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Wednesday 13 March 2019

Female leadership, back to the basics (pt.3)

This article was published on RTL Today on 20/02/2019: https://today.rtl.lu/news/opinion/a/1309249.html
The International Women's Day (8 March 2019) is fast approaching. 
Let us therefore continue to look at the situation of female leadership in Luxembourg in the last fifteen years. Why fifteen? Because it was fifteen years ago that I co-founded the Women Entrepreneurs Association (Fédération des Femmes Cheffes d'Entreprise du Luxembourg), with ten other active and motivated women entrepreneurs.
I remember like it was yesterday how the choice of our association's name, i.e. including the word "cheffes" (meaning women bosses, when French has only a masculine noun for boss), has drawn a lot of attention on the association, back in 2004. Some people took us as a joke, some were questioning why we would feminize the word "boss" and some were pretty critical in calling us a club of "bonnes femmes". However, some felt inspired by our act, which, in fact, originates from the German feminine noun for boss which is "Cheffin".
Last week I participated in the monthly meeting of the City of Luxembourg's Commission "Equality between women and men" at CID Femmes and, in this context, one of our colleagues proposed that a seminar is organized this year on how languages influence our perception of different professions. What a fascinating topic, especially for me as a linguist! One of our female members of the commission who works as a dancer mentioned that, when asked to be presented as Tänzer or Tänzerin for à German programme, she preferred Tänzer, meaning that she would rather use the masculine noun rather than the feminine. Luckily, this semantic problem does not exist in English. I look forward to the event that CID femmes might be able to organize later this year with the University of Luxembourg on this very interesting topic which has a much higher impact than we might think on stereotypes about feminine and masculine professions.
In last week's article we saw that a common thread in defining leadership roles is that the leader acts as a role model and inspires and influences others. Which prompts me to ask the question Can anybody become a leader? As I like to say nothing is impossible! However, there is another important question to consider. Does everyonewant to be a leader? There are still women who do not see the satisfactions offered by a leadership position, but only the challenges. Many people, both men and women, simply don't want to take on a leader's role but prefer instead to thrive in an "expert" role. For many years I have been discussing about this with women and not few explained me that, for them, leadership roles mostly meant long hours in the office, problems balancing work with family life, the stress and fear of making the right decisions or unpopular decisions that influence the atmosphere of the organisation and the quality of people's lives; solitude, isolation, organisational politics, and difficulties getting people involved and motivated.
However, for those of you tempted by responsibilities and leadership positions, there are two fantastic sources of satisfaction gained from being a leader. Firstly, the ability to change things and make a difference in an organisation and society, and secondly by helping people to grow and reach their potential. Indeed, great leaders are not always asking themselves "What's in it for me?" but rather think of the well-being of their colleagues and company before their own.
In a recent press conference, the new Minister of Equality between Women and Men, Taina Bofferding, was highlighting the progress made in Luxembourg in certain areas. For example, the board of directors for public institutions are currently made up of 40% women representatives. Compared to 4 years ago, when women only made up 30%. In the same line, the board of directors of public institutions have almost 35% women who are involved in the decision-making process.
But why is it so difficult, what can actually lead to success? "Leaders do not have to be great men and women by being intellectual geniuses or omniscient prophets to succeed. But they do need to have the "right stuff" and this "stuff" is not equally present in all people" (Kirkpatrick & Locke - Leadership: Do Traits Matter?, The Academy of Management Executive). It's this "stuff" that we read about in the thousands of books and articles written on the topic of leadership, and which we need to explore further to find the personal recipe that fits our own leadership personality.
Numerous women I have interviewed for my books "Leadership féminin au Grand-Duché de Luxembourg" and "Women leadership in the Greater Region" mentioned the challenge of succeeding at work as well as in their private life, and for that reason it makes sense to share some aspects of Dr. Stewart D. Friedman's Total Leadership Programme that he teaches at the Wharton Business School. His concept refers to the performance of a leader in all four of life's domains: work, home, community and self (mind, body and spirit) achieving "four-way wins", not trading one for another, but finding mutual value among them. "Total because it's about the whole person and Leadership because it's about creating sustainable change to benefit not just you but the most important people around you", says. Dr. Friedman in "Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life", Harvard Business Review. The Total Leadership concept rests on three principles: Be Real, which means you should act with authenticity by clarifying what's important for you and for the people who matter most to you (these people he calls the "key stakeholders" as they are in all four domains of your life); Be Whole, which means acting with integrity by respecting the whole person; and Be Innovative, which means acting with creativity by experimenting with how things get done.
The universal theory of leadership states that certain leadership traits are universally important. One must possess leadership qualities and talents such as interpersonal, strategic, and analytical skills; an aptitude for effective decision-making, courage, determination, strength, and belief in your skills and capabilities. Hard work, team building and an ability to develop long-term strategies by communicating your vision, as along with motivation, knowledge, and persistence will also increase the probability that you can become an effective leader. However, what is true in one case is not true in another, because of the huge diversity of leadership situations. The type of organisation in which the leadership role is assumed as well as the leadership style of the leader will highly influence his or her effectiveness.
Which traits are more important than others in becoming and being a leader? The women I interviewed placed different levels of importance on different capabilities and qualities.
For example, Doris de Paoli -with whom I co-founded Fédération des Femmes Cheffes d'Entreprises du Luxembourg- believes, after more than 30 years in the financial sector, that the essential quality of a woman leader is a great willingness. She also must be courageous and open minded. For Doris, the balance between professional and family life is negotiable, however she points out that careers cannot be built by working part-time. A boss needs to be there when key decisions are made. Everything depends on good organisation and time management, as well as in sharing the daily household tasks with your partner.
Michele Detaille, director of No-Nail Boxes emphasises that "The first quality of a leader is certainly to know how to make decisions, but a good leader should also be able to motivate their team, to give their best at all times, and know how and when to delegate, which also means trusting the people they delegate to. Regarding leadership as a woman, I believe that women are more pragmatic and less attached to symbols of power than men; they essentially wish to act. Personally, I generally search for consensus in my company. Is this feminine or political?"
For Monica Jonsson, founder of CoachDynamix, the difference between those who succeed and those who don't is the willingness to see setbacks as experiences and learn from them. "If what we are doing is not working, we need to step back and understand that we may need to do something different in order to get the results we want." Her advice to women with leadership potential is to embrace and be proud of their feminine qualities, and also to become kinder and better at supporting each other in a business context. She encourages women to develop a sense of sisterhood "Where we can naturally help, support, coach and mentor each other to succeed. Once we start to progress in our careers, we need to be generous and share our experiences."
Next week I will share with you a list of recommendations distilled from my own experiences as well as from the suggestions received from the women I have interviewed for my books. Each piece of advice is worthy of your attention if you wish to enhance your visibility and be appointed to leadership positions. Some advice will resonate more with you and some less. While writing these pieces of advice I thought specifically about our challenges as women, our needs and leadership experiences, all the time taking into account the stories that I had heard during these last fifteen years. I believe that most (if not all) of this advice applies to men, too.
About the author:
Daniela Clara Moraru is a serial entrepreneur, founder of Languages.lu and of the mobile app to learn Luxembourgish "365 Days Luxembourgish", among others.
In addition, she has been highly involved in the promotion of entrepreneurship and leadership, especially among women. She was a founding member of FFCEL (Women Entrepreneurs Association), Femmes Leaders du Luxembourg, as well as Inspiring Wo-Men, an initiative aimed at inspiring people to inspire others, which included the "Inspiring Woman of the Year", "Inspiring Man of the Year" and "Top Company for Gender Equality" Awards.
In 2013, Daniela Clara Moraru has been recognized as "Woman inspiring Europe" by the European Institute for Gender Equality of the European Commission.

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