Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher. Even if you don’t agree with their politics, there’s no denying these women worked their way into positions of great leadership.
While women in business may struggle to notch up the same high-profile success, there are many qualities women bring to work that can create big-time value for their employers. Bob Zenger of leadership consulting firm Zenger Folkman wrote for Business Insider that his firm’s research leaves little question as to how women perform at the upper echelons of corporate America, demonstrating themselves to be incrementally more effective in middle management, senior management and executive management. “To the degree that senior executives and boards of directors are putting men into senior positions, fearing that women will not perform well at higher levels, we hope that this information adds to the assurance that they need not worry about that.”
EMPATHY MATTERS: When Fortune magazine compiled a list of the World’s Greatest Leaders in 2015, it was emphatic about the fact that the 15 women on its roster were experts in a singular type of management. “It’s a model in which leaders must influence a wide range of groups over which they have no direct authority, while those groups typically command much power of their own through their access to information and their ability to communicate with practically anyone,” wrote Geoff Colvin for Fortune. “Am I really saying that women on average are just better at this kind of leadership? Yes, that’s what I’m saying.” Those 15 women “exemplify a new model of leadership,” said Colvin, and at the root of this skill is a trait that science has attributed more to women than men: empathy. “Even at early ages, the way girls talk is much more cooperative and collaborative than the way boys talk; girls show more concern for fairness than boys do,” wrote Colvin. It’s not hard to see how having an authentic emotional response to other people’s feelings can go a long way in a collaborative environment, giving women an advantage over their male coworkers, he said.
SELF IMPROVEMENT: Writing for Business Insider, Zenger said his company’s research has found that women in business show a remarkable ability to improve themselves as leaders. He calls it “practicing self-development.” “This competency measures the extent to which people ask for feedback and make changes based on that feedback,” wrote Zenger. Over time, men tend to ask for less feedback about their performance, while women continue to evaluate their own performance.
OTHER COMPETENCIES: In fact, women outscored men in most of the areas evaluated by Zenger Folkman, including taking initiative, building relationships, collaboration and teamwork, displaying integrity and honesty. Researchers also shook up some stereotypes, deeming women more effective in areas traditionally dominated by men: sales, technology, legal, engineering and research and development.
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