Former Head of the White House Project Shares 10 Keys to Persistent Leadership

Tiffany Dufu, former head of the White House Project, lives her passion for helping women and girls succeed. Here are her top 10 tips for facilitating women’s leadership both in the government and in business.

1. Dropping the Ball

Many women feel like they can never drop the ball. They are juggling quite a few responsibilities, but dropping the ball on any one of them feels like the end of the world. People that are counting on them will be disappointed in them, they will have utterly failed.

Every woman has a moment in her life when she realizes that she can’t keep all the balls in the air. Perhaps it’s the birth of a child, a diagnosis, or even her dream promotion to a leadership position they wanted, but didn’t realize would be so hard.

You need to realize that, while meeting your responsibilities is important, the world will not end if you drop a ball once in a while.

2. Take the Opportunities That Are Presented

When somebody opens a door for you, run through it. Don’t hop and skip and drag your heels. Run through those doors, seize opportunities as they come.

You’ll start making a name for yourself that way. People will see you as a superstar and start offering you more opportunities and taking the time to invest in you.

3. Find the Right Mentor

A good mentor can be an excellent resource. In business, when you need to get from point A to point B you may realize that you don’t have the skills/resources necessary to reach your goal.

So you need to figure out the profile of someone who does. Then go find that person.

Don’t be afraid to be open, mentors can come from unexpected places. They don’t necessarily have to be in the same industry to offer something of value.

4. Abandon, Even When You’ve Made the Investment

However, when something isn’t working out, don’t be afraid to back out. Many women are afraid to back out of something they’ve invested in, whether that be a relationship or a role or even a boss.

But if it isn’t working for you, if it’s something that will harm you, it’s better to abandon the investment and walk away. You’ll only waste more of your life, time, and energy on something that is damaging you.

5. How Will This Serve You?

How do you decide if something is working out or not? Look at how it serves you.

Will following through with a task or relationship or whatever be beneficial to you? Will you gain something positive? Or will you only end up regretting that you stayed? Are you having to make yourself smaller to fit into a role that isn’t right for you?

Many women feel bad about backing out of a commitment because they don’t want to let down other people. But it will be far better for everyone to give the task to someone who is a better fit for it.

6. Learn to Say No

Additionally, you need to learn to say no in the beginning. Women have a tendency to say ‘yes’ to everything. They tend to think they really can do it all.

Ask a woman to write down her to-do list for a day and how long she thinks it will take to complete each task. Most lists will add up to more than 24 hours.

You need to make sure that your list can actually get done in 24 hours (and sleep needs to be on there!). Say no to the things that you don’t want/need to make time for.

7. Schedule Your Tasks, Don’t Create a To-do List

Better yet, avoid making a to-do list altogether. Stick with a calendar-based approach. When something pops up, add it to your calendar instead of writing it on a list. Check to see if you actually have the time to devote to the task.

If you don’t have time, look to see if there is something less important that you can remove. If not, say no to that task. You don’t have time for it.

8. Learn to Delegate

However, just because you can’t do it, doesn’t mean that you can’t help. If someone calls you up with a request you don’t have time for, refer them to an amazing colleague you know who would be a great fit for the task.

Take a look at the responsibilities that you already have. If you’re feeling run ragged, maybe there are some responsibilities you can delegate to other talented people.

9. Stand on the Shoulders of Those Before You

Everybody builds on the shoulders of the ones who came before them. Your success isn’t defined solely by you, or even by your nuclear family.

Mentors, sponsors, even people who you disagree with are all apart of how you got to where you are. Understanding and respecting the sacrifices that were made is important.

10. Say No to Guilt

It’s also important to realize that you won’t always get it right. Sometimes you’ll drop the ball. Sometimes you’ll have to back out of a commitment. And then you’ll end up feeling guilty.

Say no to guilt. Don’t let the negativity pull you down. You’re doing the best you can, feeling guilty about a shortcoming here and there is only going to waste time and keep you from reaching your potential.

Be positive. Look at all the good things you’re doing, all the things you’re doing right. Don’t let guilt over one or two things blind you to your successes or rob you of enjoying them.

 

Being Successful as a Female Leader

Life is challenging. As a woman of color whose family didn’t have a lot of economic resources, Tiffany faced a lot of challenges to get where she is today. She’s learned a lot along the way and these 10 tips just barely scratch the surface of her insight.

For more, check out her book Drop the Ball so you too can learn to “[achieve] more by doing less”.

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