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This ex-CEO has written a book to inspire more women to become leaders

Colleen Callander’s new book, Leader By Design, is out now. Image: Supplied

Part autobiography and part self-help guide, former Sportsgirl CEO Colleen Callander’s new book, Leader By Design, isn’t your average business memoir. 

With chapter headings, such as ‘The power of kindness’ and ‘Finding your superpower’, the book aims to help women discover their inner leaders, with tips drawn from Callander’s own life, including her 13 years at the helm of Australian fashion chains Sportsgirl and Sussan.

“I really wanted to inspire and empower women to become leaders – both in their personal and professional lives,” Callander told Inside Retail

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re climbing the corporate ladder, or you’re an entrepreneur, a volunteer, an athlete, or a mum that’s going back to work,” she said. “It’s a book that will give you the tools to believe in yourself and live your best life.” 

That is something of a personal manifesto for Callander, who believes that simply having a leadership title doesn’t make someone a true leader. And vice versa.  

“There are a lot of people in all walks of life who have the title of leader, and people do what they say. But the question is, would they really follow them? The answer in a lot of cases is probably no,” she said.

What makes a true leader, Callander believes, is connecting with people and inspiring them to be the best versions of themselves. It’s what she practiced over the course of her 30-year career in retail, and what she believes the future of business leadership should look like. 

“One of the purposes of my book is to inspire organisations to embrace this new era of leadership that I keep talking about, one that is based on kindness, compassion, collaboration and trust, and really puts people at the heart of everything,” she said.

And one that features more women, she added. 

“One of the things I’m really proud of in my 30-year career is that I’ve been able to achieve a CEO role, but it saddens me that the number [of female CEOs] isn’t higher,” she said. “It makes me even more hungry to support women to step up and take the helm.”

The confidence dilemma

One of the biggest obstacles to increasing the number of female CEOs in business is a lack of confidence, Callander believes. But she didn’t realise how widespread this issue was until she started her mentoring business, Mentor Me, last year.

“Every single woman who I mentored had this lack of confidence and self-doubt. I was really floored,” she said. 

“I didn’t see it [at Sportsgirl] – either because I had my confidence blinkers on, or because I had done a dang good job of building confidence in the women around me. I hope it was the latter.”

Still, after realising that lack of confidence was holding women back – not skill, talent or ambition – she knew she had to address it in Leader By Design. And it ultimately became one of the biggest chapters in the book. 

In ‘The power of confidence’, Callander outlines her own transformation from a shy teenager to a self-assured CEO and addresses some of the myths around confidence, such as the idea that it is an innate trait.

“Confidence isn’t something that’s going to be there overnight, you have to work at it,” she said. “It’s like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets.”

Of course, these lessons aren’t just relevant for the workplace – they can be applied to any part of a person’s life. 

“I didn’t write this book for it to go in the business section of a bookstore,” Callander said. 

“I wrote this book to go on your bedside table.”

Leader By Design hit bookstores this month.

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