This Holiday Season makes my heart fill with gratitude for all the wondrous things and wonderful people who have been part of my journey in 2014. With excitement I’m looking into the New Year as more fascinating adventures await!
I was recently invited to write a blog about my thoughts for an international publication Real Leaders – now I look forward to your comments after you have read my blog post at Real Leaders / Leadership / innovation ecosystem. I shared same kinds of sentiments in Ankara, Turkey where I was invited to deliver a keynote at a Women in Innovation conference at the end of October 2014.
Leadership continues to be a hot topic in the corporate world. Anyone wanting to brush their skills as a leader or learn to become a leader may take to the how-to world of books and suddenly find themselves overwhelmed by the more than 17,000 choices on the topic. These 17,000 different leadership books are a telltale sign that there is not any one clear answer on how to be a leader.
Studies, like James Kouzes & Barry Posner’s work, continue to show, however, that some key essentials factor into people’s willingness to follow a leader. For some 30 years Kouzes and Posner have found that people – across countries, cultures, ethnicity, organizational hierarchies and functions, ages and levels of education – rate the same four qualities of a leader as the most important year after year.
A study by Pepperdine University shows that women leaders in top positions continue to break industry records in terms of profitability and productivity. While more women than ever are obtaining professional degrees like MBAs, we are still far from gender balance in leadership in America’s top corporations. Gender balance can be achieved when there is 40-60 percent of either gender.
Some (controversial) studies show that the ways female and male brains are wired are ideally complementary. According to this view, women are naturally wired to act, think and innovate in ways that men are not.
Managers are expected to lead their teams, take responsibility for fixing issues and even make sacrifices in order to create value and show “leadership”. What does it mean to show “leadership”, though? Leaders are not just managers, they manage and lead. While a manager deals with the practicalities of getting things done in the most efficient manner (or the what and the how), a leader communicates why the work must be done. Whereas managers plan and coordinate, leaders inspire and motivate.
A manager administers while a leader creates conditions for innovation; a manager focuses on systems and processes to maintain the structure of the organization while a leader focuses on developing the people in the organization. A manager often works on short-range tactics, while it’s the job of a good leader to focus on the long-range perspective in order to create sustainability and legacy. Managers are under increasing pressure to grow into leaders and be able to fulfill expectations for both their managerial and leadership duties at the same time. They are expected to continuously prove their credibility by staying current and competent – and also be visionaries who inspire by modeling the way with integrity.
Conversation about leadership traits can be dangerous because it presumes that people possess inherent and immutable personality traits that make them leaders. I strongly disagree with that view because I believe that anyone can learn attitudes, skills and behaviors that make them a leader in their unique ways. In addition, nobody is a leader by themselves. The time for a lone hero leader is gone. Leaders emerge in team or group environments, and as such leadership can shift from person to person and even evolve into co-leadership. However, the popular magazines among leaders and leader-wannabes regularly publish lists about the three, five or seven traits that make a leader. Obviously, there continues to be a yearning to know what qualities one has to groom in order to become an effective leader.
As the conversation about women as leaders has exploded, the interest in what makes an effective female leader has also become popular. Often the results of studies in which a handful of successful women have been interviewed are reported in popular literature with generalizations about the leadership traits of women. Again, dangerous ground. Generalizations that are based on stereotypes are a way for us to categorize things we don’t understand. This kind of a meaning making mechanism simplifies matters and makes things seem black and white. The more we understand, the more shades of all kinds of colors we’ll find.
As your company grows, you need to grow your people, too. If you have been investing in developing your subject matter experts or people with a special skill set within the company, they will be ready to step into new, expanded responsibilities of a manager. There are many good reasons to promote from within rather than go hunting from the outside. The transition is usually smoother because the internal experts already know the product, people, procedures and performance expectations. They have tacit knowledge about how things are done, how the organization is structured and how people are expected to behave.
Every time you hire a new person, it is a strategic decision. You should hire them with your eye for the long-term; what future positions can they grow into as your company grows? Groom the future leaders now. This grooming means that you must invest in mentoring, coaching and training them. Without a continuous development plan for your employees, you cannot expect your employees to become superhero supervisors over night. If you do, you set them up for failure. And that will cost you time, money and relationships.
Moving up the management ladder takes more than hard work. Those who put in the endless hours can find themselves frustrated as find themselves skipped over come promotion time. While it is safe to assume that hard work does get noticed, it’s those who stand out that get promoted. Women know this very well – because “if workplaces were like school, women would run the world”. Getting noticed and promoted takes more than being a diligent, “good girl or boy”.
In order to stand out among your peers you need to know how you are perceived by others and of your impact on others. Who is paying attention to you and why? Stand out by being outstanding. The better you know your strengths and weaknesses, the better chances you have to focus your strengths and move ahead to a leadership role.
Companies that fail to invest in their female populations are underinvesting in the human capital needed to assure sustainability. While women around the world account for more than half of the talent, as a group, they remain marginalized with their social, economic and environmental contributions unrealized.
Female participation in the labor force is on the rise. In OECD countries, on average, only 60% of women are employed but in Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark, women already make up more than 70% of the workforce. Finland has the highest number of women in full-time employment, 84 % of total female employment. However, the pay gap remains even there. While Finnish women earn 19% less than male wage earners, the wage gap in Norway and New Zealand is 6%. On average, women around the world still earn 18% less than men performing the same job.