Photo: Tom Fewchuk
By Naomi Giles
After 27 years of working in the legal and investment management fields, Raewyn Williams has just stepped out of the workforce for a season of reformation. This coincides with the recent completion of her term as the president of Fresh Hope conference executive, meaning there’s now space for reflection on the joys and cost of leading.
“I found myself being a leader without realising it. It was really just the currents of my career that took me there,” says Raewyn. “I have never been one to have a career plan. Through time there’s a natural flow and momentum in your career.”
Around 10 years ago, Raewyn noticed opportunities arising and she found the first taste of leadership exciting.
“I wanted to influence, to have a voice in the big-picture issues, to create a culture and environment and bring people on a journey. There’s something in me that’s very drawn to leadership,” she says.
As an emerging female leader in her industry, it wasn’t an easy path, with the ratio of female to male leaders one of the lowest in any industry in Australia, and the pay gap the widest.
“It’s very normal for me to be the only woman in the room. It was a very lonely journey, in part because I didn’t have female role models, mentors or bosses and I had to largely work it out for myself,” she says.
But Raewyn also warns against allowing the gender issue to have sway in a person’s growth as a leader.
“You can get caught up thinking it’s harder for you as a leader because you are a female, but that’s really not a good use of your time and energy,” she says. “Just continue to challenge yourself and grow, find your own identity as a leader and build confidence in that.”
She encourages other female leaders to put their focus not on gender, but on God’s plans for their life.
“Just focus on the calling and the commissioning to lead, and how God is calling you to lead. He put you in this body, with this gender and these skills – so note it and move on,” she says.
As a movement, Raewyn believes Fresh Hope has an opportunity to continue to open the doors for women to shine in serving God where he has placed them.
“The best we can do for women as a movement is to allow them to honour their calling to God. You should not feel constrained in honouring your calling just because you are female. Just serve God in the way you are called to serve, wherever that is, how visible or invisible that is. It’s all visible to God,” she says.
As she developed as a leader, Raewyn learnt that knowing herself and drawing on her strengths created a team environment where other people’s strengths could also shine.
“I am a consensus builder, but not a person that seeks consensus at all costs. I like to draw in all the views, and put a framework around it and land a decision based on a good set of facts and discussion,” she explains. “I do like hearing diverse views, I encourage creativity and left-field thinking as a leader, but I have also learnt there are times when you have to be more directional.”
Leadership is a growing art, and Raewyn shares one of her more recent learnings has been around how to take the emotional temperature of a room when seeking to collaborate.
“As a leader, you need to draw out where people are coming from – some from the head, some from the heart, all with their backgrounds, fears and concerns,” she says.
And she also encourages leaders to receive all advice with grace.
“I am really grateful for the advice I rejected, too; it all helped shape me as a leader. Even bad advice helps me stop and think and assess where I am, and what I can learn from this person.”
For those stepping into leadership for the first time, Raewyn points to the development of character as the most critical aspect.
“Leadership is not about being right and having all the answers; it’s actually about authenticity and courage,” she says. “There’s too much focus on skills in leadership. Skills can be learnt; they follow on from character.”
Raewyn encourages all emerging leaders to be comfortable in their own leadership skin and to build from their strengths.
“The great challenge is to find your own leadership style. There can be two very different leaders who are both effective in their own way,” she says. “Just be the best leader you can be for yourself and for God.”
Read more stories of Fresh Hope HERE.