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The day will come when man will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race. -Susan B. Anthony
People often ask me how I choose the subject matter for my books. I tell them it always comes from having such a burning desire to share something with others that if I didn't, I would feel my life's mission was not complete. That's precisely why I wrote this book. I believe we live in a time when women's leadership and influence aren't just needed-they're required. More important, I know that women have the capability, strength, courage, and heart to lead communities, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and grassroots groups to places they need to go. They've done it for centuries. You may not think you have much in common with Avon's president Andrea Jung or former director of the Red Cross Elizabeth Dole, but this book will help you to see that you do-and that if ever there was a time your leadership was needed, the time is now.
You also may not aspire to be a CEO, vice president, or director of an organization, but chances are you find yourself in a position where you want to influence others. That's leadership. You may be responsible for a small committee of the PTA. That's leadership. Or you might have ideas that contribute to creating change in an organization of which you are a member. That's leadership, too. Women lead all the time-they just don't call it leadership. They think of it as working toward a common goal, achieving results through people, or simply doing what needs to be done. In fact, that's what leadership is all about.
A woman's way of leading hasn't always been valued, but there's a change occurring in society that people are hesitant to talk about. It's what I call the feminization of leadership. To discuss it openly would mean challenging how we have traditionally looked at leadership-and followership. It would also require embracing a concept that many people find threatening: Command-and-control, top-down leadership no longer works. When someone in authority says "jump," employees, children, and volunteers no longer reply "how high?" The truth is, what followers expect from leaders in the first decade of the twenty-first century-and perhaps beyond-are the behaviors and characteristics that women have traditionally been socialized to exhibit. Throughout history, with little or no formal authority, women have influenced direction, change, and outcomes-they were simply never so bold as to call it leadership!
It doesn't mean that men can't or don't display these qualities, but rather that women tend to do so with greater ease, confidence, and comfort-so long as it's not called the L-word, leadership. The changing face of leadership is threatening to men because it requires thinking about the subject in a way that is counter to their own socialization and, in some cases, education. Similarly, women may feel threatened because it asks them to assume responsibility in ways they may never have before and to call attention to skills they have been admonished to hide.
"Nice girls" have a particularly difficult time assuming leadership roles and doing it effectively. When they do, they often try to make everyone happy (which, as you know, is impossible), delay decision making by trying to get everyone's buy-in, hesitate to take necessary risks for fear of offending the powers that be, and communicate in ways that undermine their confidence and credibility. Ironically, each of these behaviors could work to the advantage of women-if only they would balance them with new behaviors that contribute to more effective leadership. In other words, stepping fully away from the nice-girl messages learned in childhood, and into adulthood, is all it would take for a woman to be a phenomenal leader for this age. Of course, that's one giant step.
Society has done both men and women a disservice by placing the onus of leadership responsibility squarely on the shoulders of men. It makes men reluctant to admit when they feel incapable of or ineffectual at leadership and women reluctant to openly suggest that they might be able to do a better job of it. Nonetheless, we are at a turning point where both genders will have to become more comfortable with assuming roles they have traditionally rejected. This turning point is caused by evolving worker attitudes and values that women are best suited to address. Just as women have, in the past, had to learn from men how to manage using styles that did not come naturally to them, men will now have to learn from women the ways of bringing out the best in today's workforce.
Despite the fact that American productivity continues to decline, most major corporations continue to be led almost exclusively by white males. A recent study conducted by Catalyst, this country's premier women's research group, reports that although women make up 46.4 percent of the labor force, only seven Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Women constitute only 5.2 percent of the top earners and hold only 7.9 percent of the highest titles in these companies.
Sources: Current Population Survey, Annual Averages 2004 Catalyst, 2003 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors Catalyst, 2002 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners
Turning to politics, as of January 2006 only 15 percent of all elected representatives to the US Congress were women. Of those women, 24 percent are women of color, but they all serve in the House of Representatives with no women of color serving in the Senate. This is fairly consistent with the average of 16 percent of women holding seats in parliaments around the world. Out of 180 countries, only 11 have women heads of state. What's missing at the top is not just a female perspective, but a broad diversity of opinions and skills.
Paradoxically, when those who possess power and control are threatened by circumstance, they are inclined to hold even tighter to their authority. When status quo is thus maintained, organizations and societies lose. With diversity, however, comes the promise of positive change, as shown by another Catalyst study. This one that found companies with the most women in senior management positions had a 35 percent higher return on equity and a 34 percent higher total return to shareholders. Similarly, the law firm Dickstein Shapiro reports that in 1994 when it had 63 women attorneys out of 213, profit per partner was $364,000 annually. In 2004, when the number of women had grown to 122 out of 363 attorneys, the per-partner profit had increased to $815,000. Linda Kornfeld and Robin Cohen, attorneys with Dickstein Shapiro, say they believe women leaders are making great contributions for the following reasons:
Women executives are more likely to consult with others-experts, employees, and fellow business owners-when developing strategies.
Women executives have a greater natural tendency to deal comfortably with multitasking.
Women executives have fewer competitive tendencies and often seek a more collaborative approach.
Women executives tend to focus on the big picture when making important business decisions or developing strategies.
Women executives stress relationship building as well as fact gathering.
Women executives are more likely to talk through business approaches and incorporate the ideas of others before making final decisions.
These and other factors combine to make me conclude that women have not only the ability to become great leaders for our time but also the responsibility to do so. Just as women are entrusted with the primary responsibility for bearing and raising the next generation, they have a similar responsibility to ensure that the systems and institutions upon which the next generation will rely are strong and healthy. Women must cease colluding with those who either subconsciously or systematically deny them inclusion. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." When you allow others to do this, you collude with them to remain in an inferior position. Instead, women must come to understand how to maximize the use of their natural gifts within a system that tries to deny the value and necessity of these gifts. A formidable task, but none too difficult for a group that for centuries has relied on its wits and inner strength to triumph over discrimination and oppression.
WHY NICE GIRLS DON'T LEAD
Most workshops that I conduct include a module on collaborative problem solving. It's videotaped and played back so that participants can see themselves as others see them. The instructions, given in advance, ask participants to wait until the camera is on before they begin work on the problem. With only two exceptions in nearly twenty years, after the camera begins recording, the first person to speak has been a man. Regardless of seniority or expertise, women are reticent to take the lead. The reasons for this are as different as women themselves. When they do exhibit leader behaviors (particularly when they do so before being asked), they face a wide array of subtle and not-so-subtle reactions-from both men and women. Included among the reactions with which they are forced to contend:
Being called names (usually behind their backs) that assault their femininity.
Anger that is expressed blatantly or passive-aggressively.
Having their ideas openly challenged, rather than built on.
Having their ideas overlooked only to be repeated as original by men in the group.
Being excluded from future meetings.
Having information that enables them to make good judgments withheld.
Challenges to their "right" to lead (i.e., "Who does she think she is?").
Later being given more menial assignments that are designed to keep them in their place.
Being openly derided.
In the face of such negative reactions, it's no wonder that women are reluctant to lead! This is what makes it so important for women to consciously view these reactions as natural responses to a system trying to maintain status quo, and not to collude with them.
In the 1977 classic Games Mother Never Taught You: Corporate Gamesmanship for Women, Betty Lehan Harragan used masculine metaphors and definitions to help women better understand how to win the game of business. Although groundbreaking at the time, the book set the stage for women to assume that they inherently lacked knowledge or skills to compete on the corporate playing field. Subsequent books followed suit, and soon the very essence of the woman leader was lost in assertiveness training, tailored suits (with little bow ties for a time), and sports jargon. As a result, women chose to hide their natural abilities and instead attempted to emulate the higher-valued behaviors associated with the masculine style of leadership.
I was honored when Dr. Judy Rosener, professor emerita of the University of California-Irvine's Paul Merage School of Business, graciously agreed to speak with me about this. In 1990, Dr. Rosener wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review titled "Ways Women Lead." Although she's written many books and articles since, this piece represents the seminal thoughts on the topic of women and leadership. She was ahead of the curve then, and she still is. That article was the first to suggest that women possess a different style of leadership from men-but one that's equally effective. She shifted the thinking for many of us from I have to be more like a man to succeed as a leader to The skills I bring to the workplace, whether developed by nature or nurture, have intrinsic value. Judy wrote, "Women's success shows that a nontraditional leadership style is well-suited to the conditions of some work environments and can increase an organization's chances of surviving in an uncertain world."
When I had the chance to interview her sixteen years after the article's publication, I was anxious to get her thoughts about how things have changed in the intervening years. Here's what she shared with me:
The biggest difference today is that women no longer believe that
to be a leader is to be a male. My article provided some "aha"
moments for women, so that they now believe that in a
fast-changing, highly technological, globalized environment there
are certain attributes that are particularly effective that they
happen to exhibit. Women are far more comfortable doing what they
do naturally and less comfortable with being trained to be like
men. That's why women are leaving corporations and starting their
own businesses. Flexibility, collaboration, and multitasking are
things women do well because of either socialization or nature.
Women today have moved from a "fitting-in" model (to succeed they
have to fit in) to an "organizational fit" model, which means I'm
going to join an organization where what I do is valued and
rewarded. It may be subconscious, but the women I talk to
constantly are transitioning. They don't want to change to be
successful. Women have to know and understand the environment in
which they work but not think that their leadership skills present
a problem, because they're not the problem.
I agree wholeheartedly. In the past, women who did not want to sublimate their natural abilities were left with three options: (1) remain silent and in nonleadership positions; (2) leave corporate America to start their own businesses; or (3) leave business entirely-to parent, retire, teach, what have you. Although businesses are slowly (and somewhat reluctantly) beginning to embrace this notion of a different but equal leadership style, the result continues to be a migration of women leaders away from business at the very time when their skills are required to better understand how to improve productivity and morale. Option 2, starting their own businesses, is increasingly being exercised, with the number of women-owned companies growing at twice the rate of all businesses between 1997 and 2002. They contribute more than $2.8 trillion in revenues to the US economy and employ in excess of 9.2 million people.
Women can, and must, combine their socialization and natural instincts to provide the kind of leadership necessary to unleash a wider array of individual and team gifts than are present in today's workplace. It's simply a matter of harnessing their talents, reframing them in a way that they can be better showcased, and augmenting them with complementary behaviors to provide a well-rounded (and much-needed) approach to the business of leadership.
WHY WOMEN AND WHY NOW?
Leaders can be successful only insofar as they accurately and adequately respond to the immediate needs of their followers. In other words, you must be a leader for your time. It has been suggested that generals George S. Patton and Norman Schwarzkopf could not have been interchanged. The needs of the troops dramatically shifted during the forty-year interim between World War II and the Gulf War. Whereas Patton's command-and-control style would most likely have been received with resistance by Gulf War troops, Schwarzkopf's tendency to listen carefully to the suggestions and needs of others before making decisions might have been perceived as indecisive or soft by World War II soldiers.
On the business front, and technology aside, it is highly doubtful that in this day and age Tom Watson Sr. could successfully build the giant we know as IBM, or that Henry Ford could pioneer automobile manufacturing. Achieving their respective visions was possible only because they understood the needs of their followers at the time. Watson's full-employment policy was designed to appeal to the insecurities of workers during the Depression. He knew that allowing everyone to work (albeit on reduced schedules) rather than laying people off would secure their loyalty during more prosperous times. Henry Ford's automation of the manufacturing process provided a kind of financial stability within a hierarchical framework that workers of his day craved. Both men accurately read the employment climate and used it to their advantage. Similarly, I seriously doubt that Ronald Reagan could have been elected in place of FDR, or that Mary Kay Ash could have successfully started and marketed her product at the turn of the twentieth century. Both these leaders were successful in their quests only because they understood the social climate and needs of their followers at the time.
Excerpted from See Jane Lead by Lois P. Frankel Copyright © 2007 by Lois P. Frankel, PhD. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted January 22, 2011
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Posted May 22, 2011
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