“I maybe the first woman in this office, but will not be the last.”
– Kamala Harris
Mao Zedong, former President of the People’s Republic of China, famously proclaimed “Women hold up half the sky.” He was referring to women being a resource that ought to be deployed in the professional workforce. It re-affirms the truth that women are equal to men. China is no stranger to women in powerful positions. This is because a large portion of leadership positions in China is occupied by women. These are spread out in major advertising companies and rank high among world’s self-made billionaires.
Leadership cannot be gender specific – a person’s leadership abilities should depend on their individual strengths and personality traits. Yet, studies show that women often surpass men in leadership positions.
So, what makes women stand out compared to their male counterparts?
1. Women are resilient
Girls growing up are trained to be cooperative, collaborative, and relationship-driven (nurturing & care-taking) while boys are trained to be more competitive. They exist in a dualistic world of winning and losing. Being a mother teaches one to deal with numerous complicated situations at home with compassion and patience. Women are known to handle stress better and bounce back quicker than men in the face of any adversity. These attributes play a relevant role when it comes to dealing with unpredictable market conditions and client related challenges.
2. Women are empathetic
“One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”
– Jacinda Ardern (Prime Minister of New Zealand)
Women bring empathy to the work-place. It allows them to share their knowledge and connect with their colleagues better, enabling effective collaboration. They are able to understand what drives and motivates people, and how to acknowledge the diverse talent pool present within the team. It also makes it easier for team members to approach a female leader with a sensitive or a personal request.
3. They value work-life balance
Despite all the talk on gender equality, women often wear many hats at a time. They juggle between managing the household, children, ageing parents, and their careers. Work-pressures notwithstanding, they work hard to make quality time for family, as well. This drives them to find a better work-life balance. Women as leaders are better attuned to their team‘s well-being, which includes their performance at work, as well as their personal lives. They act as champions of a more fulfilling workplace and life.
4. They are great listeners
Women in leadership positions are known to better listeners. They are more likely to give people a chance and appreciate diverse view points. They take informed decisions after hearing all points of view, and then learn, reflect, and implement a plan that incorporates the best of ideas.
5. They are team-players
Women as leaders take their teams along. Unlike men who are usually lone wolves, women are more nurturing, and help the team members grow personally and professionally. They strive to enable effective collaboration among the team members, finding immense strength and purpose in collaborative effort. They have an inherent desire for the organisation as a whole to succeed, a trait which boosts teamwork across the organisation, and helps implement a new culture within the business.
6. They are more transformational
“Success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”
– Michelle Obama (Former First Lady of the United States)
Women leaders like Oprah Winfrey, serve to transform people’s lives for the better. Her every decision was planted on the premise of how it would impact or benefit others and how others could be empowered or elevated in life. As a great leader, Oprah Winfrey never fails to influence people with her inspiring thoughts and her charismatic leadership style is known to draw people towards her vision.
7. They are great at multi-tasking
Needless to say, with the different roles that a woman plays in her life, multi-tasking comes naturally to her. This ability to switch between tasks and juggle multiple tasks at the same time, helps them to decisively and quickly respond to simultaneous and different tasks or situations at a time which is a critical component to successful leadership.
8. They try to defy challenges
Women never have it easy. The odds are always against them to lead and it takes an extra push for them to get to the top. Women who have acquired a position of leadership, after overcoming obstacles will inevitably emerge stronger and more capable than they would otherwise. Such an accomplished and self-willed individual perfectly encapsulates what makes for a good leader.
9. They are very good communicators
Communication is said to be among a woman’s strongest skill and they use it to their advantage. Many studies suggest that women are generally better at getting longer lasting results because they have an open and more communication-friendly or naturally interactive style and this encourages participation as opposed to men’s command and control approach. In other words, whether communicating with employers, co-workers, clients or partners, women seem to have more of an open communication stream that allows for clarity in executing roles and responsibilities, as well as power and information sharing at all levels.
10. They are great mentors
All people need someone who will guide them to progress in their careers. Hence the power of role models cannot be overlooked. The ability of women to be natural nurturers, helps them to act as mentors, not only to lift up future leaders but to also improve their own leadership skills. They don’t neglect to reach back and pull the next generation of talent up along with them as they climb.
11. They have high emotional intelligence
“Emotional intelligence is the ability to use emotion to increase your own and others’ success.”
– Annie McKee (Author and Business Advisor)
Emotional intelligence — the ability to recognize emotions in yourself and others and relate — is something that has recently gained momentum as an essential leadership behavior. This trait which comes more naturally to women, aids them to sense in the moment how others are reacting and makes them good mentors, teachers and group leaders.
12. They lead by example
“To the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message – dream with ambition, lead with conviction and see yourselves in a way that others may not, simply because they’ve never seen it before.”
– Kamala Harris
What better example than Kamala Harris – the Vice-President of the US, who has fought inequalities her entire life, followed a rich law career where she fought injustice from inside the system – today believes her awe-inspiring achievement wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the women who came before her. She gives all credit to her mother and the generations of women before her- women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality and liberty and justice for all.
13. They dream big
“Part of leadership is knowing when to go ahead with a decision that’s within your authority because you’re really convinced it’s the right thing, even if other people don’t understand it at that point.”
– Dr. Ingrid Mattson (Professor, Huron University College)
Women make great leaders as they have this ability to dream big, challenge assumptions and effectively transcend all barriers to accomplish their goals.
Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, is known for human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children in her native Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan. When the local Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan had banned girls from attending school, her dream and advocacy for women’s education grew into an international movement. From surviving two assassination attempts on her life to co-founding an international fund for women’s education; she became the youngest co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize and was featured on Time magazine as one of the most influential people globally.
This only goes to reiterate that women leaders, who have successfully broken glass ceilings, often have high standards, and are more likely to contest biased rules and regulations. They are inclined to engage in more risk taking and come up with innovative solutions. They tend to have a greater need to perform, than male leaders and are less likely to hesitate and focus on trivial setbacks.