Why Women Are Natural Born Leaders
What was once considered weaknesses in women proves just the opposite. Here’s how divine feminine power can help you excel in leadership positions.
Nicole Lipkin Contributor
While the gap between men and women in leadership roles is decreasing, there still remains a huge disparity between them. According to a 2019 Lean In study about women in the workplace, women only hold 21% of C-suite positions.
Yet studies show that once women land leadership positions they excel – often surpassing men – because they have developed soft skills necessary for effective leadership. Traits like empathy, communication, and listening are qualities that serve women well when in management positions.
This is ironic because soft skills have also historically been used as excuses for why women are not fit to lead, i.e. we’re too soft, we’re too empathetic. There’s been this conceit that “you need a man to take charge and make the tough decisions everyone else is afraid to make.”
Yet what we know now is a “strong” leader isn’t necessarily a man who stands alone, making all the tough choices by himself, but rather a servant leader, who gathers all points of view in a collaborative effort in order to arrive at the best course of action.
This bodes well for the future of women leaders as study after study proves women have a natural bend toward collaboration.
Though we’ve evolved quite a bit over the years when it comes to childrearing, traditional social norms still persist in the development and play of childhood.
Girls are socialized to be cooperative, collaborative, and relationship-driven (nurturing & care-taking) in the traditional gameplay of childhood (think house and tea party) while boys are socialized in their play to be competitive and exist in a dualistic world of winning and losing.
With the rise of gender-neutral toys and increased awareness of how gender-specific activities influence children toward specific behavior, these norms are changing. For instance, the colors pink and blue are no longer relegated to girls and boys, respectively. Trucks and dolls aren’t specifically masculine and feminine activities.
Nevertheless, parents are not unified across the boards when it comes to creating gender-neutral activities for their children. Additionally, what people say publicly about gender-neutral activities and games doesn’t always match what they practice privately at home.
How Does This Impact Leadership Down The Line?
These early socialization experiences are highly impactful, for both boys and girls, in positive and negative ways. On the positive side, organizations that employ more women in leadership positions tend to be more collaborative.
A 2013 study confirmed women are more drawn to collaboration than men, whereas men tend to become attracted to team-oriented work environments only when doing so would prove more efficient. Men say the researchers, statistically have a pessimistic view of their teammates’ potential abilities.
Moreover, the study found that women’s bend towards collaboration has an altruistic side as well:
“Specifically, we find that women are much more likely to pick the ‘team’ option when doing so would have a positive impact on their partner’s incomes, and show that this pattern is consistent with a higher level of ‘advantageous’ inequity aversion among women than men.”
Peter J. Kuhn, Marie-Claire Villeval
This points to an inherent desire in women for the organization as a whole to succeed. An aversion to inequity creates a company culture that cultivates fairness and justice in the interest of creating employee engagement and employee retention.
The danger for women is over-collaboration. In collaborative work cultures, women tend to bear the burden of collaboration more than men. They give away their time more frequently and simultaneously do not prioritize their own needs.
This can lead to burnout and higher stress levels. Thus, it’s important for women to balance their collaborative side with a selfish side in the interest of the greater good, something that apparently gets easier for women with age.
A 2019 Zenger | Folkman revealed that women tend to rate themselves lower than men in leadership self-assessments. They aren’t necessarily under-rating themselves, but rather they maintain a realistic view of their abilities. Men, on the other hand, overrate themselves when self-evaluating.
“A man and woman with identical credentials, who both lack experience for a higher-level position, come to different conclusions about being prepared for the promotion. The man is more inclined to assume that he can learn what he’s missing, while in the new job. He says to himself, ‘I am close enough.’ The woman is inclined to be more wary and less willing to step up in that circumstance.”
Jack Zenger & Joseph Folkman
While this realistic self-appraisal doesn’t serve women when it comes to advocating for oneself, it will serve them down the line once in a leadership role. Better to err on the side of realistic self-evaluation than overconfidence, which can blind a leader and push them to solely look for solutions that support their ideas.
The Zenger | Folkman study found that women’s confidence levels do rise, however, as they get older. Until the age of forty, women underrate themselves, but by the time they are sixty, their level of self-efficacy surpasses men’s. “According to our data,” the study says, “men gain just 8.5 percentile points in confidence from age 25 to their 60+ years. Women, on the other hand, gain 29 percentile points.”
What does a 60-year-old woman have that a 40-year-old woman doesn’t? Perhaps it’s that the sixty-year-old woman no longer cares about what people think of her and she’s proven to herself that she is capable. Whatever it is, we may all need a bit of 60-year old infused into our 20 and 30 and 40-year-old selves.
Collaborate, Don’t Evaporate
The cautionary tale for women is collaborating to the point where they do not feel confident in their own decision-making prowess.
If you lean too far on the collaborative side then it would be wise to calibrate your style a bit so you get your opinion out there and/or your point across. You can’t collaborate your way to the top; you will also need to feel confident in your independence and your ability to work alone.
Use collaboration to gather all points of view, but cultivate your self-confidence so you are comfortable expressing and supporting your own point of view without requiring a group consensus.
If you feel like your self-confidence could use some primping:
- Get a coach– The right coach can shine a light on where you’re falling short or not believing in yourself, and then motivate you to step outside of your comfort zone.
- Say yes to what you want even if it scares you a little – If you are realistically self-evaluating yourself to a fault, then it might be time to take the plunge and simply say “yes” to a position or task that you want but feel might be slightly out of your comfort zone. Anticipation is typically much more daunting than reality; you’ll most likely find that you are perfectly capable at doing what you thought was beyond your abilities.
What It All Means
The assertions laid herein are not applicable across the boards, i.e. not all men are anti-collaboration and not all women are altruistic collaborative team players.
But the research does point to women having a pro-collaborative streak and self-assessment rooted in reality. These two aspects will aid them in leadership positions, specifically when it comes to listening to all possible solutions and keeping the status quo at bay.
As long as women don’t forsake their own intuition and self-confidence for a collaboration-only approach, they will create work cultures where people feel valued and heard.