I CARE – why women can often succeed as leaders better than many men.
Laura Schwab – President, Aston Martin Americas. Only 2nd female automotive CEO in USA
In my recent article, “More women, more success” I focused on the relative lack of women in senior leadership roles and the strategic benefits for organisations of having more. Amongst studies I quoted one from McKinsey that suggested having women on boards made organisations 27% more likely to beat competitors. I also confirmed my personal experience that after over 30 years as a leader in the military, business and government, most of it developing leaders, the capability of women to be effective leaders is just a great as men. In fact in this article I will go further and say it is, on average, better.
Why are women more able to lead in a way which delivers what organisations need to be successful in 2019? It’s now clear to most people, but sadly not all, leaders that the traditional command and control style of leadership is no longer effective in organisations. In fact there is incontrovertible evidence that it actually degrades performance leading to numerous problems from lack of engagement to ineffective decision making, poor innovation, low responsiveness to customers to poor development and retention of talent amongst other problems.
The nature of effective leadership in our organisations is organically changing in line with wider societal changes and so a more consensual and engaging approach by leaders now delivers the best results. It could be summed up in a few words by saying people give their best to leaders who show they care about those people, not those who don’t care. That’s simple common sense based on all our experiences but too often ignored in our organisations. Women often seem to be better at creating this “I care” environment than men.
There are many studies but one of the most interesting, by Zenger Folkman, (See full study) was initially conducted in 2011/12 and then updated this year. So not only was the original study good, with a significant sample size of value, but the fact that the findings were confirmed again in 2019 and thus up to date makes it even more powerful.
The 2011/12 study was based on a 360 assessment of over 7,000 senior leaders effectiveness, ie by peers, bosses and team members, based on 16 behaviours shown to deliver outstanding leadership. It compared these between women and men. As I suggested previously women do score better than men in those areas that related to creating good relationships and engaging and developing others. However, what is really interesting is that’s not all. Women are rated as, on average, better than men in 12 of those 16 behaviours which deliver outstanding leadership. Even more interesting is that on “taking initiative” and “driving results”, often thought of as where an area of male strength, women out perform men. To return to the bigger picture for a moment please note that these behaviours which follow are what we want all leaders to do irrespective of gender.
As a group women, on average, out perform men in the following:
Practices self development
Drive for results
Displays high integrity and honesty
Inspires & motivates others
Establishes stretch goals
Collaboration and teamwork
Connects to outside world
Communicates powerfully and prolifically
Solves problems and analyses issues
Women and men are about the same in “technical or professional expertise”
Men outperform women in “developing strategic perspective”.
The update to the study this year, with an additional 9,000 leaders assessed, confirmed the 2012 findings. However, they added 3 more areas of assessment, “resilience”, “bold leadership” and “leadership speed”. In resilience women were ahead of men by 6 points, bold leadership by 3 and about the same on leadership speed.
So why aren’t more women in senior positions? It’s certainly not that they perform worse than men, as the evidence shows they are often actually better. It has to be that the recruitment and assessment techniques we use are either biased, ineffective or both. Probably based on the false myths prevalent in our organisations about this issue. We need to work on facts not fiction and change how we recruit and asses to unleash the true potential of women in our organisations and societies.
As for men, all is not lost! The above also shows your route to success. Forget the command and control, the stereotypical image of the over competitive successful man, building a “me not we” world, that’s long gone. Yes, focus on performance but also build a “we not me” world and above all show you care. That’s the way any leader, male or female, will get the best from their people and overall as a group women are ahead of the game! But not all the time over their careers – sometimes men are more effective but when and why is for the next article.