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Why Women Succeed as Leaders Better Than Many Men

–creating an "I care" environment

In my recent article, “More women, more success”  below I focused on the relative lack of women in senior leadership roles and the strategic benefits for organisations of having more.

More Women – More Success

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 simply 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.

Laura Schwab – President, Aston Martin Americas. Only 2nd female automotive CEO in U

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 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 7000 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 and area of male strength women outperform 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, outperform men in the following :

  • Takes initiative
  • Practices self-development
  • Drive for results
  • Displays high integrity and honesty
  • Develops others
  • Inspires & motivates others
  • Builds relationships
  • Champions change
  • Establishes stretch goals
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Connects to the outside world
  • Communicates powerfully and prolifically
  • Solves problems and analyses issues
  • Innovates
  • 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 and additional 9000 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.

Chris Roebuck
Chris Roebuckhttp://chris@chrisroebuck.net
Chris Roebuck is a speaker, advisor and executive coach who has a unique approach that helps leaders, teams, and organisations reach their full potential and be successful in just three steps. This is proven to add investor value, deliver better customer service, build the brand externally, develop innovation and entrepreneurial thinking, optimise risk and boost the bottom line by 10% + at no cost. Chris unique experience as a leader in the military, business, government and as a Hon Visiting Professor of Transformational Leadership has enabled him to develop this innovative, entrepreneurial and highly effective new approach for leaders and organisations to achieve success: I CARE Leadership. It’s simply about you being the leader people always give their best for empowered by authentic and inspirational servant leadership. Chris shows how building on leaders current knowledge via simple, practical day to day actions can immediately deliver real improvements at all levels; individual, team, and organisation. One organisation who implemented it increased the number of staff happy to recommend it as “a great place to work” to friends or family in 2 years from 40% to 82%, an exceptional change, and increased revenue by 40%. When Global Head of Leadership at UBS, 70,000 staff & 100 countries, his team helped the bank transform organisational performance to increase profitability by 235%, market capitalisation by 50% and win awards. This is now a Harvard Case Study. Chris experience spans many sectors and geographies; from having held senior roles in UBS, HSBC, KPMG & London Underground to advising legal firms and construction, from the UK National Health Service of 1.4m staff and UK Government to the Red Cross in Myanmar, from Investment banks in London to Middle East Telecoms, from the Chinese Space Programme to retail in USA and many more. Chris has been quoted as a business leadership expert globally in the Harvard Business Review China, FT, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, New York Times, Business Week, Time Magazine, Washington Post, Times of India, Straits & Gulf Times and many other titles. He has been interviewed on TV over 350 on leadership and business issues on BBC, CNN, Bloomberg, and other channels and his books have been translated into 11 languages. Chris has been recognised as one of the Most Influential HR Thinkers regularly since 2011 by the HR profession.
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Carol Anderson

Hi Chris – thank you for the thoughtful article. The case you make is substantial and I agree that the societal movement toward consensus and alignment fits the more caring leader. As a woman with a 40 year career in the military and executive business positions, I worry about the generalization that is happening today with the pendulum swinging from one stereotype to another.

I am happy to see Mary Bara leading and achieving for her organization and I hope the same for Laura Schwab. That said, I struggle with their success being attributed to their gender rather than to their insight and intelligence to do the right thing for the organization at the right time. There are examples of male leaders who bring the same thing to their organizations.

We, as a society, spent a lot of time allowing a stereotype of male leadership to set the bar and make it difficult for anyone else to succeed. Let’s not do that with women. Instead let’s talk about the nature of leadership, and what works in what situation.

Kat O'Keefe-Kanavos

Chris, Great article! I believe that as a leader you get what you give, especially when leading by example. Mothers often lead by example an I am pleased to see this leadership evolving in the workplace. Sharing.

Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.

Wow… these findings are fascinating! I would like to think that companies are more focused on creating caring environments lead by leaders who care than diversifying the gender pool. Like Carol, I struggle with success being attributed to gender rather than a blend of intelligence, emotional intelligence, collaborative skills, and inclusive leadership skills. These studies open the door for more women in positions of leadership. But there are many factors that determine a healthy culture beyond the number of women in the C-suite. I love how you addressed the stereotype swing. “…the route to good leadership is in understanding how to get the best from people by being able to get the best from people then apply that to what delivers success.

I couldn’t agree more. it’s about creating the environment that engages people to be the best they can be. Thanks for sharing this one.



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