Women in Business
The Age of Female Leadership
Why women are poised to be better leaders in today’s business environment.
The idea for this article came after I was invited by BritCham China’s Women in Business group to partake in a seminar on May 30 in Shanghai. They had organized their first "Think on Your Feet: Skills for the Workplace” for young female leaders.
The topic was “Getting Your Point Across: Finding Your Voice in the Workplace” and I – as the only male speaker and guest – was to give the perspective of the “male manager”. The participants were young female leaders, both local and foreigners. It was an interesting experience: while some questions were on gender-related issues, such as stronger confidence when presenting to male management teams, the key challenges centered more around cross-cultural issues and how to connect teams more effectively. This resonated well with me as in my previous corporate role at Education First (EF), 6 out of my 8 direct reports were women, who had proven more adept at managing diverse teams.
In preparation for the seminar, I had reflected on my own professional experiences. During my tenure at EF, it was clear to me that many of my female direct reports felt the need to be confident without being perceived self-centered, which was less of a concern of male managers. This was no big surprise, having spent most of my career in financial services and management consulting: there was never a lack of poster children for alpha male behavior.
Push vs. Pull Leadership
Times have changed: the alpha male who focuses on results by applying what I call a “push strategy” when engaging stakeholders is largely being replaced by the new leader who focuses on people, applying a “pull strategy”. It is quite evident that very often female leaders do a better job at just that, by typically employing more empathy and shifting the focus on a balanced relationship with staff, partners and clients.
This plays an even more important role with the advent of millennials into key roles: the need for more individual touch in the working relationship, the need to have more meaning and impact in contributions at work – beyond the KPIs of the traditional work environment.
By no means do I want to imply men cannot be successful leaders in today’s environment. However, terms like diversity and inclusion, political correctness and most recently the Me Too# movement cause hesitation and scratch the enamel of confidence on the traditional male leader. Today, leaders who can address individual needs and tailor their working relationships to an increasingly diverse workforce will be more successful. This requires more effective stakeholder engagement to address their individual needs and make work and career more meaningful, while at the same time not “overthinking” relationships.
I frequently hear from clients about the importance of agility in the organization: that starts with the attitude of the leaders – female or male – on how they effectively engage today’s talent. In my opinion, that only works with Pull Leadership.
If you have comments or what to share your own experiences, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.