Top 5 Skills Women in Leadership Must Have
Co-Authored by Bonnie Hagemann & Saundra Stroope
Are women making progress in leadership roles? It’s a reasonable question. Women comprise almost 50 percent of the workforce. Companies with higher numbers of women at senior levels also have better organizational and financial performance according to McKinsey’s “Women Matter” studies. So why do women only account for 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs? To go even further, or leading the executive suites? Only an estimated 10 percent of executive positions and board seats are being held by women. It’s only when we get down below the executive suite that we begin to see a more realistic representation of our female counterparts. Is it just corporate America or do these statistics reflect a bigger picture? What can women do to improve their chances of leadership in today’s workforce?
What are some of the key skills women need to rise to the top?
If decisiveness is the one area in which men are perceived as better leaders, could decisiveness be the one skill that separates the men from the women? Ummm, we don’t think so. After all, have you ever watched moms in action? They dole out decisions like Halloween candy and do so with speed, accuracy, and motherly fortitude. And they do this while driving in traffic, dividing, and passing out snacks, offering advice, and sliding into the parking lot in time to jump out of the car, look like they’ve got it together, and walk into the dance recital on time. So, we don’t really think it’s a lack of skill, but perhaps it is the execution of the skill. Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox, explained that she had to change the way she made decisions. Instead of relying on influence and creating consensus, she realized at some point “the decision needs to be made. A call needs to be made.” There is a need to use broader, more strategic decision-making techniques. Research on the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator shows that many women, approximately 60 percent, base decisions on values and the impact on people, rather than rely on logical reasoning and objective analysis. So, the way that decisions are made may be a factor, as well as the delivery of the decision.
Women can’t make it in leadership if they are too soft, but they come across as overly aggressive if they try to lead as a man might. Women must walk that fine line of speaking assertively without being perceived as aggressive and overbearing.
Political and organization savvy.
Competition and politics are so brutal at the top that many women just opt out and step off the path. Many women, to preserve their authentic selves, decide that the executive path is incongruent with their values or job satisfaction and thus choose another path. Strong interpersonal relationships and networks within an organization are also critical to success. Rather than ignoring politics, many women are playing the game with ethics and integrity, but they still need to promote themselves, build their career, find mentors, and seek development and opportunity rather than assume that their work will speak for itself. It is critical that women also begin to build relationships with other women who can share career advice on areas such as work-life balance, overcoming gender bias, and style issues that a male mentor may not be able to effectively address.
Women who rise to the executive suite are able to inspire performance and results in others. There is a definite need to strike a balance between achieving results and maintaining effective relationships.
Women of all ages in the workforce are striving to find a livable work-life balance that allows them to live a fulfilling life both in and out of the workplace. Ambitious women will need to be able to manage stress, communicate effectively about work expectations, and needs, and compartmentalize, leaving work at work.
The presence of women in leadership roles is growing. Just as water seeks its own level, women will eventually settle into the executive suite and arrive at their own form of leadership. When water is seeking its own level, resisting forces can keep it tilted for a while, but no amount of resistance will keep the level at bay forever. Many women leader forerunners have created a path, and the women who follow will fill in all the cracks and crevices of the leadership divide. We believe that during the coming decade, as women begin to settle into the executive seats, women as leaders will forge an identity all their own. Now that will be progress.
CEO, EDA, Inc.
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