The Woman Effect refers to the fact – yes, it’s a fact – that a significant presence of working women in leadership in any organization contributes to that organization’s health and wealth. But why is this so? What can professional, high-achieving women do individually to keep doing what works and learn how to activate The Woman Effect in our lives and organizations? These questions bugged me all through 2011 and so I continued to research the contributors to The Woman Effect, to translate it for myself and for you. Here’s what I found (first post of four):
Reason Number 1: We’re really good at the leadership styles that thrive in today’s economy.
We Cope Well
While I don’t think the research is conclusive on a lot of points, many studies point to leadership qualities women have that are exactly what today’s chaotic, fast-changing economy needs. My favorite? Coping skills! Research highlighted in the Consulting Psychology Journal shows that women are particularly effective at facing difficulties openly and non-defensively, which contributed measurably to their leadership performance. I can relate to that, can’t you?
Why is this coping ability important in today’s leaders? On one level this seems self-evident as our lives speed up and change with every new mobile phone or tablet model announced. But there is a deeper dimension that I see operating in my life and I bet you experience it too: as our world becomes more interdependent and interrelated, the woman’s brain – which is naturally more interconnected – kicks into high gear and starts working on all levels simultaneously and multidimensionally. There is a lot of neuroscience behind this but for an entertaining look at the human brain through a gender lens, check out this video by Mark Gungor (which I understand is basically factually correct).
Basically, we’re natural problem solvers in todays’ world!
If you read the general leadership literature you’ll see that one of the most highly prized corporate abilities these days is innovation, not just in technology but in business models and in how we respond to problems in general. Our coping skills are really helpful here! Innovation comes as much from thinking outside the box as it does from solving intractable problems – often known as “coping.” We women should value our coping skills not just as survival skills but as potential breakthrough idea skills.
The new way isn’t the wrong way, it’s the untested way.
Women Can Master Versatile Leadership Styles to Good Effect
Flexibility and the ability to cope isn’t all there is to leadership, though, because getting things done successfully is more than the ability to solve problems. Here’s my second favorite finding: when women master the ability to vary their leadership style appropriate to the circumstance, they are more effective and get promoted more.
At first, I found this finding a little disturbing in its relativism. Isn’t consistency highly desirable in leadership? Haven’t we had enough of bipolar/bully bosses? (I have!) I researched and thought more deeply about the recommended variation in style – and practiced it more intentionally in my own work. I came to the conclusion that if you’re consistent in how you use the spectrum of leadership styles available to you – using consensus when buy-in is paramount and timing less urgent or using directive styles when time is short and the stakes are high – your people will come to understand the consistency in your pattern and appreciate it (just like your kids will!)
Proof in the Tasting: Woman CEOs are Considered More Trustworthy
A lot of the info above is statistical. Real people live inside statistical columns. Where’s the proof it really works this way in the real world? Well as I mentioned above, there are all the Impact studies that correlate performance with women’s presence in leadership, but I particularly liked a study referenced in Management Today, that found among 5,000 European managers and non-mangers, women CEOs were considered more trustworthy for the second year in a row in 2011. “Women rate (highly) both when it comes to employees having confidence in their boss’s ability to do their job and also when it comes to being principled and honest. Female CEOs score higher … in these areas by two and three index points respectively. But the really important differentiator is chief executives’ knowledge of what their employees have to contend with in their day-to-day lives – female CEOs are seven points ahead of their male counterparts on this measure.”
Trust isn’t necessarily the only leadership quality we need to be effective, but it’s one of the more holistic rewards to achieve and I think it speaks volumes about women’s leadership styles in the aggregate, as viewed by the people that work for them. I think our economy can use a little more trust in it’s leadership, don’t you?
So all in all, it seems that women are wired to be good leaders for today’s fast-paced, interconnected world. This certainly should be one reason why The Woman Effect is happening in organizations and villages all over the world.
Have you ever thought of your coping skills as a leadership advantage? Are you cultivating your full range of leadership styles to be effective in the fast-changing business climate? Do you see trust – in you and other leaders – playing an important role to your organization’s success? Share your thoughts in comments below.
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Update: Research after this post went live saying women are often perceived as better leaders!