The Most Undervalued Leadership Traits Of Women

It’s impossible to respect, value and admire great leadership if you can’t identify what makes a leader great.  Because of this, the identity crisis I have written about that exists in today’s workplace is something that women leaders in particular have been facing  for much too long. While the tide is changing and more women are being elevated into leadership roles, there is still much work to do. As of July 2013, there were only 19 female elected presidents and prime ministers in power around the globe.  In the business world,women currently hold only 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and the same percentage of Fortune 1000 CEO positions.   As women continue their upward trajectory in the business world, they have yet to be fully appreciated for the unique qualities and abilities they bring to the workplace.

Like many who grow up with a Hispanic upbringing, I was surrounded by strong-willed, hardworking and purpose-driven women. It is through their leadership that the traditions, values and legacy of our family have been upheld.  My grandmother, mother, wife, and sister-in-law all possess natural leadership skills and they are masters of opportunity management – seamlessly keeping us all in check while running the family household and at the same time supporting our family businesses.  They have taught me that a woman’s instincts and emotional intelligence can be off the chart. They seamlessly manage crisis and change and are turnaround experts – sensing and neutralizing any signs of danger well before it invades our path. It is because of the women in our family that we are well-organized, full of love, spiritually aligned and well-balanced. We are by no means a perfect family, but we are a modern family who embraces traditions even as we adapt to changing times.

It can be difficult for a man to understand how women think, act and innovate unless  he has been closely influenced by  the women in his life.   I’ve learned that women may process things differently and  in their own terms. Fortunately for me, I’ve been influenced by great women who made me appreciate their approach towards leadership. I’ve grown to understand their decision-making processes, the dynamics and subtleties of their personality and style, and other special character qualities that women possess.

The best women leaders I know have circular vision that enables them to be well-rounded people.  For example, they have their finger on the pulse of the culture and can talk to you about the latest pop-culture news – but then easily switch gears to give you their perspective on what is taking place on Wall Street.  Women leaders seeking a chance to be significant see the world through a lens of opportunity; they are especially in search of those opportunities previously unseen (perhaps this is why the women I know enjoy a good treasure hunt).   My experiences have taught me that great women make it a point to teach men about women.

I’ve seen women run the show for years both at home and in the workplace, which has enabled me to recognize behavior patterns and see the value behind their way of doing things.  These women are master multi-taskers and highly collaborative (though not afraid to get territorial to protect their domain).  They enjoy their own space to test themselves and find their own rhythm.  These women leaders are like scientists: many of them want to make new discoveries or solve for problems where others have failed.   The women leaders I’ve been around don’t stop pursuing until the job gets done. This is why I believe they are good collaborative leaders – not afraid of trial and error as long as they continue to build the resource infrastructure around them that gets them closer towards accomplishing their goals.   As one of my women mentors told me, “Without enough of the right resources around me, I will not risk the outcome. I know the resources I need to get the job done right. I’d rather be patient than foolish.”

The women leaders I know invest in themselves and become knowledge seekers. They are not afraid to ask questions when given a safe platform to express themselves. For example, during my keynote and conference appearances – more often than not – it is the women who ask me the most questions and they are also more inspired to adopt new ideas and ideals.  Though extremely curious, it’s often balanced with a bit of skepticism    – after all, they don’t want to be fooled or taken advantage of.   My experiences have taught me that women leaders need to trust a person before they will endorse what they have to say.   Many just want to know that there is legitimacy behind the opportunity.

As I’ve learned from my women bosses and mentors, they want things to be authentic yet practical. These women leaders enjoy a good challenge – and seek to find meaning and purpose from each circumstance they face and opportunity they are given.  They like to see and understand the connectivity of thoughts and how they work or why they don’t.   They want all the facts and figures before making important decisions.

Competitiveness amongst themselves may really be about looking for validation — an identity that matters and a voice that is heard.  Successful women leaders don’t rely on favors; they earn respect   and truly believe they can influence their own advancement by serving others.  Consummate team players, they also seek to prove their value and self-worth by exceeding performance expectations..  Looking for respect more than recognition, the most successful women leaders don’t seek to become the star of the show — but they enable others to create a great show.  In other words,   being in the spotlight is not what drives them – but rather it’s the ability to influence positive outcomes with maximum impact.

One thing is certain: these women leaders understand survival, renewal and reinvention. They have grit and are not afraid to fight for what they believe in or an opportunity to achieve something of significance. They believe in what they stand for, but that doesn’t mean they won’t put their ideas and ideals to the test.  For them, doing more with less is simply a matter of knowing how to strategically activate those around them.

While women leaders have their productivity secrets, it’s not secret where they come from:  the leadership traits that women leaders naturally possess and – based on my personal and professional experiences  – are the most undervalued.

1.  Opportunity-driven

When confronted with a challenge, the women I know look for the opportunity within. They see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty.  They push the boundaries and, when faced with adverse circumstances, they learn all they can from it.  Optimism is their mindset because they see opportunity in everything.

Estée Lauder, the child of Hungarian immigrant parents, was quite the opportunist in the cosmetics industry. During the postwar consumer boom, women wanted to start sampling cosmetic products before buying them. Lauder noticed and responded to this shifting dynamic by pioneering two marketing techniques that are commonly used today: the free gift and the gift-with-purchase. It’s exactly this type of inventiveness that other women use to pursue the opportunities in front of them.

2.  Strategic

Women see what often times others don’t see.  As one of my women mentors told me, “A woman’s lens of skepticism oftentimes forces them to see well beyond the most obvious details before them.  They enjoy stretching their perspective to broaden their observations.  Many women are not hesitant to peel the onion in order to get to the root of the matter.”

At times they “play the part” to test the intentions of others and to assure that they are solidly grounded and reliable. Successful women leaders know how to play the game when they have to – and can anticipate the unexpected.    They know what cards to play and keenly calculate the timing of each move they make.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn a woman leader made the word “organic” a business term.   I learned that women who enjoy the ebbs and flows of business activity also know that the best things are accomplished when they are done naturally – and unforced.  When things are happening organically, this means that they are functioning within a natural rhythm and speed – that is safer and risk adverse.

This is not to say that women are uncomfortable with risk – in fact,  they will often tackle risk head-on in order to get to the root cause of  a problem and to solve for it (they value time and money).  Women leaders who don’t allow their egos to stand in the way of good business are in the mindset of getting things done for the betterment of a healthier whole.

3.  Passionate

While women in general were historically viewed and stereotyped as emotional leaders by men, I believe they are just passionate explorers in pursuit of excellence.   When women leaders are not satisfied with the status quo, they will want to make things better.  These women leaders get things done and avoid procrastination. As another one of my women mentors said, “They enjoy order and stability and a genuine sense of control. Many women have learned not to depend upon others for their advancement and thus have a tendency to be too independent.  A woman’s independent nature is her way of finding her focus and dialing up her pursuits.”

When these women leaders are locked into what they are searching for – move out of the way.  Their passionate pursuits allow them to become potent pioneers of new possibilities.  No wonder minority women represent the largest growing segment of entrepreneurs. According to a report by the Center for Women’s Business Research, U.S. Hispanic and African American women entrepreneurs  grew at rates of 133.3% and 191.4% respectively from 1997 to 2007.

4.  Entrepreneurial

Entrepreneurship is just a way of life for many women.   They can be extremely resourceful, connect the dots of opportunity and become expert in developing the relationships they need to get the job done.   Many women leaders also see through an entrepreneurial lens to best enable the opportunities before them.    They know that to create and sustain momentum requires 100% focus on the objective   – and so they don’t enjoy being disrupted by unnecessary noise and distractions.

As one of my former women bosses told me, “Women can play into the politics of the workplace, and do so if it means adding value to the momentum they are attempting to create.”

Many women leaders find excitement and motivation by being extremely creative and resourceful when completing tasks and other duties and responsibilities –. They avoid falling too far behind on projects – knowing that if they do it will disrupt their focus and momentum.   That is why I learned never to disrupt a woman’s focus and concentration if I can avoid it.

My former female boss continued by saying, “This is why women like control.  Not necessarily to be in charge, but to not lose the rhythm or compromise the momentum they need to accomplish their goals.”

5.  Purposeful and Meaningful

I have found that many women leaders enjoy inspiring others to achieve. They know what it’s like to be the underdog and work hard not to disappoint themselves and others.  Women leaders in particular often have high standards and their attention to detail makes it difficult for others to cut corners or abuse any special privileges.

Women leaders with a nurturing nature are good listeners and excellent networkers/connecters. They enjoy creating ecosystems and support acollaborative leadership style that melds the thinking and ideas of others; this is what multiplies the size of an opportunity and/or its speed in execution in order to create a larger sphere of influence and overall impact.  Women who don’t have to be right all the time make good consensus builders and will more likely enjoy participating in a team environment.

6.  Traditions and Family

Whether at home or at work, women are often the glue that keeps things together and that is why they represent great leadership for America’s future.  When they sense growing tensions that can lead to potential problems or inefficiencies, the most successful women leaders enjoy taking charge before circumstances force their hand.   Women are usually the ones to secure the foundational roots of the family and to protect family and cultural traditions from wavering. They provide the leadership within the home and in the workplace to assure that legacies remain strong by being fed with the right nutrients and ingredients.

The most successful women leaders are big believers in team building and the enforcement of mission, goals and values to assure that everyone is on the same page with like intentions.  This secures a sense of continuity making it easier for everyone to have each other’s backs.  No wonder women are assuming more management and leadership roles in family owned businesses.

To the great women in my personal and professional life, thank you for the opportunity to be inspired and mentored by your leadership (you know who you are).  I’ve read many things about women in the workplace and their lack of advancement into senior executive roles and in the boardroom.  Rarely have I read something from a man who has been inspired and influenced by the wisdom of a woman’s leadership.  Hopefully this perspective helps awaken more of us to the opportunity of learning about leadership from the women in our lives, whether in the home or at work.

Women: Are We to Blame for the Glass Ceiling?

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Enough about the glass ceiling.

There’s nothing wrong with talking about barriers for growth for women in the workplace, but much of the conversation today paints the proverbial glass ceiling as if it’s something women have no control over.

That sounds like victimhood to me. Women do have control, and in some ways, are to blame for the glass ceiling’s continued existence.

As a woman, I have spent my whole career working in a male-dominated world. It’s true that men generally make more money. They are also promoted more and, according to a recent story in The Wall Street Journal, they make up 66 percent of middle management, 86 percent of the overall executive suite and 96 percent of CEO positions.

We work just as hard as men and therefore we deserve to be paid equally. But while there are many women’s organizations demanding equality in the workplace, I would argue that these groups are actually doing more of a disservice than they are breaking the glass. Demanding something of someone never solves problems; it just Band-Aids the issue. If the problem were actually solved, we wouldn’t be having this conversation 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was signed into law.

While we’ve made some good progress over the years, I believe some of the choices we have made have held us back from shattering this metaphoric barrier. Do you really want to get promoted just to fulfill a mandatory quota? Does that achieve true success? I would argue not.

Here’s why I believe we hold ourselves back:

We place too much weight on the existence of the glass ceiling. 
Perception is reality, and because we waste a lot of energy believing and put up with the idea that there is this metaphoric barrier in our way, it’s killing our confidence. Everyone faces obstacles in their careers – even men. If you really want to get ahead you must tune out that noise and just go for it. When we pay attention to this so-called glass ceiling, we give it validation and, in turn, invalidate ourselves. Just because there is an obstacle in your way doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Figure out a way to climb over it or maneuver around it. And if you figure out that you are at a dead end in your current job, do something about it.

We make choices and then complain about them. 
The women who complain about inequality in the workplace are often the same women who want flexible work schedules or other benefits so that they can have it all. For many, having it all means deciding that you want to have a career and raise a family – and that’s ok. You can have it all. However, you can’t expect to be the CEO of a large multinational corporation if you don’t put in the time to get there. And let’s not forget that, according to a recent survey of 4,000 employees at big companies, 36 percent of men said they want to be CEO, whereas only 18 percent of woman said the same. Let’s acknowledge the choices we make and not blame others for the results.

We are mean to each other.
This is the No. 1 reason why we hurt ourselves and keep the glass ceiling intact. We do very little to help ourselves in this area. According to a 2012 report by the Federal Aviation Administration on workplace bullying, 68 percent of workplace bullying is same-sex harassment and of that 68 percent, 80 percent of cases are women-on-women harassment. So ladies, what does that say? Why should men respect us if we don’t respect ourselves?

Years ago during my tenure on Wall Street, I found myself navigating through a promotion and the transition was a bit bumpy. Most of my colleagues were helpful and supportive as I worked out the kinks. However, many of the women I worked with were the ones to be avoided. Rather than cheering me on, they were waiting for me to fail and made it clear that they had no interest in helping me succeed. It left me wondering: If we cannot mentor and support each other, if we cannot set aside the pettiness and cattiness to lend a hand to each other, then how on earth can we expect men to?

There is a need for change for women in the workplace, but as with anything, change starts with us. We must believe we can have it all, accept our choices and then form strong alliances with each other. Demanding men treat us in a way that we don’t even treat ourselves is counterproductive and, in the end, will ensure the glass ceiling always exists. -Lindsay Broder

10 Steps to Executive-Level Confidence

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Making the move from middle management to the executive suite requires a healthy dose of confidence. Executives have to make critical, wide-reaching decisions, often with limited information and time—then persuade others to execute those decisions. Self-assurance is a must.

Yet gaining confidence can be a struggle. The “Impostor Syndrome” is real:  researchers at Georgia State University found that 33% of the high-achieving adults they interviewed did not feel they deserved their success. The Imposter Syndrome meant that sufferers opted out of important career opportunities, to their financial and personal detriment.

Women in particular struggle with confidence. They often are less adept at moving forward after setbacks, reading temporary failures as permanent deficiencies, and they often have smaller professional social safety nets than men.

The good news is that confidence can be learned, like any career skill. Here are 10 steps that can have you operating from a place of power:

1) When in doubt, act. It’s the difference between running and stagnant water. When you’re stagnant, doubt and insecurities breed like mosquitoes. Dale Carnegie wrote that “inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.” Fear of failure can paralyze us, as we almost always overestimate the consequences. Build your confidence instead by taking action, often.

2) Do something outside your comfort zone each day. If we don’t stretch our comfort zones, they shrink. Constantly challenge and improve yourself, and you’ll become comfortable doing new things—and you will establish your identity (both to yourself and others) as someone who takes risks. Each new thing you try adds to your knowledge and skill base, and provides you with a foundation of competence. This is the bedrock of any successful career.

3) Put the focus on others. Choose to be conscious of others instead of self-conscious. Ask people questions. Turn conversations into a game where you try to find a connection with the other person. Give compliments generously, and volunteer to help others when you can. Looking for the best in others will help you see it in yourself.

4) Cultivate mentors. Their advice and connections are invaluable, plus you will make better decisions about opportunities thanks to their objective assessments of the pros and cons. And you will be much more willing to take risks knowing you have supporters who will help you get back up on your feet if you fail.

5) Keep self-talk positive. It’s hard to feel confident if someone puts you down all the time. It’s impossible if that naysayer is you. Watch how you talk to yourself. Is it how you would talk to a friend? If not, then make a change.

6) Eliminate negative people from your network. You absolutely need to invite and be receptive to constructive criticism if you want to grow as a professional and as an individual. But recognize that some people will never be happy with you or with life, and it is a waste of time to try to convince them of your worth.  What’s more, their sour outlook on life is contagious. Learn to identify these people quickly, and move on.

7) Take care of your health. Make time for exercise, and get enough rest. Your body must be physically ready to take on challenges.

8) Do your homework. Keep up-to-date on the news in your industry, and know your company and department inside and out. If you have a challenging task ahead, prepare and practice in your mind. Nothing builds confidence like knowledge and preparation.

9) Watch your body language. Your posture and overall appearance affect both your mental state and how others perceive (and thus respond) to you. If you want to be a leader, you have to dress and act the part. Stand and sit up straight, make eye contact, and remember to smile. Wear the professional clothing of your industry. Eliminate the telltale signs of nervousness: excessive twitching, closed-off posturing (crossed arms and legs, hunched shoulders), and shallow breathing.

10) Practice gratitude daily. In a recent study of how successful people spend the first hour of each day, the No. 1 response was investing time in thinking about the things for which they are most grateful. Starting your day by saying “thank you” for the good in your life makes it more likely that you will approach the day’s challenges with the proper perspective.

Like public speaking or leadership, confidence is a professional skill that can be improved. According to Dr. Peter Buckley of Georgia Regents University, “As you add experiences, you’re more likely to gain confidence. And with confidence, you will embrace new experiences.” Start growing your confidence today.

Becky Blalock is the author of the new book, “Dare: Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage, and Career for Women in Charge.” You can take a free quiz to measure your current confidence level at her website,BeckyBlalock.com.

Women and Today’s Culture

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Today’s culture will make a change on its own when it comes to men and women and their resilience and success in the workplace. Today’s culture calls for more empathy, nurturing careers and listening to employees.

Never before, have there been 4 generations in the workplace all speaking a different language with different motivators as to why they are there and how they create value for the organization.

I am finding in my consulting engagements that men are having a more difficult time with managing the generation gap. Not because they don’t have the skill set but because many of them still believe in a hierarchal style of management or that women are not equal to men when it comes to experience and ability. Especially many male baby boomers, who are still caught up in how they were treated or better yet how they rose to their current positions. They want their subordinates, especially the Millenniums to adhere to this same principal.

Unfortunately this just doesn’t work and talent is lost as a result of that. Women on the other hand just naturally possess a more nurturing attitude, empathy and the patience to listen. Perhaps it is because they themselves have struggled for acceptance and acknowledgement. I’m not suggesting that they mother these quick witted, sometimes impatient entitlement acting Millenniums, I am saying that they have a wiser way of hearing them out and coaching them in what they need.

We all wake up in the morning and turn off our alarm clock and tune into station WIIFM. “What’s In It For Me”? These are called our intrinsic motivators, it’s what makes us get up in the morning go to work and “kick some…..” It’s when we get to work and those motivators are compromised that we turn up the sound of station WIIFM and tune others , often our supervisors, out. The workplace is full of everyone wanting what they want and it’s all based on what they value and that is what initiates their behavior.

In my coaching and consulting experience I find that men have more difficulty “giving them what they need” versus “giving them what they want them to have”. Women on the other hand have figured out that if you can create a motivating environment by listening to what employees need to be productive, they are able to keep all 4 generations feeling valued.

This is why I believe the culture itself will make a change as women will eventually make their way up the ladder and they will be much more effective as leaders. Ultimately this will cause the gender gap to narrow. Not every organization will embrace this and not every male manager is stuck in the behavioral model they learned. I was fortunate to have worked in an organization in my mid-twenties and broke through the glass ceiling thanks to some wonderful male role models.

My advice to women is to not get caught up in “this glass ceiling affect”. Do your job well, expect to be recognized and you will be. It is changing, perhaps not fast enough but I guarantee you that the younger generation in the workplace does not see gender, they see talent and equality and one day they will be running our organizations. Hang in there…a change is gonna come.

-Sharon Jenks, President of The Jenks Group, Inc. http://www.thejenksgroup.com