has not yet been overcome.
What do you regard as your greatest successes, and why?
At the risk of sounding trite or corny, I have to say I am most proud when I see one of my colleagues or protégés achieve success. I’ve won a fair few awards and recognitions in my career, but seeing someone I have coached or mentored win an award or obtain a promotion, particularly one in the gender-equality space, is far more fulfilling. The more we can inspire others to become active in achieving gender parity, the greater the chance that we will see it in our lifetime.
How has your leadership style changed over time, and why?
If there has been a change in my leadership style (and I’m not sure there has), it would probably be in the area I call “generosity.” As I have grown in my role, I have expanded my network and range of contacts far beyond what I could have cultivated in my younger years; thus I have a huge database of individuals in just about every realm of professional life that I love to share with others. It’s so exciting to walk into a room and meet someone that I am just certain needs to meet someone else I know. This professional “match-making” goes far beyond networking; perhaps it could be described as “paying it forward,” but I really am not sure that I need to ever get a payback in order to feel rewarded.
What advice do you have for younger women aspiring to leadership roles?
Be confident, respect yourself, and don’t be afraid to be different. I have a template that I call being a SASSY woman, and it goes like this:
S – Smile. A lot. Be known as a person who is happy and pleasant to be around.
A – Achieve. Be the best you can be in your space. You don’t have to be the top person in your field, but it doesn’t hurt.
S – Share. Be generous with your contacts, your time, and your accolades. You don’t get to the top on your own.
S – Support. Women absolutely must support other women. There’s strength in numbers.
Y – Yes. Say yes as often as possible. Every opportunity to participate, to speak, to take on a challenge, to invest in yourself: these are the things that will put you in front of a wider audience who can see how your light shines!
Valuing difference has been a theme in my career for many years, and I believe that it is the primary expression of leadership