Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Deri Latimer Headshot

Women in Leadership: It's a Matter of Life and Death

Posted: Updated:
MoMo Productions via Getty Images
MoMo Productions via Getty Images

Close your eyes. Bring into your awareness the face of a person in your life who you believe is a great leader. As you see that person's face in your mind's eye, think about what it is about that person that had an impact on you. Remind yourself of those things; say them quietly to yourself.

Open your eyes.

My guess is that no matter who you saw in your mind, their impact on you had nothing to do with what the person has on the outside (financially, educationally, or anatomically) and had everything to do with what the person is like on the inside. It was likely someone whose passion, purpose and positivity were contagious, and you wanted to be a part of whatever that person was creating.

Leadership is everything. It is critical to any well-functioning organization, university, community and family. When it is done well, it's the reason people are attracted to join, and to stay. When it's off course, it's one of the key reasons that people leave (or otherwise disengage).

I happen to believe that effective leadership is also a matter of life and death.

There is an interesting phenomenon in typical organizations. As you move up the 'ladder' from entry level positions to more senior leadership roles, the importance of technical skills goes down, while the importance of self and social awareness goes up. The importance of self and social awareness at higher organizational levels is not new; what might be new is the realization that the way we are working is actually making our capacity for self and social awareness go down! Constant multi-tasking, crushing workloads and long 'break-less' work days are taking a toll on our ability to regulate our emotions and build meaningful relationships.

What's also interesting is that women almost completely vanish from the picture at higher organizational levels!

While women make up 50 per cent of the workforce, and earn 50 per cent of university degrees, they comprise only 18 per cent of executive roles and hold a mere 5 per cent of CEO seats. Yet, there is so much evidence that women make effective leaders. Last year, Zeneger Folkman, a company that studies leadership, found that women rated higher than men on 12 out of 16 attributes tested. After analysing 7,280 of their clients' performance evaluations, they found two traits where women outscored men significantly: taking initiative and driving results.

And, there is some evidence that organizations with more women in leadership positions perform better financially.

Every organization, no matter what their purpose for existing, needs to be productive and sustainable. And, productive, sustainable organizations need people who are engaged and energized around their purpose.

Sadly, both productivity and engagement are at an all-time low in our country, while stress and mental illness are at an all time high. People are working longer hours, and feeling less satisfied with their results. If extreme stress is not causing premature death (and it clearly is in some cases) it is certainly contributing to mental and physical dis-ease.

I think there is a connection between all of these factors. We need to change the way we work and live. And, we need more chicks in charge!

More women need to step up, lean in, and otherwise support and encourage each other to assume more leadership roles. Not only because we are 50 per cent of the workforce, but because it only makes sense that we will create a happier, healthier, and more productive country when we -- men and women together -- utilize our collective intelligence and maximize our opposing strengths.

Some of the reasons that women do not step into leadership includes a concern about being able to maintain work-life balance while holding senior roles. It is exactly that concern for balance that organizations need today.

Perhaps I should have started with this disclaimer: This post is not anti-men. Nor is it pro-women. It is, instead pro- encouraging the right women and men to lean, step and jump into leadership opportunities and to create positive, productive and prosperous workplaces.

March 8 is International Women's Day. The 2015 theme is "Make it Happen." So, I invite you to make it happen! Let's change the way we work and live and make this a happier, healthier, more humane world for us all!

And...the next time you close your eyes and think of a great leader, I hope you see yourself.