The Sisters

I was recently asked to write for ‘The Sisters’ magazine by the wonderful and truly amazing around the world rower Roz Savage. Here’s what I said…..

Over the course of my career I’ve worked as a psychologist with leaders from all walks of life. I love my work, and I’ve always had a deep-seated desire to share what I’ve learnt with a wider audience which has become a large part of my life’s mission. My starting point was writing Defining You, a book which shares the tools and insights I’ve gained from my work and garnered from psychologists across the world with people across the world. In this article, I wanted to share with you a snapshot of what makes female leaders successful and how that could help you.

As a psychologist, I’m often asked if I see differences between the sexes. What I’ve observed is that women, more or less without exception, have higher levels of self-doubt than men. Yet female leaders also tend to be the feistiest of their peer group. Hearing the life stories of hundreds of women, I’ve learnt of exceptional grit: the girl who at school stood up against the bully in spite of the repercussions on her own life or the girl who refused to let dire circumstances prevent her from fulfilling her intellectual capability. Many of these gutsy and spirited girls go on to make it to the top of their field as women. Women who, nevertheless, still have a lower self-esteem than men. So, where does that leave the rest of us? How do we fulfil our potential?  Do we have to develop a cast-iron sense of will and capability to stand up against the odds?

Not at all. While those women who do ‘succeed’ in leadership may not fit the norm, they don’t necessarily tower above other women in terms of confidence. What they do have is an accurate level of self-awareness. I say accurate because this is something we women tend to get wrong, focussing more on our weaknesses than our strengths. While it may seem counterintuitive to know your strengths and not be self-confident, they are separate entities. So, it’s worth understanding yourself better as it can help you get to wherever it is you want to go.

Reflecting on our strengths can feel uncomfortable and is an area that women often struggle with. When we’re good at something, there is a tendency for it to just feel like it’s ‘something we do’ – that there’s nothing special about it. Because it comes easily to us, we don’t realise that it’s not something that everyone can do. We also often move away from these things, focussing on what we’re not doing well or even what we don’t like or enjoy, rather than celebrating what we’re good at. As a result, we don’t make the most of our strengths and can end up going down the wrong path.

As a personal example, I loved psychology and studied it at university. I also had an interest in business, so I did a business Masters. Then I made the mistake of doing what I thought was the ‘best next step’ – joining a business consultancy, which didn’t make use of my natural strengths or interests. As I gradually became more miserable, I realised I had to leave. I went back to university to become a Chartered Psychologist. Now I love what I do and although I have self-doubts, if I hadn’t pursued this career, I wouldn’t have been able to help all the people I have, I wouldn’t have written a book that I hope will help even more people, and I wouldn’t have been able to focus on giving back. Instead I would have been a ‘reasonable’ management consultant, not an exceptional one, not fully making use my natural strengths, and not very happy. I don’t hold myself up as a gleaming example, but this gives you a flavour of what I mean.

Of course, it’s important to know what we’re not so good at, where we can grow and develop, and what to watch out for in terms of tendencies that can trip us up. But that doesn’t mean we throw ourselves headlong into something that goes totally against the grain. When it comes to ‘weaknesses’ it’s important to initially identify the things we need to be aware of and that may never change. For example, I have a tendency to burst with ideas when I’m talking to people. Consequently, I often butt in or speak over others in my excitement. This for me is a crucial behaviour that I need to be aware of. I’ve tried to change it, but I can’t, so I accept it as part of who I am and am very conscious of managing it. Next, it’s about looking at which expertise to develop in order to do what we love. For example, to do psychology I had to go back to university. Then, and this can be the hardest part, it’s knowing what to leave behind. For me that was trying to be a good management consultant which was just never going to fit with who I truly am.

Some of these questions may help you think through your own passions and strengths, and help you identify areas for development:

  • Do you still love doing the same things that you got lost in for hours in as a child? Maybe you haven’t engaged with those things for years or you could use them in different ways now.

  • Which jobs and responsibilities have you most loved and most hated?

  • What is working well for you in your current life and career? What do you find fulfilling, meaningful, enjoyable, and important? What drains you, makes you stressed and anxious, or wastes your time?

  • What are the tendencies you have that you don’t think will ever change? How can you be more aware of them and stop them from getting in your way?

  • What do you need to develop in order to do what you want? How will you do that?

Talking to a friend to explore who you are may help. Be open-minded, curious, and enjoy. Choose your path, leverage your strengths, and reach for the stars!



My book Defining You is available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK as well as Elsewhere it’s available on, and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.


Subscribe to our mailing list to get more news, tips and tools from Fiona

* indicates required


Photo Credit:

Do We HAVE to Have Children?

Polly Florida


At a historic time, Theresa May takes on the mantle of the second ever female prime minister with the duty of leading our country through a critical period. Her former rival Andrea Leadsom inadvertently accused her of being less able to lead with the commitment of someone who had had children. But, in the 21st Century, do we need to be having children to have a real purpose in life and effectively leave our mark on the world?

My grandmother died a couple of weeks ago. Her soul focus and purpose in life was my Mum, her only child. Whilst she may not have achieved great things in the eyes of the world, she was a dedicated mother whose meaning in life was created by having a daughter. There is a spectrum of choices and at the other end of the scale are those women who don’t have children, who find meaning and purpose in focusing solely on their career or other aspects of life.

Below I’m sharing an extract from my (yet unpublished) book, Behavioural Big Bang. When it comes to parenthood, our more basic emotional brain tells us to reproduce and this inadvertently influences the views of society. But in our advanced world, is that really necessary? Women who remain childless create a cultural conundrum, which reflects the mismatch between what the evolution of our brains left us with, and the world we live in.

….how does society react to women who choose not to reproduce?

American blogger Laura Scott is married but has decided to stay child-free. She is part of a growing movement of voices across the media and the internet who are ‘childless by choice’. Scott’s blog posts have expressed frustration about the stigma attached to not having children: ‘Childlessness is perceived as being selfish, with a tragic outcome – you’ll die alone with 10 cats’. She takes specific issue with the portrayal of childlessness in Hollywood movies. After seeing the film ‘Four Christmases’, a 2008 blogpost argued that the movie perpetuated four unhelpful stereotypes:

1) Childfree couples are shallow, jet-setting DINKs (Dual Income No Kids).

2) Childfree couples are in denial: they secretly want a child but they are too fearful or too dysfunctional to step up to the plate and be real adults in the world.

3) They are allergic to kids, or just plain don’t like them.

4) When one half of a couple wants a child and the other one doesn’t this dilemma is easily solved by just having a kid— she, or he, will come on board once the kid is here.

One Hollywood insider who has encountered such stereotypes ad nauseum is the Oscar-winning British actress Dame Helen Mirren. She has spoken about becoming increasingly angry and impatient with constant journalistic questions about not having children. When once advised to get on with having children before it was too late, she snapped, ‘No, fuck off!’ In an interview with an American magazine, the American Association of Retired Persons, Mirren said: ‘I never felt the need for a child and never felt the loss of it, I’d always put my work before anything’. We can speculate that her survival-driven urges to reproduce were not as strong as other women. But regardless of that, she has made a meaning-driven decision to find fulfillment in her creative career instead or having children. She refused to conform to a barrage of social pressure and so represents those women who today choose to remain childless.

“….women’s advance in the workplace in an undeniable positive. However, it would be better if they didn’t have to justify it. As a society, we haven’t quite fully acknowledged that meaning of life is now more complex than simply passing on our genes. The insistence of reproduction is the remnant of hunter-gatherer societies in which the survival of the group hung in precarious balance. Now that is no longer the case, women, as well as men, have the ability to find purpose in what they do and to make a difference across society as a whole.”

What does this all mean? Being childless doesn’t make someone worthless, far from it. In our complex and dynamic world, there are multitudes of other alternative and critical ways in which to give back that add just as much value and meaning as being a parent. And when it comes to leadership (an area I know a lot about) you cannot identify whether someone will be better for having children or remaining childless. Separating out survival drivers from rational thinking, it is clearly about how someone is driven that matters: what values they have and what that they choose to give back to the world that really matters.