22/05/2014 12:43 BST | Updated 21/07/2014 06:59 BST

If You Dare

If we reflect on the traditional or perhaps stereotypical model of a leader, the chances are they might look something a little like this:

• Male

• 50-something

• Suited and booted

• Experienced - in both life and their industry or sector

• Practised in handling a wide range of events and experiences - good and bad, expected or unexpected, planned or unplanned...

Thankfully the 21st Century has welcomed a new generation of leaders who are not just challenging this widely accepted persona, but completely and utterly smashing it.

First and foremost, more women are having to work never mind wanting to, and in our ultra-fast, digitalised society it is only natural that we have seen a rise in enterprises run by strong-minded and ambitious 20 and 30 year old females. Conversely, more and more men are choosing to stay at home and assume the role of the main family care giver.

When I had my first child nearly 30 years ago, I was the only one of my friends who continued her career and the only one who worked throughout her children's childhoods. Looking back at old school friends and colleagues, I cannot think of one example where a husband stayed at home to care for the family.

So you could say I was a bit of a mould breaker. A few years after leaving university and getting my professional qualification I started my own company aged 28 - with a two year old and a new baby I might add! Obviously it was never going to be easy, even with an understanding and supportive husband and a full time nanny. I was fortunate indeed in all these areas - yet I was most definitely an exception to the rule, and at that time, a woman's place was still seen as being in the home.

25 years on the world is a different place.

Changing perceptions, a new attitude to family-dynamics, and the rise of flexible working means that the whole family situation is totally different. Anyone can make it to the top and good leadership comes in all shapes, sizes and forms - irrespective of background, gender and age.

Sometimes leadership requires assertion and command, the ability to generate respect and to know that there are times when it's not appropriate to take prisoners of any kind. It is the ability to make a swift decision and to live, and deal with the consequences and fall out whatever they may be.

Sometimes leadership requires kindness and empathy, understanding and friendship, a considered approach to a decision and an engagement with staff and colleagues to ensure your team responds to your requests.

Humour is another vital skill. It is a great defence mechanism, can take the heat from difficult situations and generally helps in relieving tension and dealing with a tricky issue.

When you're heading up an organisation it's sometimes had to go it alone and you often find yourself wishing there was someone else you could turn to, to be your leader. To handle these times get with a mentor who will listen and sometimes advise, and I find this enables me to go back into the lead role strong and focused.

Leadership can be lonely and frightening. You will be judged, both by those who understand and those that couldn't give a damn - regardless, it will worry and sometimes upset you. But being judged is always going to happen, so it's how you use that judgement that will define you.

It's easy for people to take comments too personally - something I am certainly guilty of! Reactions are therefore critical. When you're a leader, people look to you for guidance and it isn't always appropriate to let your feelings get the better of you in a work environment. Keeping this in check is important. Having emotions is part of being human, but how you manage them in a public sphere is what is key.

One of my favourite quotes is by Oscar Wilde "be yourself; everyone else is already taken".

It's a nice motto to use and one, after many years of trying to be someone I am not, I have now adopted with confidence. It took me a while to get there, and when I see some of my colleagues who haven't yet grasped that concept, I wish they could learn from my mistakes and realise that you should not be afraid to be the real you.

At the end of the day, just remember - "Stuff happens" (or words to that effect!) and by definition no one can eliminate the surprise factor that accompanies every entrepreneur on their journey. My final word is that you are likely to regret the things you don't do much more than the things you do.

Jo Haigh is shortlisted for the 2014 First Women Awards.

For further information click here.

The awards ceremony will take place on Thursday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.