Every day is a fashion show; at least when I’m working with school principals in Brunei it feels that way.
When they arrive one by one in the morning, it’s like a catwalk, a parade of fabulous outfits in the most brilliant of colours.
In Brunei the female ‘uniform’ is the baju kurung, a dress worn over a long skirt, wrapping them from head to toe, usually in brightly coloured floral fabric. The skirts come in all sorts of fashions too, from fish tail to straight, to scalloped edged A-line, and everything in between. Often they highlight and embellish their dresses with decorative lace, crystals or sequins –they like ‘bling.’ Most females also wear a tudong, a headscarf that covers their hair and frames their face like a painting. They have their own style; some wearing it like a traditional closed headscarf, while others lavishly wrap it around their head to produce cascading tiers down their back. Others wear it in an asymmetrical modern style to be different. They use crystal or pearl pins and brooches to hold this essential piece of clothing in place. The permutations of scarves, pins, brooches, baju kurungs are endless, and every woman chooses her own fabric to get her outfit made by her tailor, and then adorned by an ‘embellisher’. In Brunei, nothing is off the shelf.
Why am I sharing this? Because every day the female school leaders of Brunei display the 5 elements The McKinsey Leadership Project identify as what drives and sustains female leaders.
- They identify purpose and meaning and put them to work to inspire others. They choose what to wear every day to model their values, beliefs and religion. It’s not about melting into the background or being afraid of making a brave decision. They walk the talk.
- They know how to manage energy. They instinctively know what to wear to uplift the mood or keep it sombre. They know how to influence others with what they choose to wear or not wear.
- They frame positively. They don’t slap their tudong on any old way; they carefully choose the way they want it to be, showing essential self-awareness in how they design and frame their outlook.
- They connect with others. Clothes in Brunei are not about clothes rails, coat hangers, individual changing rooms and impersonal encounters. It’s all about involving others, building networks and identifying who can help.
- The ‘own’ decisions and accept opportunities confidently. Their outfits are unique in their combinations. They’re confident in accepting the challenge and opportunity to be able to construct their whole outfit from scratch. It’s not about being identical or replicating someone else.
So although it might feel like a fashion show, it also reassures me every morning I see them coming in, that the female school principals of Brunei have all the potential, the necessary thinking skills, the decision making processes and the strong moral values needed to be the best leaders they can be.