In the wake of Hillary Clinton securing the Democratic nomination for president, some observers have decided rekindled the debate over whether a woman president will be an effective leader for the country, and by extension, whether women make for good leaders in general.
Of course, bunching half of the population into a single category raises inevitable stereotypes that don’t apply to all members of the gender. With that said, it’s worth examining the beneficial qualities of female leadership and the traits that tend to distinguish women leaders from their male counterparts.
As both a woman and a chief technology officer, I have had this discussion throughout my career in the high-tech industry. Here in Silicon Valley, engineers are far more likely to be male and C-level positions are almost exclusively held by men. There’s no doubt I have been influenced and strengthened by this “glass ceiling.” As a result, I believe that the following attributes that are common to women can actually help make them stand out as leaders:
1. Women Are Collaborative
Collaboration is becoming more important for leaders who want to tear down rigid management hierarchies and reach out directly to people wherever they fall on the company org chart. More organizations are promoting team-building than ever before – a good fit for women who favor collaborative teams and encourage collaborative decision making. This cooperative group dynamic is more productive than working alone because it tends to encourage more creative results.
2. Women Are Active Listeners
More organizations have recognized the importance of emotional intelligence, which is a critical soft leadership skill equated with human empathy and understanding. Empathy is deep emotional intelligence that allows one to view situations through other people’s eyes and grasp differing perspectives. Empathy is a vital talent because it helps leaders understanding their actual competitive standing and it provides insights when critics or naysayers offer conflicting explanations about problems.
Active listening is closely tied to high levels of emotional intelligence. In my experience, most women are naturally skilled at listening first before responding to others. This type of empathetic listening leads to better negotiations, improved management outcomes, and rapid learning in rapidly changing environments.
3. Women Are Inclusive
Maintaining cultural diversity at an organization in a global economy requires leaders who have authentic interests in unique cultural identities. Also, leaders who remain responsive to different types of people are more effective at managing those different types. It’s likely that most women appreciate diversity because they experience the negative effects of non-diverse thinking early and often. This social reality tempers women leaders who understand the value of diversity – in people, in thinking, and in background. Quite simply, women leaders are likely to build more diverse management teams with more responsive reactions to issues because their teams encompass wider bases of experience.
4. Ego Doesn’t Hold Women Back
Headstrong leaders often let their egos influence their decisions, but not always for the better. Oversized egos and arrogant views can cloud rational decisions, leading to needless problems when working with boards of directors, partners, and customers from varying backgrounds. Women tend to express their egos differently than men, and they seem more adept at holding their egos in check.
5. Women Recognize the Value in Mentorship
Most women depend heavily on mentorship and networking to reach positions of leadership and authority in the first place. Otherwise they would have to overcome even greater obstacles to advance their own careers. When women achieve leadership roles, they recognize that their success “took a village,” in Hillary’s parlance. In turn, women place a high value on mentoring others. The capabilities of their team members grow faster because people are mentored and encouraged to mentor each other, leading to the development of still more leaders.
To conclude, it seems that the best leaders lead from behind, not from in front. They lead by their own hard-working examples. This trait of quiet humility is often cited as a “weakness” of women – that they demonstrate skills and experience first before asking for their next job or promotion. Yet this trait is actually a big positive when it comes to leadership. Women know the value of proving that you can do the job. As leaders, they do just that – and their teams have to acknowledge it. Women recognize that leading by example is both inspirational and aspirational for their teams. After all, what is the point of leadership if not lifting up your followers?
Joan Wrabetz is the chief technology officer for Quali.