I have written a great deal about the all-important topic of leadership in Corporate America, specifically claiming that we are doing our companies and their people an injustice by having predominantly male senior management.
In general, men and women have different leadership strengths.
Some prevalent female strengths include:
• Engaging conversations
• Meaningful relationships
• Readiness to ask questions
• Openness to opinions, advice and help from others
• Listening to understand and learn
• Recognition of people’s strengths over weaknesses
• Inclusiveness in decision making when appropriate
• Tendency to be careful
Some common male strengths include:
• Risk taking
• Drive for results
In order to maximize the success of our companies — including financial success – we need to utilize all of these leadership competencies, with – and men learning from women and women learning from men. We are much more likely to create winning organizational cultures when women are significantly involved.
We need women and men functioning together in leadership teams developing winning organizational cultures where people are aligned, loyal, share a passion for their work, help and encourage colleagues, and have great respect for their senior
This kind of organization culture is too rare. Just about every company’s culture can be improved, and the specific strengths that women bring to the table are much more powerful in improving company culture than those more typical of men. For example, a winning culture comes from internal relationships, founded on trust and feelings of being appreciated, valued, heard, and helped to succeed. These qualities come more naturally from women. Norean Sharpe, Dean of the undergraduate program of Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, observes that women are more apt to say thank you to their colleagues. That is huge.
Women do not need to act like men
We’ve all heard stories about women in the past who have had to fight against the odds to succeed to high-level positions, and, as a result, have became “hardened.”
These stories likely hold some truth because of the limited number of leadership positions available to women and the tenacity required to obtain them. However, I think times are changing. I believe that as leadership in the business world evolves, women will realize that their natural leadership strengths are what we need, not for them to act like men. For example, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and a hero to businesswomen across the country, will share her hopes and fears and offers that her work is professional and personal at the same time, and that is natural and fine. Men can learn from Sandberg.
Examples of great female leaders
I have known many women who are very intelligent, dedicated to their companies, devoted to their clients, and committed to meeting and exceeding financial goals who, at the same time, definitely use their soft skills to help people feel appreciated
In fact, the single best leaders I have ever known are both women— Christine LaSala in business and Julie Foudy in sports, and here’s why. Christine LaSala headed the New York and New Jersey offices for Johnson & Higgins, two very successful and demanding offices. She held herself and her teams of approximately 1,500 to very high standards. She gave a lot and she expected a lot, yet she always found time when help was needed, and she took a personal interest in everyone. They could sense that she genuinely cared for them and did not have a personal agenda. That was 15 years ago and, to this day, many hundreds stay in touch with Christine and credit her with the success they have enjoyed in their careers.
If I were to pick just a few of Christine’s qualities that make her so effective, I would identify her listening, quiet confidence, her wanting others to succeed, and her readiness to help and encourage them to great work and succeed.
Julie Foudy captained the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team from 1991 to 2004, a team that won two gold medals in the World Cup and two gold medals in the Olympics. She was President of the Women’s Sports Foundation, the guardian angel for Title IX and for the rights of women and children, and she is the founder of The Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy for girls aged 12 to 18.
Julie has been sought after by congressional committees to help them understand the impact of sports and fitness in the lives of school-aged girls and by ABC and ESPN TV to cover major women’s soccer competitions around the world. I have seen great women, athletes, and leaders in their own rights, such as Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, seem to defer to Julie for leadership with charitable activities, just as they did on the playing fields.
Just a few of Julie’s qualities that make her such a special leader include her enthusiasm, ready smile, being all about the team instead of being all about herself, her confidence, and the “we can do this” attitude that she engenders in others.
By the way, Christine and Julie continue to be active with their leadership, mentoring and helping others succeed.
So, my message is to women—we need you, we need you to use your natural leadership competencies, we need you to be you! Just be your best selves! You will greatly help our organizational cultures and, thus, our financial results.