Women as leaders: Equivalent and different
For a long time, the board-room was reserved for men. The 3 women allowed to come in the board-room was the secretary of the big boss, the lady who was serving the coffee and the cleaning lady. Maybe I am exaggerating a bit, but I think you can imagine many of these situations. And when women stepped up the ladder and got a higher position, they said often that they “had to perform twice as well to be half as good’. For sure not an enviable position. Besides the hard work, they were also confronted with a negative stereotyping people used for them when they became powerful leaders: she's aggressive; she's assertive. When a female boss makes a demand at work, she's bossy. But when a man does it, he's strong and decisive. A woman leader is bossy — the man is simply a leader. And when a man is seen as critical, the woman is often called a bitch.
But times are changing. More women make career and are appointed on leadership positions. But still not enough and fast enough, in my opinion. Still we are blocking ourselves by thinking in stereotypes, interpretations based on the past and prejudices. And I think we are making a clear mistake when we don’t emphasize on women in leadership positions. Domination as a leadership style is becoming not only less and less popular, it is also becoming contra-productive. Attitudes toward leadership are changing, and what women offer is in that change essential. Leading is all about relationships. The question is not if we have relationships on work, the question is what the quality of those relationships will be. And the role of the leader is to set norms, culture and environment for everyone in the team. A leader must build a team, facilitate progress and manage conflicts. A leader is doing that by a high social awareness. Good leaders bring disagreements into an open communication and are able to find solutions in which everyone can endorse. They don’t postpone taking up the issue if a conflict occurs and they absolutely don’t accept a dysfunctional environment.
A few days ago, I went for a 3-day trip to Moscow to coach the management team of a multi-national. I met in the airplane a young man who was sales manager for a Swiss multi-national company. He explained me how that company used to work. The CEO gave every year each department a target. For instance, sales must go up with 10% and the purchasing department must decrease the prices of the raw materials with 3 percentage. The CEO followed the progress and gave the department’s monthly a green or red light. Green was synonym for go on, and red meant that they were put under guardianship. It looks simple, but: they have problems in selling, because the quality of the products is not good anymore due to bad raw materials and they were regularly out of stock. That was because the logistics department had a strict target on their stocks in the warehouse. The dominant leadership style of the CEO didn’t encourage them to sit together, discuss and solve the problems together as one team. I can predict the future of this company if they don’t make a shift in leadership. What this CEO doesn’t understand (yet) is that it is no doctrine that creates a following, it’s dialogue. It’s more valuable to engage than to influence. Command and control has shifted to collaboration and empowerment. Internal competition, aggression has the risk of disharmony and not achieving your goals.
I don’t want to say that men cannot lead on the way women do or the other way around. People with feminine traits (men and women) can make a positive difference in a company, like people with masculine traits (men and women) can destroy a company. My point is that feminine traits fit better in the current leadership demands than the masculine traits. And in general, most of the women have feminine traits and use them. So, instead of focusing on the gender diversity and take distance of the feminine traits as a man, we better can embrace them and learn from them. And that is something we do best in the workplace. But then they must be there and able to work on their own way!!
In the press November 3, 2016