Think Leader, Think Female: Why Women Excel in Leadership

“Think manager, think male. Think crisis, think female.” While this old adage says a lot about the invisible barriers to advancement that women still face in their careers, it also reminds me of women’s strengths and how we are, by and large, extremely well-suited to excel in leadership roles. How do we know this to be true?

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Barbara Krylova, a student at Vienna University, where she’s delving into Soft Power and Female Leadership for her thesis. Barbara’s research proposes a transformative leadership model, one that capitalizes on the inherent strengths of female leaders.

In part two of our discussion, we spoke about the “Glass Cliff Phenomenon” and how, when women are given the opportunity to lead, they tend to outperform their male peers. Here’s what came up.

Business case for gender diversity in leadership continues to grow

The data doesn’t lie. Reports from organizations like McKinsey, Peterson Institute for International Economics, and Credit Suisse show—without a doubt—that having gender diversity in leadership roles greatly improves a company’s chance for success.

  1. “Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.” —McKinsey and Co.
  2. “Women at the C-suite level significantly increases net margins.” Peterson Institute for International Economics
  3. “Companies with more women in decision-making roles continue to generate stronger market returns and superior profits.” —Credit Suisse

It can feel simplistic to use only gender as a lens for a company’s financial success metrics, but it’s hard to ignore clear data like this. If our objective is to build organizations that grow, why wouldn’t we pay attention to and make decisions based on this narrative?

Of course, I know and have witnessed plenty of men who are fantastic leaders. What I’m interested in is drawing attention to the unique strengths women bring to leadership and what it would mean for our world if more women held those positions.

This goes beyond DEI

My mission is to empower women through confident communication, ensuring their influential representation in leadership across all sectors and around the world. While the conversation around DEI is important, when we start speaking in acronyms (DEI, ESG), I’ve noticed a tendency for the objective of the framework to be eclipsed by a narrative that takes on a more negative tone, including accusations of greenwashing, as well as political and ideological controversy. For example, take ESG. 

I was working with a client the other day helping him organize his thoughts for an ESG panel discussion. He is an investor, and the question given to him was, “What are the top two ESG criteria that you, as an investor, see as important for value creation and risk mitigation?” His answer? “ESG has always been the main criteria for making investment decisions, even before ESG became a term. ESG is the fundamental set of concepts that every good investor pays attention to.” For him it’s not about fulfilling ESG requirements just to tick off boxes. It’s about checking to see whether the essential elements that predict business success (eg. risk management, brand and reputation, and regulatory compliance) are in place. The same goes for DEI. 

A diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace is good for business. It’s not about ticking off boxes and fulfilling quotas; it’s about making decisions that, at the end of the day, make sense for business. What is clear is that gender diversity in leadership makes sense for business.

As a global community, we’ve got some serious problems to solve. I don’t need to list them here. That’s why it’s time to move beyond convenient acronyms to focus on what is essential. What is essential at this unique moment in time is effective leadership. So what is it about women that makes them highly effective leaders?

Women and the Language of Leadership

Effective leadership is being able to move people in a direction towards a collective goal. How best to inspire people to movement than through strong relationships born from trust? Being calm, compassionate, kind—these are all great ways to build relationships and trust. If you want to have people operating at their optimum, collaborative potential, which is what a highly effective team does, then a great leader is using her communication skills to build trust and demonstrate compassion so that people feel that they are an integral part of the team. I believe that women, on average, do this better than men. Why do I believe this?

Research has shown that women often score higher on measures of empathy and emotional intelligence, which are critical skills for understanding others’ emotions and building relationships. In addition, women’s communication styles often involve more collaborative and inclusive language. This can lead to better relationship-building in both personal and professional contexts. Studies in organizational settings suggest that this communicative approach fosters team cohesion and trust.

Watch the full interview with Barbara Krylova here.

What’s been your experience witnessing women in leadership roles? How does their leadership communication style differ from male leaders you’ve witnessed?

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