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Business leaders can learn from Australia’s Matildas

Imagine your team not receiving the recognition it deserves.  Now imagine that the the team belongs to is not nearly as well recognised in Australia as it is in the rest of the world. We are talking about our women in Football Australia, the Matildas.

I recently had the opportunity to meet two very inspiring women in Australian football, Moya Dodd and Hesterine de Reus. Moya is Vice President of the Asian Football Federation and a partner in the law firm Gilbert & Tobin. Hesterine is the Head Coach of the Westfield Matildas Football Team.

After meeting with them, I asked myself, “Why aren’t these women household names in Australia?” After all, not only have Hesterine and Moya achieved a great deal in their own right but also both have integral roles in Football Australia and in global sport. I am going to assert two reasons here as to why they are not as well known as they should be. Firstly, because they have a great deal of humility, especially considering what they have achieved. Secondly, they are women in what most people would regard as a ‘men’s’ sport.

Moya and Hesterine are excellent examples of outstanding leaders. But, why is it that women hold so few leadership roles in the corporate world? Why do they hold only one or no executive positions in 49 per cent of Fortune 1000 companies? Why are women so under-represented in the C-suite?

As they shared their leadership journeys and philosophies with me, Moya and Hesterine opened my eyes about women in leadership. Here are some of my observations that I think are relevant to the corporate world.

Authenticity goes a lot deeper for these women than simply being genuine and trustworthy.  For them, it is about having their leadership anchored to core values and beliefs. It is about being confident and optimistic in something greater than their own self-interest.

The beautiful game of football is in Hesterine’s and Moya’s blood and they look beyond their role titles in embracing responsibilities of nurturing a future for women in sport and leadership. This in turn fosters the respect of their followers.  The players trust them as leaders.

Insight: In order to be authentic leaders, we must define what is important to us from a values perspective.  We must clarify what we are truly passionate about by looking at what drives us in life – and work from there. This clarity will serve as an anchor point in being authentic leaders.

Emotional Intelligence
“Many people make it to senior positions in this game because of their technical expertise in the sport, but it is the emotional and people side that is critical in leadership”.
– Moya Dodd

As senior figures in football, Moya and Hesterine possess the qualities of referent power that makes their success enduring, which goes beyond the easy logic of rank, economics and financial appeal. For them, it is the complex art of understanding and managing emotions that ignites their ability to mobilise diverse groups of people towards a common agenda.  People want to follow them.

These women have their “self-awareness” buttons constantly switched on. They understand the value of relationship capital and harness networks of like-minded people for the good of the sport.

It seems to me that women leaders in the corporate world often need to strike the balance of appearing strong and effective whilst maintaining their femininity so that they don’t threaten the C-suite “blokes”, especially when establishing new business relationships.

Insight: Keep the emotional radar switched on by constantly being aware of our own emotions, sensitive to others’ emotions and remaining true to our values. By doing this, we are better able to navigate through complex situations, understanding motivations within our teams and taking subsequent actions that promote a healthy environment.

“When I was seven, I pretended to be a boy so I could make the team.” Hesterine proudly said this to me, smiling from ear to ear, knowing that she now coaches the Australian Matildas Football Team.

Hesterine has possessed a vision for a magnificent sport from the age of seven and continues to maintain focus on this.  She gained 44 caps for the Netherlands women’s national football team before assuming leadership roles in the sport, and coached the Jordanian women’s national team to win the 2010 Arabia cup. Yes, you read right, the Arab-based female Jordanian football team!

In engaging and Obama-istic tones, Hesterine and Moya went on to describe their vision for women’s football, both in the context of the world stage and for Australia. They speak of elevating women’s football on the world stage and leveraging the sport to drive change in our communities.

Insight: Create a vision that inspires others and speaks to underscoring core values. Look for possibility rather than being hampered by impediments. Speak positively, appeal to emotions and be contagious in transferring your enthusiasm to others.

“In 1988, FIFA finally organised a women’s world tournament. Australia was invited, and I was thrilled to be selected. It was an era when we paid our own airfares to represent our state and country, and sewed the coat of arms onto our own tracksuits.”
– Moya Dodd

Yep, the men’s team didn’t have to put up with this but it didn’t bother Moya – nor did she wallow in self-pity. “We suck it up and move on quickly.”, she continued.  Moya accepted the situation, kicked her ball forward and kept on running towards the goal.

In business, we always have to manage short-term distractions such as learning how to sew on our coat of arms, but this should not distract from maintaining focus on pursuing the bigger picture. After all, that is what our people are looking to us to do.

Hesterine’s and Moya’s personal stories of determination, adaptability and resoluteness in a “man’s world”, inspires self-belief in others. They have achieved what they have by being committed, credible and true to their core values.

Insight: Maintain focus on what success looks like in achieving the vision and plot milestones along the journey. Balance the need to meet short-term results and managing distractions with staying on course towards the vision.

“When we are on the field, we are on stage and we deserve to be there. We are performing!”
– Hesterine de Reus

Women football players of today do not face the sort of discrimination that Moya’s and Hesterine’s generation did. Moya and Hesterine have done the hard yards in the decades gone, laying down a foundation for women in football, making it easier for them to participate in the sport.

In making it to very senior positions in football, Hesterine and Moya have not kicked the ladder from under them, as they understand they are role models for future generations of leaders in the sport. They also understand that the current and future generations of players therefore bring a different outlook to the field.

In nurturing her team, Hesterine sets a very clear and confident direction.  The boundaries and operating values are clear. At the same time, she recognises and leverages individual strengths, facilitates participative discussion and has created structures for feedback.

Insight: Relish differences to exceed desired results. Diversity is not just about race, gender, religion or sexuality. It is about the varied and often unorthodox thinking different types of people bring to the table as a result of who they are. Our role as leaders is to provide a crystal clear agenda, maintain focus, and unleash resident skills and strengths that diversity brings to the team.

Hesterine de Reus and Moya Dodd share leadership traits that we can all learn from. Aside from me bringing it up, not once during our conversation did the topic of gender emerge.  What is most inspiring about these leadership role models is that they are authentic to the core of their beings. The clarity in their vision and resilience in its pursuit is sourced from their authenticity. Hesterine and Moya constantly keep in touch with their inner emotions and naturally mobilise others around.

Con Pappas


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