What can we learn from the most powerful women in the world?

Madlen Popignatova 17
March 6th, 2019
Article by: Sophie Poulsen
What can we learn from the most powerful women in the world?

A few months ago, Forbes published The World's 100 Most Powerful Women 2018 ranking.


Featuring women across industries, backgrounds, and the world – from philanthropist Melinda Gates to Serena Williams to Jacinda Ardern – all of the women have one thing in common: they are challenging power structures and creating long-lasting impact.


Indeed, research has found that women are slightly more likely to be "transformational" leaders, serving as role models, helping employees develop their skills, and motivating them to be dedicated and creative.


So, taking all of this into account: What can we learn from the most powerful women in the world?

Dare to make bold moves amid uncertainty

We’ve all seen that photo of Angela Merkel (#1) and other world leaders standing over a seated Donald Trump at the G7 summit in 2018, seemingly putting him in his place.

While Merkel has always held a sort of steely reserve, lately she has been showing more determination than ever. In her New Year’s Eve address in 2018, she said global challenges like climate change, migration, and terrorism are best addressed “when we take the interests of others into account.” She continues:

“That is the lesson of two world wars last century. Today, that conviction is no longer shared by all. Certainties of international cooperation are coming under pressure. In such a situation, we have to advocate, argue, and fight for our convictions more strongly.”

In a time of complexity and uncertainty, Angela Merkel is not holding back.

Neither is Ana Patricia Botín (#8), Chair and Executive Director of Banco Santander, who found herself stepping into her father’s role as leader of the bank after his sudden death in 2014. Faced with uncertainty and the aftermath of the biggest financial crisis in almost a century, Botín still managed to forge her own path, championing fintech and focusing on entrepreneurs, shifting the bank’s focus to supporting businesses, embracing technology, and shaking up the board to bring in fresh talent. Often called “the most powerful woman in finance,” Botín has no problem embracing innovation and facing challenges head-on.

most powerful women in the world
Effective leaders dare to make bold moves amid uncertainty. #creativeleader #uncertainty #leadership Click To Tweet

Empower other women

More women in leadership is linked to better financial performance. Organizations that are made up of at least 30% women are 1.4 times more likely to experience sustained, profitable growth. While we can make a strong case for why there should be more women at the top, it is sometimes women themselves who impede other women’s progress.

In 1973, psychologists at the University of Michigan defined the now-popular theory known as queen bee syndrome, which explains that a woman in a position of authority in a male-dominated environment treats subordinates more critically if they are female.

Margaret Thatcher, the U.K.’s first female Prime Minister, has been described as a queen bee for not promoting or furthering the careers of women in her cabinet. Thankfully, this is now starting to change.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, co-chaired by Melinda Gates (#6), announced a plan to spend $170 million over the next four years on women’s economic empowerment. Gates says, “Simply put, when money flows into the hands of women who have the authority to use it, everything changes.” Gates’ investment company Pivotal Ventures is also aimed at closing the funding gap for female founders, helping to “dismantle barriers to equality for women and people of color in the United States.”

IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty (#10) is another woman on Forbes’ list who is working to support other women. Under her leadership, IBM has strengthened its commitment to diversity and inclusion by implementing a “returnships” program, making it easier for women to return to the workforce. In 2015, the company also announced a breast milk delivery program, allowing working mothers to easily ship breast milk back home to their babies while traveling on business.

most powerful women in the world
While we can make a strong case for why there should be more women at the top, it is sometimes women themselves who impede other women’s progress. #womeninleadership #womensmonth #genderequality #leadership Click To Tweet

Be a champion of empathy and vulnerability

The world needs an empathy revolution – and women are going to make it happen. A multitude of studies has shown that woman have higher levels of emotional intelligence and self-awareness than men. Those who score highest in emotional and social intelligence are also the most effective leaders across organizations.

One powerful woman who is championing empathy and vulnerability is Jacinda Ardern (#29), the Prime Minister of New Zealand, who, in her first comments as prime minister, vowed to form a “focused, empathetic, and strong” government. Ardern has displayed an incredible capacity for compassion and humility, for example by making New Zealand the first country to include wellbeing as a measure of economic success.

Another beacon of strength for women is Serena Williams (#79), who has repeatedly spoken out against the double standards in tennis. Williams dedicated her performance at the eighth Wimbledon championship to working mothers. She says, “If I can do it, they can do it. I’m just…that vessel that’s saying ‘you can be whatever you want to be if you want to go back to work.'” She amplified her stance in a recent Nike ad that exposes the double standards women face at work.

Powerful women are not limited to this Forbes list. There are inspiring female leaders all over the world who are advancing women’s rights and innovating within their respective fields. In addition, gender does not determine leadership potential. Men are just as capable of building and displaying the skills listed above in a gender-balanced society. The key is to build inclusive cultures that enable everyone to leverage their unique strengths despite gender norms and thrive.

To put these lessons into practice, join the THNK Executive Leadership ProgramDownload the brochure or find out if you qualify.