Red alert. Red alert. The entry of women in to the workplace at ever more senior levels has implications for leadership. Does that sound like a red alert to you? It didn’t to me.
The Los Angeles Times published a book review on December 31, 2007 of Michael Maccoby’s book The Leaders We Need. Maccoby’s red alert is that the old leadership styles won’t work in today’s work environment because society has changed fundamentally. Ya think? So Maccoby noticed that society has changed. Big whoop. The red alert for me as a woman in business is that now conditions in the workplace are the best for women’s inherent leadership styles to be successful.
Maccoby says that new generations of workers grew up in families where authority is shared and where there was no dominant father figure. He notes that today there are fewer families headed by one white male wage-earner than families headed by single women. As a result, coming from these different families, today’s workers are less influenced by hierarchy. Instead they respond to sibling figures and less to parental-type bosses. Now think about successful leaders in general. The effective ones I see are those whose influence is based on strong team development and less on their positional power. In other words, it’s less of a hierarchical influence. Isn’t that how women leaders lead? They’re more inclusive. They rely on what I consider selling skills to get their subordinates to want to do their jobs well. They don’t order their subordinates to work. They inspire them. That’s how I see the most successful women leaders leading.
I once had a manager who told me during my annual review, “I have one criticism. I want to hear how you respond to it. Your leadership style is different than the other guys.” He noticed that I didn’t bully people to get the job done. I responded, “There are many styles of leadership. I think my style—which is effective—is a more subtle style. It’s less direct, but it works.” He responded that he understood and withdrew his objection.
I’ll bet that criticism of my leadership style would never have come up today. It wouldn’t because workers today would want to work for someone who motivates them rather than browbeats them. This reminds me of the transition period in the 80s when large numbers of women were entering the male dominated industries like finance. Women wore their power suits with their masculine ties so they looked like a female version of the guys.
I’m glad woman leaders today have avoided making that same mistake. To be successful, you don’t have to look like a guy. And today, with the changing workplace, you don’t have to think like one either.
Maura Schreier-Fleming (www.Bestatselling.com) works with business and sales professionals on skills and strategies to close more business. She speaks internationally on sales and business. She’s the author of Real-World Selling for Out-of-this-World Results. She was Mobil Oil’s first female lubrication engineer in the United States.