Feminine Leadership: What it Really Means
I started my career in technology, outnumbered as a woman in large corporate IT departments. I worked in teams where some of the men questioned whether I had any value to add. It’s hard not to take those comments personally but I chose to use them as fuel, striving for excellence in everything that I delivered.
I don’t like to harp on the differences between men and women, pointing out deficiencies of one gender over another. It’s clear that many men are able to lead using stereotypical female qualities so I include the below with the knowledge that both genders can benefit from these strategies.
Women are good at noticing when someone is feeling left out or if there is an imminent conflict in a team. Good leaders are able to encourage open conversation, allowing everyone the space to air their views and communicate issues that can derail projects. Cultures of individual competition can leave staff feeling disengaged. Organisations where people are focused on undermining each other, create a distraction from serving the customer and achieving organisational goals. To me, feminine leadership includes the capacity to promote a culture of teamwork and supporting each other to deliver at their best.
Compassion and Empathy
At some point in our lives, we encounter adversity, whether it strikes in our career or personal lives. Regardless of its source, struggles can affect our performance at work. Leaders who treat staff with compassion, build greater loyalty and are able to retain good talent in the long run. By offering employees empathy and assistance when they are struggling, leaders invest in the relationship with a person who may add significant value to the organisation in the future.
Many people I interview for my books on stress state that their leaders do not listen when they raise concerns or risks on projects. Leaders who are able to listen carefully to issues on the ground, are better equipped to assist in problem solving and thereby raise the chances of their projects succeeding. Good leaders are patient and take staff concerns seriously. Trusting that your staff understand the issues in detail and are able to foresee obstacles, leaves them feeling empowered and brings leaders closer to the true problems in the organisation. Leaders who encourage teams to be honest about what is happening at work, enable a culture where people feel heard and are more committed.
Women are natural communicators. We are good at keeping people informed on progress towards goals, on changes in strategy and the competitive landscape. Leaders who communicate the vision of the organisation to the staff and embed values that are aligned with this vision, succeed. We all desire work that has meaning and it is critical that staff understand how their daily tasks contribute towards to organisational goals.
No one enjoys being micromanaged. Work is so much more enjoyable when our leaders trust us to deliver the work in a way that is most suited to our skills and talents. Good leaders provide clear goals and concrete outcomes, leaving the method to the discretion of the employee. Leaders who promote empowerment, create a culture where people enjoy their work and are free to innovate.
Teams that include members with different backgrounds, cultures, beliefs and thinking styles are often the most successful ones. Many of us struggle to work with those who operate in a different way to us, and this can lead to conflicts in the workplace. When leaders promote a culture that celebrates the uniqueness of team members and encourages an environment where everyone is treated with respect, teams thrive. Good leaders recognise that diversity brings a richness in problem solving and innovation.
Being a woman offers many opportunities to serve, whether it’s our customers, our community or our families. Mothers have a natural tendency to give their love, time and attention to their children as part of everyday child-care. Society often looks to women to cook meals that bring people together every evening or on special celebrations. As leaders, it’s often quite natural for women to see our role as service-providers to our staff, facilitating an environment conducive to customer-service excellence.
Men appear more confident and decisive than women do, particularly at work. We can learn a lot from our male counterparts when it comes to raising our hands for opportunities. Women, however, have a humility that often wins over the respect of the team. Instead of needing to know everything and to be right all the time, many women opt for deferring to the expert in the field.
Good leaders understand
that their staff have deeper knowledge about their work and are able to provide valuable insights.
Leaders use this knowledge to make decisions and can put their egos aside to get there.
I have encountered male leaders who build successful cultures using these strategies and some female leaders who don’t embody them at all. These qualities can be used by anyone who wants to be a good leader. To me, feminine leadership means bringing compassion, respect and empowerment into the workplace. It means listening carefully to what staff and customers are saying about our business and communicating our vision and decisions clearly.
We can display qualities of collaboration, empathy and excellence in all that we do. We can take
accountability for how we show up at work, with our colleagues, our customers and our leadership. We can inspire those around us with how we behave, what we deliver and our impact on the organisation. We can win over the naysayers and when we do, that is the moment when we know we have succeeded as a leader, whether it is in our job title or not.
Kathy Mann is a writer and speaker, based in Johannesburg South Africa. She’s passionate about building a happy life, on purpose using the tools of positive psychology. Kathy guides people towards living their best life possible through what she has learned in becoming very sick from stress. Women often feel so stretched, trying to be everything to everyone. Kathy’s here to remind you that being true to yourself, connecting with your strengths and talents, is the best way to serve the world.