For many years, we’ve known intuitively that having women in top leadership positions means superior organizational performance. Today, a body of data from prestigious research organizations documents the positive impact women leaders have on their organizations.
- Pepperdine University reported that businesses with more women in leadership reported better financial results than those with fewer women leaders.
- The Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that the only high predictor of a group’s creativity and effectiveness was the number of women in the group.
- Harvard Business School reported that peers, bosses, direct reports, and associates rated senior executive women up to 10% better as leaders than male senior executives.
- Credit-Suisse Research Institute found that companies with women on their boards outperformed those with all male boards.
Clearly, the outcomes of women in leadership are positive for organizational performance. The question is: What is it women leaders do that is so effective?
In writing “How Women Lead: The 8 Essential Strategies Successful Women Know,” we set out to describe how women lead and why their leadership style is so successful. We explored our many years of research on women leaders, analyzed research undertaken by others, and conducted interviews exclusively for the book with highly successful businesswomen.
We learned that the leadership strengths of women could be categorized into six characteristics:
- Women are values-based: Values are the foundation of women’s leadership style. Highly successful women define their values and live by them consistently. Their values are the lens through which they view decisions and determine the right action to take whether in business or in their personal lives. They have the moral courage to apply their values in everyday decisions as well as when confronted with the big choices.
- Women are holistic: Women view the world holistically. Their perspective is multifaceted. When they define success for themselves, they include career, family, community and personal aspects. They bring this holistic view into business operations. In problem-solving, they go beyond the facts and numbers and take into account values, vision, culture and relationships. As a result, they are likely to identify opportunities, risks, and gaps men may not have recognized.
- Women are inclusive and collaborative: Women build strong, productive relationships with employees, with peers and leaders across the company, and with customers and vendors. They encourage everyone to contribute to discussions, and focus on synthesizing all ideas into a common solution that is stronger and more creative than the solution any one individual might develop. They are non-hierarchical in their inclusiveness and their evaluation of ideas. They judge ideas on merit rather than on whether the suggestion comes from an entry-level employee or a vice president. For women, the goal is not to get their idea adopted; it is to generate the best decision.
- Women invest time in consultation: Women take time to consult with others when making a decision. They pull together those who will be affected by the decision and those who will have to implement the solution — employees, colleagues, customers, and vendors. Women are open to considering alternatives and are willing to adapt their concepts to effectively achieve the overall objective. This consultative process results in better decisions and buy-in that can dramatically reduce the time it takes to implement a decision.
- Women create shared vision, values and goals: Women bring to leadership a commitment to a purpose greater than themselves. They place a high priority on defining values, vision, and goals for the business and communicating them to their teams. They go beyond individual or departmental goals, and help employees understand how each can contribute to the success of their department and of the company. By creating an environment where achieving the company’s goals also contributes to employees achieving their personal aspirations and goals, women leaders generate increased commitment to the organization’s goals, and the motivation to go the extra mile to achieve company goals.
- Women generate trust from employees: Women’s holistic perspective extends to employees. They realize people do not park their personal goals and responsibilities at the door when they come to work. Women get to know their employees. They see potential in the people they work with and help them develop that potential. Surveys report that employees believe women leaders are more likely than their male counterparts to understand what employees are facing in their lives. This level of trust reinforces employees’ commitment to the success of the business.
What can women and men learn from each other?
Women and men are not “hard-wired” in their leadership styles. Each can learn from the other. Today, women leaders are demonstrating that their leadership style has a positive impact on business financial success and creates a culture that is attractive to employees as a place to work.
It is a style many say is critical to being successful in today’s increasingly global economy. The discussion no longer is which style is better, but how to combine both styles to create a more profitable and nimble organizations.
The message to all women is “Lead boldly. Lead like a woman!”
Sharon Hadary and Laura Henderson are the authors of the book “How Women Lead: The 8 Essential Strategies Successful Women Know” (McGraw-Hill Professional), which aims to be every woman’s blueprint for success, whether she is just launching her career or is ready to accelerate her movement into higher leadership roles. Hadary is the founding and former executive director of the Center for Women’s Business Research and an adjunct professor in the doctor of management program at the University of Maryland University College. Henderson is the founder and former CEO of Prospect Associates, a $20 million health communications and biomedical research firm. For more information, visit HowSuccessfulWomenLead.com.