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Women as leaders

There has never been more talk about women as leaders than in the past year. This is not only leadership roles in the corporate world but in many areas, be it social, economic or personal. We all know who is behind the movement triggered by the pay gap within big corporations such as the BBC. Women lead the MeToo movement to put a stop to the social "norm" of keeping quiet after being harassed or assaulted. In their personal lives, women continue to take the lead in running their home and family. They contribute to leading their community - even if they do not work or earn money - through volunteering and charity work.

But my point isn't to demonstrate how women are better than men or one-upmanship of any kind. Rather, I would like to put forward some differences in leadership style for better understanding and ultimately more effective co-working practices between the genders. So how are men and women different leaders? And what might be the impact on organisations driven by women? Here are a few leadership skills women tend to display (these are generalisations not stereotypes):

Value driven

Values inspire people with a sense of purpose, belonging and contributing to a greater good. Women tend to make decisions based on values and set clear intentions that are centred around the needs of the organisation as a whole and that of the employees. Personal gains (financial, getting a promotion, being the shining star at the head of the board etc.) appear less centre stage. Women leaders like to nurture their employees. They encourage, praise and reward their people more. They see the growth of every individual as an opportunity for the entire organisation to grow. Employees in turn, feel they are valued for their personal skills and achievements and this gives them a sense of purpose and contribution fostering even more productivity.

Leading from behind

The expression "Behind every great man is a great woman" is multi-faceted. Another way to look at it is: There are great men. And great women lead from behind the scenes. This is because women do not necessarily feel the need to be the smartest, most creative member of the team - even if they are at the head of that team. They tend not to feel threatened by a subordinate with more expertise than themselves. On the contrary they are quite happy to surround themselves with professionals that outshine them in niche areas as long as the end result is the best for the organisation. In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey refers to this as the Principle of Creative Cooperation. Or simply synergy. The essence of synergy is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That by valuing and respecting differences, building on strengths and compensating for weaknesses, people work more effectively together. I am not implying that women utilise this principle more. Just that they see the value of tapping into and developing the skills of all within a team. In her book, Women on Top, Margaret Heffernan describes it as: "By not singing our own praises, we leave space for more than one hero in every company. By not hogging the spotlight, we let whole teams shine."

Higher emotional intelligence

Generally, women outperform men on emotional intelligence competencies in most surveys conducted so far. They tend to be more empathetic and better listeners than men. They have more self and interpersonal awareness. They tend to score better at self- management and relationship management.

All of these assets and many more should put women in stronger positions of leadership. But here is the pitfall: women are on average much less confident than men. Perhaps life circumstances such as taking a long break to have children further knock women's self- confidence. They tend to display their emotions more readily and are more likely to report stress.

While we can agree that there are gender differences in leadership roles, when we have a look at the most effective leaders, these differences disappear. Women leaders can be every bit as confident and composed in the face of challenging situations as men, and men as value driven, self-aware and empathetic as women.

The key for anyone who wants to improve their leadership skills is to be more open and to embrace development of one's own competencies. Check out our Leadership Development Programmes at Spirit of Adventure for more inspiration.

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