Before you read this post, list on a piece of paper the attributes that best describe the behavior of the ideal leader to whom you would happily report. When your list is completed, please put it out of sight and read the following:
We believe companies need both genders at the helm. This ought to be our new reality even though it collides with the old establishment. Studies from Catalyst, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding opportunities for women and business, have shown that companies with women included at the leadership level are more profitable and efficient.
Let’s look carefully at some of the attributes of leadership that can improve a company, many of which women possess:
Collaboration: Women tend to be more collaborative and willing to seek out, empathize with and attend to other people’s opinions and desires. Men can observe how women do this naturally and think about the positive outcomes that occur when all the people involved feel like they were part of a solution or decision.
Intuition: Women tend to be more intuitive when it comes to hiring the right people or managing talent effectively. They often have a gut feeling about a person’s ego, experience and leadership skills. Men might listen to the first instinct that a woman has and think carefully as to whether it has merit and should be explored.
Future Impact: Women tend to have a greater awareness of the impact of decisions on clients, customers and businesses. They can see how a decision might affect anything from profit to morale, which may not be apparent or obvious at first. Men would be wise to listen to women’s questions and concerns when making important decisions instead of getting frustrated with the longer discussion that may be required to explore those questions and concerns.
Loyal Work Ethic: Women tend to have a work ethic that allows them to stay committed to getting things done even if their schedule is interrupted by demands outside the workplace. They don’t have to be at their desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to follow through on assignments. Men should understand that women are accustomed to navigating very complicated lives balancing home and work.
Expressive Communication: Women use three times as many words as men to describe the context of a situation. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it’s overkill. Women need to be aware that men use fewer words and appreciate brevity and economy. Men need to be aware that with a little more patience they can gain women’s insights through clues of context, which may lead to a better decision.
We have interviewed hundreds of men and women about gender differences in the workplace. Often, if you ask a man to describe the ideal leader to whom he would happily report, he describes attributes typically associated with men, such as control and forthrightness. If you ask a woman to describe her ideal leader, she describes attributes typically associated with women, such as listening with empathy.
There is a deeper bias beyond each gender’s choice of attributes in their leader. Because men were in the workplace first, they corralled the power. Men created management to house and entrench that power. As a result, many men have come to believe the workplace is their place where only they can rise into leadership. Also, many male leaders transfer power to and share tips about being effective leaders with other men. They withhold transferring power to women, refusing to advise them with the necessary knowledge that will help them become executive leaders. Men will often mentor women to be executive followers, not leaders. This results in unfair decisions, including unequal compensation and fewer opportunities.
Men can alter this bias by following these suggestions:
• Don’t ignore the talent you see in women; Collaborate with them;
• Don’t interrupt or rebuke a woman when she is speaking; Intuition sometimes takes longer to emerge in conversation;
• Don’t dismiss women’s profit-making know-how; They know how policy impacts people;
• Don’t intrude on a woman’s personal space; She is a committed professional and works hard to be as productive as possible if not intruded upon;
• Don’t ignore the fact that women have finely honed language skills; Learn from it;
• Don’t laugh at or encourage sexist jokes; refraining will gain you a woman’s trust and besides, ‘only men can end sexism’;
• Don’t assume a women needs your protection; Recognize her strength and endurance; and
• Don’t get defensive when feedback comes your way that is not flattering; feedback makes us better.
Now, return to your list of preferred attributes. Did you describe attributes that characterize a woman, a man or both? Think about those attributes and consider whether the recommendations above, if not already on your list, ought to be added to your list.
Editor’s note: This post is co-authored by Molly D. Shepard, founder and CEO of the consulting firm The Leader’s Edge/Leaders By Design, where Peter J. Dean serves as president.