Right in my first week at adidas, I got the opportunity to listen to a true female leader speaking about leadership: Claire Midwood, General Manager of adidas NEO and Style. I expected a perfectly prepared step-by-step instruction from the textbook that I could follow, but what I learnt was a much better lesson.

Never put on a show

If you want to make it out there as a female, you need to be determined, disciplined and persistent – at least that’s what I was often told.

But then the speech turned out to be totally different from what I had expected. When Claire entered the stage, she immediately came across as authentic, spontaneous and even a little girlish.

“There is only one version of me. I’m honest to myself and those around me and I never put on a show” Claire Midwood, General Manager of adidas NEO and Style

After listening to her presentation for a few minutes, I got the impression that everyone in the room felt like they had a connection with her. Claire started with what she called a “check-in with herself”, admitting that due to some family issues she was not as rehearsed and prepared as she would like to be. And that’s when I realized she’s not untouchable, just like each of us sitting in front of her.

Good leadership is about holding great value in people, recognizing their strengths and acknowledging their weaknesses.
Good leadership is about holding great value in people, recognizing their strengths and acknowledging their weaknesses.

Leading by example

Claire talking about her personality was not only an introduction to her speech, it was actually the base line of her approach to leading by example. Or in other words: being a person others want to follow.

What I found interesting was that this approach is based on an attitude that is so simple but still often forgotten in the business world: being human. Being true to yourself, having personal integrity, being trusted and collaborative.

Great leaders never play a role or, even worse, play games with others – this will never lead to more authority.

Relying on feminine strengths

And there was another point that impressed me even more. Claire’s openness and honesty helped me to understand that failure, showing vulnerability and taking responsibility for this makes you a true leader by example. Her key to this is what she called her “feminine strengths”: to listen and care, to empathize and to show engagement.

I just recently joined adidas and I have no idea what my future in this company will be like. But what I really took away from this speech is that a career doesn’t depend on being an impeccable role model that never fails. Just be the person you want to see in others, be real and show your true colors.

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by Clarence 26.10.2015
Great blog entry. This lesson is sometimes lost in corporate America. Good to see adidas executives "get it" which in turn trickles down to those up-and-coming professionals. No harm in showing your human side.
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by Stephen Humburg 26.10.2015
Rings true, Anika. I've been around THE Brand all my life, in varying capacities. But I am new to working for the adidas Group. And what you report mirrors much of what I've witnessed of the adidas Group to date. We're all human, we're all learning, we're all accountable to ourselves and eachother... we're all in this together. Great entry!
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by ariane 27.10.2015
Very nicely written and true, inspiring words - thanks for this!
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by Kristin El Idrissi 27.10.2015
Thanks for this. I have a very similar leadership style and often feel lost in corporate America due to it. This reiterates whats in my heart- being empathetic and a person first is the best way to have a truly supportive team.
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by Anika Simon 28.10.2015
Thanks a lot for your comments! As you said, approachable leaders are the ones we really look up to and can learn from. I am a new trainee and this was one of the best first lessons I could have asked for. Great to hear your enjoyed reading it!
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by aman anand 05.02.2016
very well stated. Leadership values are best understood in a cross-functional team. But, some of it is hereditary and environment one gets shaped up. Just putting people in multi-cultural positions and that too in positions of authority boomerangs most of the time.
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