Leading with Heart: The Power of Authentic Women’s Leadership

Table of Contents

Interview with Authority Magazine

Be loud. No one would describe me as reserved or quiet. I speak my mind; if someone is speaking over me, I speak louder. As a woman, you are often not given a seat at the table. If that means I have to say my piece from the corner, then that’s what I’ll have to do. The key: make yourself heard.

In today’s dynamic world, the concept of leadership is continuously evolving. While traditional leadership models have often been male-dominated, there is a growing recognition of the unique strengths and perspectives that women bring to these roles. This series aims to explore how women can become more effective leaders by authentically embracing their femininity and innate strengths rather than conforming to traditional male leadership styles. In this series, we are talking to successful women leaders, coaches, authors, and experts who can provide insights and personal stories on how embracing their inherent feminine qualities has enhanced their leadership abilities. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jordan Harary.

Jordan Harary is the president & co-founder of The Bid Lab, an RFP consulting firm that guides small and medium-sized businesses through the proposal response process.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about authentic, feminine leadership, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Hi! I’m Jordan. I’m a mother, wife and co-founder of The Bid Lab, amongst other things. My husband and co-founder (I know, we’re crazy!) started The Bid Lab in 2017 with the mission of helping small and medium-sized businesses respond to requests for proposals (RFPs). Since then, we’ve had two daughters, launched a SaaS product (Bid Banana) and expanded our team to 20 individuals across the country.

My career path has definitely had a few curves. I was actually working in the automotive industry when my organization decided to submit a bid for a new rooftop location. Essentially, it was an RFP for a car dealership. Although my firm was confident in the professional we hired to assist with the proposal, we were unprepared for what we received. Thousands of dollars and weeks later, the consultant delivered us a mess. The response was due the next day, and luckily enough, I knew who to call.

My husband, Maurice, led the North American RFP team at a large financial technology company. Together, we reformatted, rewrote, redesigned, and eventually submitted an entirely new proposal document. The evaluators who read it told us it was the best response they had seen in years.

Almost by accident, we realized that small businesses like mine across the country needed help competing in the RFP space. And just like that, The Bid Lab was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

There’s never a boring day at The Bid Lab. But one particularly exciting day was in the early days. The Bid Lab was completely bootstrapped, and there were many times when my co-founder and I would wear more hats than we could handle.

I remember a client came to us with an RFP they wanted to respond to. We were excited! However, we quickly realized that a mandatory in-person pre-proposal conference was taking place the next day, and our client was located across the country. They told us they wouldn’t be able to make it in person and that they’d probably have to drop the opportunity.

But no worries, The Bid Lab was there! My co-founder and I mapped the drive and figured that if we left in the next hour and drove through the night, we’d make it to the pre-proposal conference in time. So, that’s exactly what we did. There ended up being a blizzard, and we were driving through quite a bit of snow at 3:00 AM, but we eventually made it to the pre-proposal conference on behalf of our client.

I’m not sure I would want any of our employees now to do that, but I’m glad we did!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

At The Bid Lab, we’re breathing new life into the procurement space. Typically, Requests for Proposals (“RFPs”) are about as fun as filing taxes for the businesses and the employees tasked with completing them. My co-founder and I specifically founded The Bid Lab to change that. We don’t just get the job done; we’re here to turn the RFP process on its head. We wanted to take something seemingly arduous and instead create a competitive advantage for our small business clients. But we can’t do that without a healthy work environment, a strong foundation, and a group of top-notch industry researchers, writers, editors, designers, and project managers who love their work. And, as a 100% remote company, we’ve assembled a terrific team of experts who love what they do and can work on their timetables. We authentically get along and enjoy the process. So, with some great technical writing and a team of industry experts, we’re able to build complete small-business RFP responses that are not only competitive but are also, dare I say, fun. Clients can sense that.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. I speak my mind. I think I was able to capitalize on a lot of opportunities early in my career as a young woman because I wasn’t afraid to be as loud as the men at the table next to me. The automotive world is a very male-dominated industry. Because I consistently spoke up and wasn’t afraid to let my voice be heard, I was elected the youngest board member of the association of auto dealers that I belonged to, male or female.
  2. I can be obsessive and nutty sometimes, but it makes me better at my job. (I’ve even been called Monica from Friends!) Whether editing RFPs or designing website collateral, making sure everything looks and presents precisely as it should can be a painstaking process. I enjoy every single minute of it.
  3. I’m not afraid to ask for help. When I get stuck, I’m lucky to have a supportive co-founder, helpful colleagues and amazing friends. I lean on them when I need to, and I don’t apologize for it. There was recently a time when I needed my co-founder to take over a project for me because I needed to prioritize another objective at the company. I didn’t feel like I ‘failed’ because I needed him to help me. I know that a time will come when those roles are reversed, and I also know that my skills will be put to better use leading this new initiative than in the initial project.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

Recently, we had to make the difficult decision of transitioning our focus from software buildout to marketing. This was especially hard because we enjoyed working with our software developer. That said, we realized that adding more premium features to our already superior product wasn’t helping us bring it to market or make it more visible to potential customers. So, as hard as it was, making this change meant moving forward. We need to continue our journey to reach our goals.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Can you share a personal experience where embracing your unique leadership style, which might not align with traditional expectations, led to a significant positive impact in your organization or team?

At our organization, we believe in everyone rolling up their sleeves. That means managers covering for their employees and people in other departments lending a hand when needed. It also means sometimes the CEO covers for a salesperson, and the co-founder covers for an editor. When we develop a team, we promote and support each other regardless of position, tenure, or responsibilities. And teams are more collaborative and productive when they know they can rely on each other. So, we promote a supportive environment and develop as a team for the good of the organization as a whole.

In your journey as a leader, how have you balanced demonstrating resilience, often seen as a masculine trait, with showing vulnerability, which is equally powerful, but typically feminine? Can you give an example where this balance created a meaningful difference?

One time at The Bid Lab, we were made aware that an RFP was lost in transit and wouldn’t make it to its destination by the due date that the mail carrier had promised. Instead of taking out our frustration on a powerless postal worker or customer service agent and spending time backtracking when the package was sent out, we focused on getting the package delivered on time. That meant locating a courier service in the middle of Arkansas and getting them to print, package and deliver the bid to the entity in scope before the fast-approaching deadline. And that’s exactly what we did.

When there’s an emergency or a crisis, it’s easy to be thrown into panic mode. You ask yourself questions: How did this happen? Who approved that? Where was Joe when Jack missed it?

But none of these things matter in the moment. Blame is easy, but it fixes nothing. What’s important is to take stock of the situation first and assess it later. Dive into why the problem occurs with empathy; then, we can do the next best, most prudent thing. That’s how we ensure that the problem doesn’t continue to happen. It’s about looking forward, not backward.

As a woman in leadership, how have you navigated and challenged gender stereotypes, especially in situations where traditional male-dominated approaches are the norm? What strategies have you employed to remain authentic to your style?

Women are constantly challenged to prove themselves.”What makes you qualified to understand this market? Tell us about your experience. How do you know this will work?” I think that, more often than not, men are given the benefit of the doubt. You’ve heard the stat that only about 2% of VC funding goes to women founders. You need to trust their word, but most people don’t. It’s a bias that I think is unintentional most of the time but something that women in leadership positions need to make an effort to actively overcome. I worked in the male-dominated automotive industry for a while and learned that I needed to focus less on proving myself and more on getting the job done. I won’t be able to silence every critic, and that’s ok. Winners focus on winning. Anyone who had enough time to focus on my performance as a woman in that industry wasn’t someone who could possibly be satisfied with their role or career trajectory.

Luckily, I was also blessed by my parents with the name Jordan. For much of my childhood, I was assumed to be a boy. I would walk in on the first day of school only to discover that I’d been assigned to the blue group more often than not. This continued even through college. In fact, things became even more confusing when my freshman-year college roommate’s name was Brett (she was also a woman!). Regardless of how I was addressed, I never let it get to me. When I read emails to Mr. Harary or pick up the phone to be greeted by a “hello, sir,” I use it to my advantage. I am never angry. I enjoy throwing them off when I say, “This is she.” It gives me an edge, and they never fail to remember me.

How do you utilize emotional intelligence and active listening to create an inclusive environment in your team or organization? Could you share a specific instance where these qualities particularly enhanced team dynamics or performance?”

Not every future key player will present themselves as a socially gregarious, self-confident employee. Anyone wanting to hear diverse perspectives and different opinions will naturally need to seek those perspectives out; women, in particular, may be less likely to volunteer information or interrupt a discussion.

From my own personal experience, I was invited to sit on a board early in my career, even though I didn’t have much experience in the field. If I had been left to volunteer on my own, I probably would have hesitated or not stepped up at all. So it’s important to identify key players, bring in the people you think will do well, and actively encourage their participation.

I firmly believe that leadership needs to take an active role in creating an inclusive environment. Sometimes, the best strategy is the simplest; the best way to engage others is by directly initiating that engagement.

What role has mentorship played in developing your authentic leadership style, and how do you communicate authentically to inspire and empower both your mentors and mentees?

My co-founder influences me a lot. I think one of the reasons we work best together is because we are so opposite. Instead of looking at my weaknesses as weaknesses and his strengths and strengths, we look at them as complementary skill sets. For example, I’m not great at starting projects. Because I tend to be a perfectionist, it will sometimes prevent me from even beginning it in the first place. My co-founder is the polar opposite. He is great at starting things but isn’t the best at finishing. We’ve used these complementary strengths and weaknesses to create a working style that works for us.

Our outlook on using our opposing strengths and weaknesses as opportunities for collaboration has been fundamental to growing our business. This approach has informed the basis of all my working relationships; it’s how I communicate and make decisions with my team. I try to be direct and proactive because I want to inspire and lead a team that can authentically trust each other. One day, members of my team may be leaders themselves. So, I think the best way to empower and communicate with anyone who might consider me a mentor is to reflect on and model the leadership and communication methods that make me successful at what I do.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and research, can you please share “5 Ways Leading Authentically As A Woman Will Affect Your Leadership”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Be transparent. I am going to pick up my kids from school. It’s something I enjoy doing and is part of my role as a mother. By being upfront about it and working it into my schedule, I can be more productive with my time.
  2. Be loud. No one would describe me as reserved or quiet. I speak my mind; if someone is speaking over me, I speak louder. As a woman, you are often not given a seat at the table. If that means I have to say my piece from the corner, then that’s what I’ll have to do. The key: make yourself heard.
  3. Be unapologetic. My husband and co-founder taught me early on in my career to stop apologizing. It’s something women do more than men. They take responsibility for things that are not their fault. It’s okay to admit when you’re wrong, but it’s not okay to apologize for things out of your control.
  4. Be fun. I am not saying everything will be fun 100% of the time. But it’s important to not let the tough times get you down. One way I do this is with GIFs. Sometimes, it takes a cat playing the piano to lighten the mood. Don’t let your personality get lost in the pursuit of profitability.
  5. Be present. Women are oftentimes known as expert multitaskers (see: baby on hip, cell phone on shoulder, while flipping pancakes). Sometimes, it’s okay to multitask. Other times, it’s better to close all your other tabs and stop monitoring your apps. Be in the moment. It makes you a better leader.

Are there potential pitfalls or challenges associated with being an empathetic leader? How can these be addressed?

When leaders can understand and relate to their team members’ thoughts, feelings, and experiences, they are better equipped to build strong relationships and establish trust. At the same time, however, we have a duty to our clients and stakeholders to deliver the results they expect- and the results they’ve paid for! Navigating those dynamics and striking the right balance can be challenging and will always be an ongoing struggle.

I understand the impulse to create some distance and lead from the executive suite; it’s easier to make pragmatic, hard choices that way, and I’m sure it’s a valid leadership style. After all, everyone has emergencies, and every individual is capable of dropping the ball from time to time. And there’s always the risk of dealing with people with less-than-honest intentions.

But on the flip side, being a distant leader means that most of your organization will only know you from memos, scripted speeches, and brief appearances. There’s no incentive to trust an emotionally absent leader who is only available on their terms. Leading without heart will only inspire cynicism from your team. A team without trust is a toy with dead batteries — it just doesn’t work.

Ultimately, consumers can sense when a company has lost its heart — and workers will phone in their work as soon as they realize their efforts aren’t valued. And, whether you like it or not, consumers and workers will hashtag and share how they feel to anyone who will listen. So, while leading authentically can make you feel vulnerable, it’s also good business to embrace your humanity, be present, and trust your team. I think any leader worth their salt knows they need to lead with empathy.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

World peace! An end to poverty! Climate justice! There are so many causes and so much good for us all to do in the world. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of it all. How can one person impact when there’s so much to do? Instead of focusing on the big picture (which is what I usually do), I think the most good would come from everyone doing just a bit. One thing I’ve always done with my children is picking up trash whenever we see it. I haven’t quite explained broken window theory to my toddler yet, but I do regularly teach my kids about how treating your community and greater neighborhood has an impact on well-being, safety, and the environment. We always pick up trash on our walks, and they regularly see me stop on the side of the road to clean up (I am still trying to figure out how to explain to my children that cigarette butts on the NYC sidewalk are not things we pick up!).

But, at the end of the day, it’s really about how you can be a better person today than you were yesterday. How can you leave the world a better place than you found it? We all have different superpowers. Use yours and harness them for good.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Check out everything we’re doing at The Bid Lab or Bid Banana. From our articles in our Learning Center to our extensive list of Case Studies, The Bid Lab has all sorts of ideas and inspiration to help your business succeed. Reach out to us at 1–844–4BID-LAB or email respond@thebidlab.com to learn more about how our expert RFP proposal writing team at The Bid Lab can help your small business compete for government contracts and procurement opportunities.

And, of course, don’t forget to keep up with us on social media! Visit The Bid Lab on Facebook and LinkedIn, and follow @thebidlab on Instagram and Twitter.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Authority Magazine Article Link: Leading with Heart: Jordan Harary of The Bid Lab On The Power of Authentic Women’s Leadership