Entrepreneur. Educator. Influencer.

Wednesday 20 March 2019

Female leadership, back to the basics (pt.4)

Last week, we looked at whether some traits are more important than others in becoming and being a leader. In this context, I promised that I will share with you a list of recommendations distilled from my own experiences.
I also took into consideration suggestions received from the women that I had interviewed for my books. These are successful women in leadership positions in different fields of activity from Luxembourg and the Greater Region.
You will find below the first five pieces of advice which are worthy of your attention if you wish to enhance your visibility and be appointed to leadership positions. Of course, some advice will resonate more with you and some less. It is important to note that 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. In addition, I believe that most (if not all) of this advice applies to men, too.
  1. 1. Choose your own unique road through life and make a difference to the world.
Try to become not a man of success but rather to become a man of value. (Albert Einstein)
My first advice is to focus on finding out how you can make a difference in your life, your company, your family and friends’ lives, instead of just chasing one or another position within your organisation. Commit yourself to living a life that makes a real contribution - a meaningful life. Be ready to make choices, and take ownership of your choices and desires, because whether or not you succeed in your career and in your life depends on you.
Take for instance, Monica Jonsson, who decided back in 2002 to leave behind a very successful twenty-year corporate career working in Sweden, Hong Kong and Luxembourg. She chose instead to be a pioneer and create the first coaching company in Luxembourg, CoachDynamix. Why? Because she wanted to make a real difference on a human level, and not only chase after quarterly revenue targets. Nowadays, she feels blessed to have a profession that she really loves doing and that gives her a sense of purpose, joy and fulfillment. This is also what Stephen R. Covey recommends in “The 8thHabit. From Effectiveness to Greatness”, when he talks about two possible roads in life: one to mediocrity and one to greatness and meaning, pointing out that each and every one of us can choose which road in life to take: starting by choosing between having a good day or having a great one.
  1. 2. Find what makes you happy.
The importance of introspection. Analyse what you want, what your ambitions are and what makes you happy. “Happiness is found through who we are and not by what we do or what we have.” Therefore, it is important as a woman to explore who you are and what you feel passionate about, which in turn will allow you to find out what makes you happy. Many women admit that they spend the majority of their lives trying to make those around them happy: children, parents, partners, colleagues, and so on. However, ensuring the happiness of those around you is also linked to your own happiness. Therefore, you need to make yourself happy first, and put yourself first in life without being constrained by feelings of guilt. Some women dream about high responsibility jobs, making a lot of money, having power and prestige, being respected and having opportunities to control budgets and resources, as well as helping others grow. Other women dream about more free time for themselves and/or their families and are ready to sacrifice opportunities for advancement or trade them in the short-term. An old Romanian proverb puts it in a very simple way: “Think twice of what you ask God for. He might give it to you…”
Indeed, understanding and accepting yourself will help you plan your future the way you want and help you feel happier with your choices. When Dr. Friedman teaches his Total Leadership concept he recommends that you start by thinking and writing about your core values, your leadership vision, and the current alignment of your actions and values. He suggests that you talk to peer coaches to get the whole picture about who you truly are. “Why peer coaches? Because an outside perspective provides a sounding board for your ideas and your challenges. It gives you a fresh way to see the possibilities for innovation and helps hold you accountable to your commitments.”
  1. 3. Find your place.
To be effective in an organisation, your values must be compatible with the organisation’s values, and there should be an environment in which you feel you make a contribution; you are not just a number, but you truly contribute to a higher purpose. Find your place in your company, be part of a team that trusts you, and have a manager who believes in you. It is important to work under and with people who have strong professional ethics and are not manipulative, e.g. blocking your career progress in order to take all the credit for themselves. If you find yourself in this position and you don’t feel comfortable in your team, department and/or organisation, don’t hesitate too long in searching for new opportunities, either internally or with other companies. I have talked to numerous women, especially in the financial sector who, despite their efforts in doing their jobs very well and having the necessary skills to be promoted, felt they were stuck in the same functions for years with no real chance of being promoted to leadership positions.
We do have choices in our lives and in our careers, but we also have to find the courage to make changes and be ready to take ownership of our decisions. “Control your destiny, or someone else will”, as Jack Welsh said – or as the late Edmond Israel liked to quote “I cannot predict the future, but I can create it.”
  1. 4. Lifelong learning.
“Nosce te ipsum” – This is something taught in school in Romania as part of our mandatory Latin courses and translates simply as: know yourself. It is important for us holistically, and not just in our working lives. This one statement encourages us to think about and identify our strengths and areas for improvement. Of course, as well as spending time capitalising on your strengths, don’t forget to spend some time focusing on improving your weaknesses. I try to teach this to my marketing students in Germany and used to also ask my interns to complete a SWOT analysis of themselves. This was usually not an easy exercise for most of them as they had difficulties seeing their strengths and areas for improvement.
Nobody is perfect, but if you manage to identify your strengths and use them in your personal development, you have many more chances to succeed in life than if you focus on your weaknesses – which cannot by their nature build performances and will only serve as excuses not to succeed. Indeed, “Your life only gets better when you get better.” (Brian Tracy), so work on improving your strengths as well as filling in the gaps in your knowledge by acquiring new skills. Leading people or organisations requires not only technical knowledge but also soft skills such as relationship building and effective communication.
If you find it difficult to identify or confirm your strengths and weaknesses, American psychologist and Harvard professor Will Schutz, suggests in his book “The Human Element” that you ask your friends and colleagues. You might be surprised to discover skills that you didn’t think of being leadership related, or to find out that what you thought of as being a weakness is actually considered a strength by people who know you. Additionally, pay close attention to how you use your strengths, because if overused they could potentially become weaknesses.
Knowing yourself also involves becoming aware of the way you perform best – are you a reader or a listener? How do you learn? Do you learn by writing? By talking? By doing? Do you make connections with people easily or do you let them approach you first? Do you work better alone or in a team? Do you work better as a subordinate or as a decision maker? Do you perform well under stress or do you need a highly structured and predictable environment? Do you work best in a big organisation or in a small one?  These are all questions to be given detailed thought.
What is certain is that if you wish to become a leader, you will need to commit to lifelong learning! You need to follow conferences and seminars in your professional field, and attend personal development and networking events - even if you have to pay for it out of your own pocket. There is always something new to learn, and keeping your mind open to new knowledge will enable you to be more competitive. You also need to stay informed about what’s going on in the world – what events and new technologies might affect your company, the market place, and your customers’ behaviours - primarily because you need to anticipate change. Therefore, you need to read magazines and professional journals and talk to people from other fields about the changes occurring in the market and in the world (yes, networking might actually help you improve yourself).

  • 5. Authenticity
  • Live and act according to your values, preferences and needs. This is the route to a truly authentic life, compared with acting just to please others, or saying what you think or know that others would like to hear. Being authentic also implies being real and open in your relationships, and this is also true about the way you communicate. There are many people who we instinctively identify as “false”, mainly because they spend too much time acting and use too many words with little or no substance.
    Try to find the management and leadership style which corresponds to your personality and your core values without trying to copy your superior or your mentor. Learning from them is usually extremely helpful, but try not to be someone else.  Not only will you fail to convince other people (within the company and externally), but also your style will not be successful, efficient or sustainable if it doesn’t really reflect who you are. Authentic people are generally more balanced, secure and self-confident and tend to be trusted more because they are seen to care and listen. Being authentic also means sharing what you stand for, and accepting yourself the way you really are without putting on a mask to please your superiors.
    When the issue of leadership styles is raised, men are more likely than women to describe themselves in ways some management experts refer to as “transactional” leadership i.e. job performance is viewed as a series of transactions with subordinates. So, when it comes to the style of leadership, many men recognise that their power is taken from their high position and formal authority in a traditional command-and-control style. Women are more likely than men to use transformational leadership: motivating others by transforming their self-interest into the goals of the organisation, Women, use power based around charisma, work record, and contacts (personal power) as opposed to the male approach centred on organisational position, title, and the ability to reward and punish (structural power), thus the differences between approaches to leadership are apparent. In the words of a female leader: “Throughout my career in business I have seen women practicing a masculine leadership style that focuses on authority derived from their position, and relies on rewards and punishment in order for them to climb up the career ladder.” Instead of being admired for their adjustment to an alpha male environment, most of these women were perceived as emotional, difficult to work with or for, and too aggressive. What one gender sees as a strength may be perceived by the other as a weakness, hence the need to “be yourself”.
    The International Women’s Forum Survey of Men and Women Leaders found that most men and women describe themselves as having an equal mix of traits that are considered “feminine” (being excitable, gentle, emotional, submissive, sentimental, understanding, compassionate, sensitive, dependent), “masculine” (dominant, aggressive, tough, assertive, autocratic, analytical, competitive, independent) and “gender-neutral” (adaptable, tactful, sincere, conscientious, reliable, predictable, systematic, efficient). However, a study of Fortune 1000 female executives by Catalyst found some more than 10 years ago that 96% of them rated as critical, or fairly important, that they develop “a style with which male managers are comfortable.”
    This is important because there is no need to reject the feminine side anymore, but fully accept it and embrace it. The French feminist Simone de Beauvoir wrote in her book “The Second Sex” in 1949 that “One is not born, but rather one becomes a woman.” Her objective in writing the book was most likely to defend the feminine sex by claiming that men and women are born the same way and that our more masculine side was taken away from us by societal forces. However, we now know for sure, and have substantial research to prove the fact, that men and women are born neurologically different.  Aside from gender-related strengths, many characteristics of leaders such as IQ and energy seem to come naturally when we are born, while we learn leadership skills (especially self-confidence), at home and at school, in the academic world and through sport. “And you learn other things at work through interactive experience, trying something, getting it wrong and learning from it, or getting it right and gaining the self-confidence to do it again, only better”, as Jack Welsh was noting in his book “Winning”. In addition, neurologists have shown how men operate using mostly the left side of their brain; the analytical sphere, while women are able to switch between both sides; analytical and emotional, more easily than men.
    It is important to have the courage to be yourself, and to think outside the box, because the key to success often lies in the way you look at and deal with a certain situation. Following less traveled roads offers generally unsought possibilities and solutions. In order to leverage your strengths on your own personal journey to success, you will need to fight stereotypes about the leadership styles of women and men. Indeed, findings show that there is a certain resistance to women’s leadership, mainly a set of “widely shared conscious and unconscious mental associations about women, men, and leaders. In the language of psychologists, the clash is between two sets of associations: communal and agentic. Women are associated with communal qualities… being especially affectionate, helpful, friendly, kind, and sympathetic, along with being viewed as interpersonally sensitive, gentle, and soft-spoken. By contrast, men are associated with agentic qualities, which convey assertion and control. These include being especially aggressive, ambitious, dominant, self-confident, forceful, self-reliant and individualistic.” This difference of perception will make people call dominant women “control freaks” while men would be called “passionate”. Being aware of these stereotypes does not take away the danger of misconception; therefore, don’t be afraid of being yourself or of any obstacles to success, as they will make you stronger just as much as they will challenge you.
    The conclusion of today’s article is from a great Harvard Business Review article of Peter Bregman entitled “Want to keep your job? Stop trying to fit in.” which is extremely strong, clear and positive: “Face it: You’re different. And the sooner you realise it, the sooner you embrace and leverage it, the more successful you’ll be. The same goes for your business!”

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