What makes women great leaders
In 2019, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, hosted a women in business roadshow across regional Queensland. She shared the welcome statistic that the Queensland government can now boast 46% female board representation with a goal of 50% by 2020, good news for the gender parity debate by all accounts. However, globally, women make up only 5% of chief executive officers and the number of women in ASX200 executive leadership roles is only a third of that of men.
If good leadership is driven by personality traits such as integrity, communication and emotional intelligence, as we repeatedly hear, then surely it’s largely the marriage between soft skills and hard work that makes good leaders great, right? And do women make better leaders than men?
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John C. Maxwell
Walking the talk is more important than ever now. We are all doing more with less, balancing work and family commitments, natural disasters and community scale breakdown. Time may not be running out, but it is certainly of the essence and the sooner we learn to use it wisely, the more we can leverage and scale our impact.
“Research shows that women are driven by more intrinsic motivations than men but is this only because we have more balls to juggle?”
What does this mean? Well the more self-aware we are, the better positioned we are to pivot. New times call for new skills. And women are the masters of reinvention.
Dating as far back as time itself, women’s identities have been built off the back of our families, our partners, our children, our bosses, our biological role of carrying, birthing and rearing children. Reinventing ourselves is second nature. For many it’s even a welcome sign of growth. A light which peeks through the darkness. Renewing our relationships, leveraging opportunity for our businesses and communities occurs as opportunity, exciting, welcome, enticing for most women I know.
Thanks to the women’s movement, women are perhaps now more in control of their future than ever before. The narrative around gender parity is alive in boardroom banter because men and women alike recognise the value of the intrinsic skills women bring.
According to The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2020, men’s incomes continue to rise faster than women. The report, which benchmarks 144 countries on their progress towards gender parity, defines it as ‘fundamental to whether and how economies and societies thrive”. According to Harvard Business Review, women outscore men in taking initiative and driving for results, strengths which have been thought of as belonging to men. Yet women still report feeling that they are less valued, they are required to prove themselves more and that their positions are more vulnerable than their male colleagues.
Back home, in my own backyard, my partner tells me he has to travel for business (often with just a day or two’s notice. We have young kids, primary school aged. No before or after school care spots are available and I already have a hectic work schedule ahead, yet somehow, “the nature of his industry” takes precedence over our commitment to co-parenting and my commitments to my clients.
So, I adjust. It’s what we women do. Passively (or more often, not so passively), I resent this imbalance. I love our life so I choose to reframe, to pivot, to do what must be done. I get on with it. The kids get to school, the washing gets done, the clients are happy. Being available for family time when we are all together and then working school hours and through the night to make up for lost time, I am depleted and sometimes a little lost. Yet I am inspired at the same time if that’s even possible?
I am proud of my resourcefulness, but I am very tired. And more than a little cranky. How long can I keep all these balls in the air? Will I eventually have to choose between my family and my career? I think for most working mothers, maybe even most women (whether or not they are mothers), we make this choice in small ways every day. We live with guilt and regret, but we own our choices. We miss family meals and school assemblies but we role model leadership, empowerment, chasing your dreams and dragging them back to reality.
We breathe life into possibility, even if we collapse into bed exhausted at the end of the day. We make the time count, delivering more for less. We hope for a better future for our children.
Of course, it’s not just women who experience the push and pull of daily life. Innovation and diversification are the new normal. Daily disruption has become business as usual. We have only just recovered from last years’ floods in NQ and already we have witnessed the widespread devastation of natural disaster again as fires ravaged half our country.
“The skill of synthesising heart and hard work is what drives real outcomes.”
Good leadership is largely unrelated to the gender debate, just as poor leadership isn’t gender specific, it’s poor leadership, pure and simple but as another International Women’s Day rolls around, themes around the relationship between equality and enablement, it’s as good a time as any to ask ourselves, are we asking the right questions?
• When we talk about female representation on boards, is it the head count that counts? Do we give equal weight to the voice that occupies the seat?
• Has the gender debate been a catalyst for true change within systemic and flawed environments?
• Are we discussing how we can better balance the contribution of both parents or are we just evening up the score by giving women a seat at the table and settling the debt we owe them?
We know that good leaders are: empathetic, collaborative, communicative, good listeners, multi-taskers, motivated by challenge, dreamers, adaptable, agile, flexible and so the list goes. Research shows that women are driven by more intrinsic motivations than men but is this only because we have more balls to juggle?
Women are wired for collaboration, often skilled at overcoming barriers and inclined towards personal growth, naturally using emotion as an access for growth and expansion. These are the modern-day survival skills for working mothers.
But does that actually mean we make better leaders?
Statistics could argue for the affirmative, since US research shows that women in leadership positions were perceived as being every bit as effective as men. In fact, statistically speaking, women score significantly higher level than men on the vast majority of leadership competencies measured through one study which conducted 360 peer reviews on 7280 participants.
Great leadership calls for integrated capability. The skill of synthesising heart and hard work is what drives real outcomes. In a time when we are called to pivot, we must leverage our capacity to multi-task, to occupy multiple roles simultaneously, to bring our hearts but use our heads, to plan, to execute, to step outside ego and into possibility. To grow, alone and together.
Men and women must continue to deepen their understanding of each other’s unique strengths and to lean into a more equal future.
So yes, the gender debate is alive and well.
What we don’t know is, who is left holding the baby?
Columnist Kim Yabsley is an expert in change management and strategic review, using the Cultures of Excellence framework.
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