Everything I learned about leadership from Girl Guides

Photo: Diamond Isinger

As a teen I remember hearing that leadership was a skill to be developed for adulthood – that youth are in training to be leaders tomorrow. My years of experience with Girl Guides of Canada has proven this wrong: leadership is a skill that girls have today. Every day, girls stand up as a leader in their own lives, in their classrooms and in their communities. As we mark World Thinking Day (February 22), 10 million girls and women in Guiding and Girl Scouting are showing that the #TimeToLead is now.

Girls have been in the lead since the beginning of the Guiding Movement: 110 years ago, girls gate-crashed a Boy Scout rally at the Crystal Palace in London, UK, to demand equal opportunities for girls. Today, Guiding offers a safe space for girls to explore different types of leadership, build skills, and meet awesome new women role models. One of the most important things I’ve learned from working with girls is that leadership doesn’t always mean being the person at the front of the room, or the loudest voice in a group.

Girls could give a master class in leadership – here are five quick lessons:   

Leadership means being a friend. As a young professional, it’s really easy to get trapped in feeling competitive with the people around me. Being a friend and a leader means lifting each other up, celebrating each other’s accomplishments, and realizing that everything’s better when we all shine.

Life happens, and a strong leader pays attention to the team they work with. I know we all have other things going on in our lives and in our communities, and it’s impossible to separate every situation. Working with teenage girls in Rangers taught me to say, “I had a rough day,” and to ask for patience from my team.

Sometimes you’ve got to step back to step up. It definitely shows real leadership to say you don’t have the answer. Harder still is to say when you’ve made a mistake and need to change tactics. But that’s just what girls in Guiding do when their new plan for marketing cookie sales doesn’t go as planned: “Well, that didn’t work – let’s try something else!’

You’ve also got to speak up to step up. While girls have been demanding equal opportunities for over a century, they also recognize that some things are still unfair. Many girls show their leadership stripes by having the courage to speak up about the inequalities they see (a shout-out to the girls calling out sexist dress codes!). When a girl speaks up against inequality, she makes it easier for every girl around her to be a leader.

Open up the circle and invite others to be leaders, too. The media often likes to portray us as ‘mean girls’ and overly ‘bossy’ anytime women and girls are assertive. Yet, the girls in Guiding teaching me to lead have an uncanny ability to recognize when others are unintentionally left out, and asking them to join the circle. Welcoming others and listening to those who aren’t always heard is an essential leadership skill.

A safe space where girls can try out different leadership styles with different groups of girls or women allows them to become the flexible leaders we’re all looking for. I know Guiding is a real incubator for these kinds of incredible relationships where girls can empower the girls around them by using a variety of leadership skills.

We ALL have to admit that girls can already be leaders, whether they know it or not. Girls are leaders today. No further discussion required.

Guest post by Krysta Coyle. Krysta is Girl Guides of Canada’s Guiding Ambassador and a member of our Board of Directors. Krysta is a cancer biologist at Simon Fraser University researching the genetics of lymphoma.  

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