Can I be called a leader if…?

Elizaveta Kalenchuk,
Innovation Ecosystem Manager

What it takes for a woman to become a leader in tech and what you can do to develop your leadership skills.

Working as the Innovation Ecosystem Manager at Kaspersky Product Studio, Elizaveta is constantly scouting the globe for novel concepts and revolutionary technologies, as well as start-ups and potential collaborators that could be integrated into Kaspersky’s portfolio, and even expand it beyond cybersecurity. During her journeys, she frequently encounters female entrepreneurs and investors, and shares her insights of what it's like to be a woman leading in the tech industry.

Let's try to imagine what we think of when we picture a ‘leader’. You probably have quite a clear image: a very strong and successful, charismatic person who is already running an international business or corporation. An interesting idea of a leader, isn't it? But when we try to apply this image to ourselves, discrepancies arise. We begin to think: I am not a great public speaker, my company is still too small, I'm not strong enough… and many other things. As a result, there is a conflict between our ideas of what a leader should look like and reality – who we are now.

Each of us is more than just a woman. We are multidimensional and complex beings, and our gender or the characteristics we were born with should not hold us back. The key to development lies in the emergence of our personal qualities. For some reason, we perceive leadership as something you are born with – but this is a misconception. The truth is that leadership is a learning curve.


There is no universal formula for a leader’s hard skills or behavior – you do you!

Most often, people tend to question whether they’re capable of leading, and whether their personal qualities are enough for them to be considered a leader. They ask themselves numerous questions again and again: Is it enough to be called a leader if my team is only two people? Can I be considered a leader if I am an introvert and struggle with communication? Or if I am not or do not want to be an ‘iron lady’? Or if the environment is highly competitive and rigid, and sometimes I feel as if I were tilting at windmills?

But the answer to all of these questions is YES. Nothing is black and white. Each leader can have their own skill set with their own strengths and weaknesses, and that's normal. There is no universal formula for a leader’s hard skills or behavior – you do you!

The only thing to keep in mind is that leadership characteristics are not a random set of circumstances or coincidences. It is a certain mindset and thought structure that drives you forward. It takes hard work, dedication and talent. People will follow someone who possesses consistency, trustworthiness, transparency, dedication and integrity. A person who has a set of values and beliefs that allows them to make global decisions, and who is trusted by subordinates. Regardless of the company, industry, team size, or the leader themselves – the key to leadership lies in your own energy and your ability to communicate with people.

Ultimately, any business is built on the interaction between two people – if you can easily identify a person's strengths, weaknesses and values, it simplifies the task and shortens negotiation time. If you can also promote your agenda based on what you already know about communication, you can win any negotiation. The main mistake that women often make is trying to please everyone – but that is impossible. Be yourself, promote your ideas, and don't feel guilty about it.

Moreover, back it up with hard skills and results-driven action, and you will be unrivaled. If previously women CEOs of start-ups were looked upon with extreme skepticism, today everything has changed. Women are now creating super technological start-ups with complex integrated IT products that are transforming the market – and this change is yet more proof that we can do anything.

As I have already said, there is no universal formula to instantly become a leader. However, there are things that can help you to develop leadership skills and accelerate this process.


Mentorship (life-changing!). Mentorship allows you to see yourself through the eyes of others and adopt the mindset of another person – this significantly expands the boundaries of our consciousness. Additionally, your mentor can become your role model, which greatly eases psychological and career challenges.


Competitive sport routine (boxing and martial arts). Such activities significantly discipline the mind and body. If you are a physically strong person, it will allow you to feel strength even during business communication and not lose confidence in yourself.


Increase your assertiveness (via therapy and coaching). When you begin to feel more confident in yourself, you start offering more ideas – you become more visible, and your actions bring much better results.


Track and report your professional achievements. To gain self-confidence, you can also keep track of your professional achievements. This will allow you to realize how far you have already come and how much you have changed for the better during this time.


Be part of the community and support women’s initiatives. A community allows you not only to constantly share experiences, but also to find amazing women who can become your role models. Finding and communicating with those who inspire you will allow you to develop your best qualities by their example.