Having spent 22 years in Clerys as a senior executive or CEO, I was surrounded by women leaders for most of the period and one could have believed that the playing field had been levelled. However, my experience over the past few years indicate that significant change must happen before true diversity and representation of the sexes is achieved at the most senior levels of Irish Business.
So do leadership traits differ between men and women? No one can say definitively, but it remains clear that women executives often face more difficult hurdles than men on the way to becoming CEOs and business leaders.
Here’s a look at six qualities that successful women leaders typically possess and which help them realise their leadership potential.
1. A belief in oneself. For both men and women, there’s a fine line between healthy self-confidence and an oversized, “look at me” ego. Certainly, an unshakeable belief in oneself is an essential trait for women leaders—not in the sense that they have to prove they’re better than everyone around them, but rather being able to forge a culture where no one seeks to undermine or demoralise others at their own expense.
In fact, women with a deep sense of self-confidence are often more inclined to accept critiques and feedback on their leadership styles.
2. A willingness to nurture. In the frequently cutthroat world of business, “nurturing” can appear to be a soft or even disposable trait.
Not so, says performance coach Dawniel Winningham. She contends that a woman’s “nurturing spirit is often confused with being lackadaisical or an inability to hold people accountable which is not the case.” In her view, “being a nurturer, having a sense of being fair and just, and use of our women’s intuition are some of our strongest traits.”
3. A focus on achieving one’s goals. The most effective women in business maintain a clear vision of what they wish to achieve—both in the short-term and over the long haul. Aspects of this vision may change depending upon circumstances, but the commitment to reaching one’s objectives remains unwavering.
This is frequently illustrated by a woman leader’s drive to balance her professional obligations with her life outside of work. Maintaining this precarious balance requires creativity and flexibility, additional traits demonstrated by effective leaders (of either gender).
TAB member Kris Derrig, president of Action Machined Products, describes her own personal journey towards a more balanced life (with the help of her Advisory Board).
4. Building and leading teams. It probably can’t be said that women are better at developing relationships and building teams than their male counterparts. However, they can make use of their intuitive natures to discern conflict within a team—and then seek to resolve that conflict—as well as follow their instincts to favour a team approach, rather than asking an individual to take on too large a challenge.
5. Willingness to question the status quo. Strong female leaders frequently feel the need to challenge “the way business has always been done.” They don’t necessarily accept a traditional approach to strategy and may be more willing than some male leaders in pushing back against convention when they feel strongly about finding a more effective solution.
6. Not afraid to ask for help. Of course, broad generalisations are to be viewed skeptically, but women leaders often feel less inhibited about reaching out for input and guidance when necessary. They understand the limitations of trying to do everything themselves and (as noted previously with the quality of nurturing) see great value in empowering others to assume greater responsibilities. They’re also unafraid to seek the insights and feedback of other business leaders.
As long-time TAB member Lynne Gastineau, president of Gastineau Log Homes, recalls, “I knew I was going to need help if I wanted to grow the company and meet growing customer demand. Managing the staff and dealing with growth would require help. I saw TAB as a way to help me through that process.”
If you think being part of a group that offers consistent, insightful advice makes sense for your business, contact your local Strategic Business Coach today to learn more about membership.