Women make exceptional leaders when they play to their strengths. During my research for this article, I read a number of blogs, which advised women to imitate the leadership styles of their male peers. “One of my greatest ongoing challenges it to think more like a man,” wrote Annah Stretton, citing her “emotionally charged operating system” as a burden that needs to be overcome with “black and white” thinking. And Stretton’s not alone, countless women admitted to acting like men in order to prove their leadership abilities and climb the corporate ladder.
Emily Heist Moss faced this dilemma during salary negotiations for a new job. She took the bull buy the horns and decided to take her own advice – “think like a dude,” “channel your inner swagger.” For Emily it paid off, but it left her with an uncomfortable feeling: “I felt like an asshole. I felt selfish. I felt like I was the opposite of a team player; I was a me-player. Why did I feel the need to throw down with false bravado? Why couldn’t I have gone in to my negotiations and played the hand a little closer to my true self? Why is the way to succeed in business – as every self-help book and young-professional success story calls it – adopting traditionally masculine behaviors?”
But what does it mean to ‘act like a man’ in business? Be more aggressive? Don’t let emotion get in the way of decision-making? Act ruthlessly? Wear less make-up? Ditch the heels? Speak with a deeper tone of voice? Now try and imagine a man ever making the decision to add a few lashings of mascara, pull on a skirt and communicate in a higher pitch. You can’t – certainly not without laughing – because it’s ridiculous to expect somebody to essentially change their gender simply to prove they are good at their job.
And its not just about imitating men in order to command the attention of your superiors and underlings – there is a school of thought that genuinely believes women need to mimic the traits of men in order to be good leaders in the first place.
First and foremost, leadership is not prescriptive, it differs for every individual and what works for one leader may not work for another. With this in mind is it not completely absurd that women should try and become something they’re not in order to succeed? Secondly, gender-specific traits are spurious, not all men are aggressive, power-hungry, ostentatious and bolshie, just like not all women are nurturing, kind, emotional and sensitive. Could it be fair to suggest that the real issue we are facing is an outdated view of what a good leader really is? In truth, doesn’t this ‘macho’ behaviour belong in the past and couldn’t ‘female qualities’ enable far greater success for both women and men?
Female qualities that enable exceptional leadership –
It’s a myth that in order to be a successful leader you need to be cold, heartless and cruel. In fact research is frequently proving that compassion is critical for building a loyal, dedicated and passionate team. There is an age-old adage, which advises people “to treat others as you would wish to be treated,” and this sentiment can go a long way in leadership.
According to Andrew Newberg M.D, writing for Fast Company, compassionate communication causes “both your brain and the brain of the person you’re talking to begin to align themselves with each other… because it eliminates the natural defensiveness that normally exists when people casually converse.”
Leaders who are fair, understanding and who give positive guidance to their subordinated are far more successful when it comes to communicating and thus achieving their organizations’ goals. Furthermore, a more nurturing, kind and emotional approach to management allows leaders to connect and communicate with their employees on a more personal level, which in turn helps cultivate successful, professional relationships.
Good leaders give those around them the room and the encouragement they need to flourish. Think about the most productive business meeting or seminar you have ever sat through – was it the one where you were talked at for two hours, or was it the meeting where you were able to contribute ideas, express your opinion and make suggestions? I almost guarantee it was the latter.
A strong leader will give those around them the opportunity to be heard and make them feel comfortable doing so. They make time for them and genuinely listen to their ideas, whether that is in a meeting, during a private conversation, or in the corridor outside the office.
Being approachable not only means you build stronger relationships with your team, it also gives you the opportunity to hear fresh ideas and lets those around you know that they are valued.
3. Leading by example
Excellent leaders, well, they lead. It is floored to think that you can become a good leader simply by telling those around you want to do. Once upon a time, it would have been considered a weakness to work ‘out in the trenches’ with your subordinates, however in today’s business world, leaders who earn the respect of their team are willing and able to complete any task they would ask others to do.
Taking an active role in the day-to-day operations of the business will also allow you to keep ahead of the curve in regards to changes in your industry. Leading by example not only allows you to increase your own knowledge and hone your own skills, it also proves to your team you have earned your position of authority.
Collaboration is essential for modern business success. The sharing of ideas, the pooling of resources and variety of skills that can be bought to the table not only leads to better, more informed business decisions, but also helps to build a strong team orientated culture, which is good for productivity and overall profitability.
Collaboration also brings with it benefits including group accountability and enhanced creativity but it also means that you, as a manager are holding yourself accountable to others. This is fantastic for building professional relationships, which in turn makes people want to work harder for you.
Finally, collaboration challenges those around you to think outside the box, to form new ideas and to share alternative ways of doing things. This goes back to approachability, whereby strong leaders encourage those around them to be the best they can be.
Nurturing your employees and helping them develop their own skills by imparting your wisdom and knowledge will only lead to stronger business results. In a recent study it indicated that employees are increasingly looking for education, training and personal development at work over and above pay increases and promotions.
By teaching your employees new skills, and by investing in external training you prove to your underlings that you are investing in them and their personal progression as well as that of the company.
Good leadership isn’t only about generating results for the business, but about making the employees of that business feel valued and appreciated, which will in turn yield results. For far too long, we have been coerced into thinking that a masculine approach to leadership is the way forward, however in today’s society people don’t react well if they feel like they are being dictated to – often a little compassion, emotional intelligence and thanks will go a long way.
Increasingly women are taking influential roles at major corporations, you only have to look at the likes of Merissa Meyers, Sheryl Sandberg and Marjorie Scardino (Twitter’s first ever female board member) to see this, and with their success comes proof that female sensibilities can be just as effective, if not more effective in modern business that outdated masculine behaviors.