THE BLOG

Are Women Leaders Playing the Game With a Handicap

28/07/2014 11:13 | Updated 25 September 2014

A common strand links businesses across the country: the masculine model of organizational structure when most often men lead the way, recruit others in their image and communicate with each other based on a "superman" model of management. But there's a new generation of women and men who are tired of assuming that everyone wants to make it to the top and do in a 'no prisoners' way.

A prominent group of leaders are emerging with a very different way of managing their businesses- the feminine leader, who values people and collaboration and works with others to achieve results as the first among equals. They understand that definitions of success are changing and increasingly, that leader is female.

A recent survey of 1200 professional women by Aspire found that over 40% of them identified most with collaborative leadership - and almost 60% associated most with management characteristics including democratic, nurturing, calm, and egoless. This shift away from the more masculine management model comes at the same time as a call for more humanity in the workplace and redefining success - and collaborative leaders are the breath of fresh air that business need.

Businesses are struggling with how to motivate and retain an increasingly mobile and unforgiving workforce, and women in particular are not waiting around for change, with around 78% of women who answered the survey admitting that they were considering starting their own business, turning away from an environment where they feel they have to conform to succeed.

Take one example of a woman I coach - let's call her Susan. Susan is a non fee earning position in a law firm, i.e. she is not a partner. She has a large team and a successful track record, yet she's been fighting a battle for a long time to be recognized as credible by many of her peers. When she witnessed yet another senior member of the firm appointed who had the right fit but the wrong experience (the pale, male and stale syndrome), she rang me to voice her frustration. Her words are still ringing in my ears: "I wish I was a man....I'm exhausted, I'm angry, I've had enough, I feel like I am playing this game with a handicap".

Women shouldn't feel that they need to change who they are and conform to the 'traditional' mould of a leader - being authentic means we're more capable of getting better results, but importantly it also means we're more likely to be happy.

Businesses have got to recognize that there's more than one way of management - there are equally credible ways to lead a team or project that still lead to excellent results. The rise of collaborative leaders is something that businesses need to celebrate: they're likely to be courageous, intuitive, resilient and committed to making a difference through the strong relationships they build throughout their career. That's precisely the type of leader businesses should be targeting in an increasingly competitive landscape.

My advice to women who meet resistance? Work to change the culture of your organization through collaboration. If your current organization won't change its culture, then it's time for you to find (or start) a more enlightened one.

Susan by the way is busy determining the new battle lines and her strategy to change her law firm for the better without changing herself. Is she mad? Maybe, but isn't that what business needs?