In 1977 when I was 20 years old, I went to work for a "lady boss." This ancient woman was in her 50s and had a surly disposition. Everyone in the office, including me, was afraid of her sharp temper. She was rude, demanding, and had little patience for mistakes. She was in short -- a man! She even had short hair. Back in the 1970s, there were few positive female role models as business leaders.
Fast forward nearly 40 years and the world has changed dramatically. I am now a "lady boss." I would not describe my first female boss as a good role model, but I have had the fortune of living in a time where female leaders are generally well regarded. (Think of the powerful and provocative leadership of Oprah or Arianna Huffington). I can imagine the difficulties my first boss must have experienced to attain the position she had in what was at the time -- a woman in a male dominated business world.
Although women have not yet achieved quite the salary equity of men, nor rule the majority of Fortune 500 companies, this is all changing as women are stepping into their natural leadership capacities. For years I have said that my best employees are single mothers (or mothers in general). These women are fantastic problem solvers and multi-taskers. They have had to learn to balance the needs of several people and still get the job done. They work smart, fast and hard. In short, they are good leaders.
According to a 2011 study published in the Harvard Business Review, women outscore men on 12 of the 16 top competencies that top leaders exemplify most. Among others these traits include taking initiative, practicing self-development, displaying high integrity and honesty, driving for results, developing others, inspiring and motivating others, building relationships, collaborating, establishing stretch goals, championing change, problem solving, powerful communication, connecting groups to outside world, innovation, and technical or professional expertise. Men outscored women with statistical significance in one area only. That is "developing strategic perspective."
These results are striking in that we can begin to see that women have become serious contenders for leadership in this new world. As we live in an information age, we need leaders who are great communicators, understand the need for team work, and can bring a nurturing spirit to the workplace. Women are naturally effective in these areas.
Of course, an even healthier and more productive work place will involve men and women co-leading, or bringing the best of both male and female traits. Women have come a long way towards obtaining their right to lead outside of the home, but this has not come without struggle.
Moving forward, we will need to ensure we create inclusive workplaces and communities that welcome and celebrate both men and women as leaders. We don't want to create the male equivalent of my "lady boss." Good leadership does not require a particular gender, but an individual who has developed good character, integrity and wisdom.
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