Profiles In Leadership

There are lessons to be learned from world's most powerful women

by Kerstin Plehwe

Learning from women who made it all the way to the top — independently from the societal circumstances like gender equality — is highly rewarding. Having had the chance to interact with powerful women around the globe, it becomes obvious that any woman holds the key to personal success in her own hands.

So, it´s time to use that key and get to know the six principles of Female Leadership.

The power of authenticity: Angela Merkel, Germany
The 10 year super-leader of the European economy is the best example for the power of authenticity. During her hard-fought campaign against former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder — handsome, strong and good looking — she insisted on remaining in her personal style of old-fashioned clothes, conservative makeup and personal gestures. Anything too artificial for her taste was not allowed, although the media sanctioned her heavily during her campaign by putting out bad pictures and focusing reports on superficial topics that had nothing to do with her political talent: her haircut, make-up and recipes she cooks for Christmas. Even today, after nearly ten year of ups and downs in the mainly male-dominated world, she sticks to her authenticity and has made it become her secret tool to success and trust.

The power of courage: Cathy O Dowd, South Africa
The first woman in the world to summit Mount Everest from both sides is driven by the power of courage. Interestingly enough, Cathy does not see herself as courageous, but as curious. It is her curiosity that brings her to the extremes of our planet. In her first attempt to conquer the world’s highest mountain, she and her team encountered a heavy snow storm that took the lives of five other mountaineers. Cathy´s team descended — exhausted, but safely — only to return a couple of weeks later to reach the top. This brought pride to the entire South African nation, compelling Nelson Mandela to comment, “Our children did very well indeed.”

The power of acceptance: Amy Purdy, USA
After losing both of her legs as a US Olympic champion, Amy Purdy accepted the challenge to evolve beyond every limit. Accepting reality but insisting to dream defines Amy Purdy. Whether displaying her unbelievable proof of beauty and elegance on Dancing with the Stars or delivering her powerful message of passion on Oprah, she has inspired the world. The core driver behind all the renewed success in her life has been her acceptance of her situation and her refusal to feel sorry for herself. Amy evolved and moved on beyond everything that anybody imagined. She won the Paralympics, and became a national star, bestselling author and global inspiration for every woman to accept herself the way she is.

The core driver behind all the renewed success in her life has been her acceptance of her situation and her refusal to feel sorry for herself

The power of passion: Francoise Barré-Sinoussi, France
The French virologist and Nobel Prize winner for HIV research knows what it means to endure and be heard in a male-dominated industry. Based on her persistence and ultimate belief in her work, she was able to succeed where many others failed: detecting the HIV virus. Talking to her in person reveals the tremendous passion for her work, which is rooted in her urge to help people and deliver real change. She recalls a convention in San Francisco when she was asked to visit an HIV patient. She agreed, knowing that the man was dying, but he still wanted to thank her for her work. Meeting that man reminded her of how much her passion drives her work, why she feels she can endure anything, and overcome any obstacle in order to find the right way through the complex matters of virology.

The power of communication: Fiona Stanley, Australia
The mother of two daughters and 2003’s “Australian of the Year” is a famous scientist and epidemiologist. Her work on public health received worldwide recognition. Her most astonishing capability, however, is mastering the power of communication. Fiona is not only a great listener, she understands feedback as a value-free opportunity for growth, and can easily adapt her words so that they are perfectly understood and acted upon, a great asset for any leader, be it in the corporate or private sector.

The power of you: Hyun Jeong-Eun, South Korea
The Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Hyundai Group is living proof of how self-esteem and positive thinking can boost your life into new hemispheres. When she took over the position at Hyundai, her background was the one of a housewife and spouse of the former Hyundai Chairman. Her education and studies both in Seoul and in the US were long ago, and critics did not want to see her prevail. But, she proved them all wrong, doubled the revenues of the group within eight years and, today, says to women: “Never give up and always nurture your self-esteem. It is your biggest source of power.”

Learning from these female leaders is a great option for men and women who are striving to make the best out of their own potential. Powerful women from around the world show and remind others that no results can be reached, no path can be started, without a first step.

So, what is the first step you intend to make in your corporate or private environment? Please write it down and act on it today: the rewards will follow sooner then you imagine.


About Kerstin Plehwe
Kerstin Plehwe is a bestselling author and international keynote speaker based in Berlin, Germany, helps people and organizations to embrace change and reach new levels of excellence. The well-known expert on Female Leadership and Change is a successful serial entrepreneur and is a founding board member of the ASTRAIA Female Leadership foundation. Kerstin is available to speak on topics such as leadership, women, change and personal excellence. To follow her blog or learn more please visit