Career Advice Tips to be more productive

Leadership Skills for Women

Many women feel they have to work twice as hard to be thought of as half as qualified as men in the workplace. Over time, there have been slight increases in the number of female world leaders and top executives, but things are far from equal. The good news is that many women have innate strengths and leadership qualities that make them just as, or some even more successful leaders than their male counterparts. 

A 2012 study by Zenger Folkman on women’s leadership effectiveness gathered feedback on 16,000 leaders. About two-thirds were male and one-third female, and all had an average of thirteen people complete a survey on their leadership abilities. Findings were that women rated higher than men on a number of leadership skills, including developing and motivating others, building relationships, teamwork, collaboration, taking initiative, displaying integrity and honesty, and driving for results. The question becomes, how do women display and hone their innate leadership skills?

Know your strengths and weaker areas. Gross generalisations aside, women are typically willing to be self-reflective, which is a huge asset. There are many quality assessment tools that you can use to get a sense of where you are strong and where you can grow (Gallup’s StrengthsFinder is well reviewed). Leaders who are self-aware can then recognise when another person with different strengths and talents is needed on the team, and free up time and energy to focus on where the leader excels. Self-aware leaders also know where they struggle and when their buttons are likely to get pushed and can develop strategies for effectively communicating, growing, and coping in these scenarios.

Get feedback continually. The Zeger Folkman study found that successful female leaders are more apt than men to continue seeking feedback from colleagues and staff throughout their careers, enabling them to hone their leadership style. Male leaders more often will assume that they are doing well and they do not ask for feedback as much. Figure out a strategy for obtaining continual feedback about your performance from supervisors, peers, and subordinates. A side benefit to seeking regular feedback is that staff members will feel empowered to be honest and that their opinion is valued, creating a more engaged work environment. 

Use your emotional intelligence. Women are prone to having a strong ability for empathy and perspective-taking. This allows women to step inside another person’s world more easily and understand what their needs and emotions are. Along with this comes a more innate talent for listening well and connecting people. These are excellent leadership qualities. Don’t hide them! Share your ideas about bridging communication or connecting someone to an opportunity. These actions show foresight and effective talent management.

Teach your male counterparts about your strengths. Men and women do think and process differently. This is a good thing and all parties bring valuable traits to the workplace. It can be helpful to let your male coworkers understand how you are processing situations and challenges. There are often significant gender differences in problem-solving, decision-making, and goal-orientation that (when discussed) can make a team more effective and balanced. 

Ask for things, not for permission. Some women can be shy about advocating for themselves and speaking up about their needs and wants. Men stereotypically will ask for what they want or just grab for it and ask for forgiveness later. Get used to asking for the information, resources, and opportunities that you need to succeed and grow. This includes things like training opportunities, hiring an assistant, supplies and tools, or the chance to lead an endeavour. 

Throw your hat into the ring. A handful of years ago, Hewlett Packard conducted an internal study to find out why more women weren’t applying for high level jobs. HP found that while most men would apply for a position if they met around 60% of the requirements for the job, most women would not apply unless they met 100% of the desired qualifications. This spurred a conversation about women holding themselves back due to a lack of confidence in their performance, or perhaps due to an assumption that their candidacy would be tossed out if all the criteria were not met. Seemingly, to avoid feeling like a failure, or dealing with the rejection, women never applied. The lesson here is, give yourself the same chance the men are. Go for it even if you aren’t guaranteed complete success. The process of taking on a challenge, learning about yourself and the task, and managing the growing pains will make you a stronger leader. 

There are strengths and challenges to manage no matter your gender. The best advice is to get to know what yours are so that you can shine where you’re strong and develop where you’re not. Women have everything they need to be amazingly successful leaders, and the world is slowly learning that.