Melissa Hamilton: Changing the Face of Women’s Leadership on a Global Scale

The 10 Most Inspiring Business Leaders to Follow in 2023

The challenges facing leaders today is unprecedented. Old leadership styles are not resonating and too many leaders are still in the mindset that things will return to “normal” post the COVID-19 catastrophe. The gender balance at our most senior of corporate levels and across most facets of decision making has gone backwards and we need to see change. The skills that got us here, the leadership styles we have adopted over the last 50+ years will not create the future we need. Skills traditionally seen as male are still the most highly valued and there are strong and pervasive archetypes of what a leader looks like. Today’s female leaders are strong-willed and diversified. The global climate movement is being energised, social safeguards are being pushed for, the COVID-19 catastrophe is being addressed, and institutional racial discrimination is being eliminated. Woman leaders make a difference in people’s lives and encourage a brighter future for everybody. Feminist leadership is focused on distributing power fairly, making it visible, and holding everyone accountable in order to influence the course of events.

Leading with skills traditionally seen as feminine entails reframing success and worth, sharing authority and responsibility, creating a sense of belonging and connections, and, eventually, addressing the underlying causes of the societal structures and norms that impede development for everyone, including women and girls.

For the world to successfully meet the unprecedented challenges of our time, transformative female leadership is required. Melissa Hamilton, Director and Co-Founder of The Brave Group, is an example of a transformative leader who motivates us by elevating the advancement of women and their participation in corporate decision-making.

“Leadership is truly a privilege and for women aspiring to lead, there is no better way to make an impact. Leadership is all about using your power to make a change, to improve the lives of those you lead. My question to all leaders is how will you use your power?”

As a CEO, with responsibility of leading teams of up to 5,000 people worldwide, Melissa witnessed first-hand the challenges women have in realising their full potential. Her focus is now on working directly with senior professional women to help them create more rewarding career opportunities, without second guessing themselves, so that they can maximise their salary and create a lasting impact.

The Long Journey of Achieving Greater Good

One of Melissa’s biggest accomplishments as an executive, in her opinion, was leading a huge international corporation to success. She shares the joy that came from engaging over 5,000 people in a shared vision and the unstoppable power and energy that comes from having that group share the wins, the growth, and the financial rewards of their collective success.

“Courage is like a muscle, it grows as you start flexing it.”

When she was given the news that she had breast cancer at the end of 2017, she took the time away from the business to navigate her treatment, be with her family and initially had every intention of returning to her CEO role as soon as she was given a clean bill of health.

This forced career pause enabled the space to become intentional about her next career move. It enabled a period of reflection that led to the decision it was time to do something new and she took a leap of faith and stepped down from her CEO position to seek new adventures. It was a very confronting decision for Melissa as the path ahead was not clear. She made the decision to build a portfolio of board responsibilities rather than go back and all she needed was the confidence to do so. She mentions, “Courage is like a muscle, it grows as you start flexing it. Breast cancer gave me that courage.”

It was, in part, this time of transformation that led to Melissa co-founding the Brave Group. During the search for her new vocation, she struggled with imposter syndrome and the inner critic that can hold you back, and it dawned on her that perhaps she wasn’t the only one experiencing these thoughts. If she felt this way, as someone who appeared to have all the external indicators of success, then how widespread might it be. Exploring this was the first step and it led to the creation of her Brave Feminine Leadership interview series. The podcast interviews with over 75 global leaders that explore leadership, vulnerability and impact. The interviews struck a chord with listeners, with many sharing they “help me feel bolder and less alone.” Melissa is extremely proud to hear of times that the podcast inspired many listeners to apply for and win leadership positions they never imagined before.

Throughout her career, many people remarked that Melissa “wasn’t like a regular CEO”. It was always shared as a compliment, and it wasn’t until much later in her career that she realised exactly what it meant. As a leader Melissa has always been her authentic self, a strong charismatic leader with a blend of unique masculine and feminine leadership qualities. She wasn’t portraying the stereotypical successful CEO, an archetype that still exists today and is typically male, tall, with grey hair, limited time to really listen and leads with an outdated command and control style of leadership. People were craving a new style of role model. A role model that showed it was possible to be humble and ambitious, collaborative and decisive, vulnerable and strong.

Exceptional leadership—transparent leadership that genuinely engages people—is something Melissa has always been passionate about, and it was the chance to reconnect with a former colleague who shared many of the same passions that led to The Brave Group being founded.

The Brave Group

The team at The Brave Group believes that organisations globally require more courageous leaders and cultures. Through its Brave Feminine Leadership Brand, the business is especially driven to support senior professional women in finding more fulfilling job options without self-doubt so they may maximise their earnings and make a strong and lasting impact. The group works with organisations and individuals to hasten the advancement of exceptionally brilliant women into senior leadership positions.

As the region’s licence holder, The Brave Group is also introducing the Great Game of Business (GGOB). Open book management is at the core of GGOB. It is a leadership philosophy, founded by Jack Stack, that creates transparency through sharing business information, engages employees through education and delivers outstanding business outcomes, financial gains and cultural transformations.

This is truly the most transparent and engaging culture an organisation can have, and it is one that delivered great success in Melissa’s time as a CEO. She says, “It takes bravery and discipline to open your books to your people and engage them to act and think like business owners.” She further adds, “When this leadership philosophy is coupled with intentional leaders ready to let go of “command and control’ leadership and embrace skills seen as traditionally feminine; empathy, compassion, listening, and building trust, this is where the joy of leadership really begins.”

The Key to Staying Ahead  

The Brave Group believes that when leadership is equally shared, the world will be a better place. Success has traditionally been attributed to qualities like decisiveness, taking action, doing, attaining, competing, and winning. All these abilities are typically associated with strong male leadership qualities. Melissa shares that “Today, they are table stakes, and leading the change that we all want to see depends on possessing abilities like empathy, listening, and teamwork. The opportunity is for all of us to explore the incredible potential of a world where feminine and masculine leadership attributes are balanced out and given equal weight.”

Melissa believes that The Brave Group’s mission is important, and that the more organisations that elevate leadership, culture, and female talent, the better.

The organisation actively collaborates with fantastic leaders like Ricky Nowak, Kim Moriyama, and Karen Rule, who could be seen as natural competitors in a traditional market. It is the collaboration that Melissa believes enables us to deliver richer outcomes to its Mastermind cohorts and Alumni. Melissa mentions that there is room for everyone.

“Competition is fabulous, collaboration is even better.”

“The Brave Group key point of difference is quite simply us.” She says, “We know from experience that when people are ready, the right leader turns up. We have been lucky to be that leader for many people.”

All good leadership is about people. It is all about connection, experience, and trust. They have created a unique experience whereby the programs and the mentoring are facilitated and led by previous CEOs who have operated at scale in the US, Asia, and Australia. They have all been there and walked in the shoes of their participants, so situations are approached with a great deal of empathy (and the occasional wisecrack based on personal experience). The approach is predicated on the idea that everyone can practise Joy-Driven Leadership, and that doing so will enable leaders to fulfil their potential to have a large and long-lasting influence.

A Multitasking Leader

The fact that no two days at work are alike makes Melissa happy. She is able to seamlessly go from managing a group of exceptional executives to an intimate one-on-one discussion to a meeting with a CEO who is eager to advance the careers of his female talent. She couples this with her Board portfolio that keeps her intimately connected to the broad corporate challenges across industries. Melissa intentionally sets aside a lot of time to continue developing herself as she works towards living a life she loves.

Melissa sees herself as an ambitious leader who wants the best for the team she oversees, the women who are working to further their careers, and the leadership that each and every woman deserves. She says, “Ambition is a wonderful thing.”

Having Balance with Being Motivated

Melissa avoids being black and white about balance. It is such a personal experience that balance for her might not look like balance for anyone else. She also looks at it over a period of time – not by the hour, day, or week. She believes, “Often we are too hard on ourselves and try to be everything to everyone.” Her starting point is to be clear on her priorities, on what really matters to her. This self-awareness and clarity is what keeps me from feeling the overwhelm that comes from a never-ending to do list and ensures I am in control and getting more of what’s important done. She asserts, “I make time to focus on doing the things that ground me – an early walk with my husband every day, a cold shower (yes), and lots of reading.” She has also learned to tame the inner critic everyone has, be kind to herself, and keep building the inner cheerleader, the voice that propels her forward.

Her motivation never wavers. She shares, “A wonderful Brave Feminine Leadership graduate sharing how brave they feel, how clear they are on their path ahead, how pumped they are at a massive salary increase and how they are now first choice for a promotion instead of being overlooked is all it takes to make my day.”

Hearing feedback from graduate leaders sharing the power of not needing to know all the answers, of their ability to truly engage their team to face the challenges of the business, and the energy and engagement that comes from a team all heading in the same direction, is a powerful motivator for Melissa too.

Encouraging, Influencing, and Supporting Emerging Leaders

Melissa is really inspired by the new generation of leaders. The conventional standards that assigned the majority of caregiving and unpaid labour to women are being challenged across the world. This shift will take time and, regrettably, is just not occuring quickly enough.

“Everyone has a unique contribution to make. Keep asking what is yours?”

Melissa sees an opportunity to lead and support so many great female leaders who are juggling this extra responsibility and wonder if they can have the fulfilling careers they desire, without sacrificing their families or health.

“The Brave Feminine Leadership Podcast series (available in video format also) shares stories from amazing leaders, just like you and me,” says Melissa. The podcast breaks down myths of leadership, imposter syndrome, and helps people all be braver. Melissa’s Masterminds create the safe space to build a deep network and get laser focused on building an intentional career as a powerful woman of influence.

Helping Others to Getting Ahead

For Melissa, the definition of success has altered and grown throughout the years. Early in her career, it was undoubtedly defined by success for herself. By recognition, a sense of feeling significant, and being given challenging and important responsibilities while also knowing she could be relied on to deliver. It was about having a voice, feeling heard, and perhaps having a title. It was about being right and being the brightest person in the room. It was largely about external recognition.

Melissa discovered this shifted as she moved into more senior roles with greater accountability, where she shares, “Success became about leading others to achieve success, it became about the team and shared goals, watching others grow and step into their ultimate potential. It was about a choice to surround myself with people who were much smarter than me and who would challenge my thinking and perspective. It became about assessing the whole of my life and not just my career.”  Melissa widened the lens and got clear on her core priorities – family, health, friends, and personal growth.

“Success – It is about constant learning and unlearning. It is about growth and staying just outside of my comfort zone.”

Today, success for Melissa is much more about her own internal definitions of success. It is about making an impact in her corner of the world. She opines, “Influencing female leaders to step into their full potential and take on bigger, broader, more influential roles and influencing leaders to build brave, transparent cultures that engage and inspire.” She further adds, “Success is about constant learning and unlearning. It is about growth and staying just outside of your own comfort zone.”

Future of The Brave Group

The simple goal of The Brave Group is to create braver leaders and braver cultures.

One of Melissa’s specific goals is to motivate 100,000 women to make the next intentional move in their careers. To become proactive and step towards their ultimate career potential, without waiting to be tapped on the shoulder so they can step into the biggest roles they have ever dreamed of.

“Find leaders you love working for and cultures worth engaging in. Then when you get the chance to lead, be one of those leaders.”

There is a better way to run a business, and courageous businesses are all focussed on using the privilege and skill of open, transparent leadership to shape their future. She believes, “Leadership is truly a privilege and for women aspiring to lead, there is no better way to make an impact. Leadership is all about using your power to make a change, to improve the lives of those you lead.”