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Women, leadership and improved success

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Earlier this month, I had the privilege of facilitating a webcast for the Association of Talent Development, which is the world’s largest professional training organization, with 40,000 members. ATD provides important training, information, learning opportunities and services that significantly help their members.

During the webcast we discussed the critical need for more women in business leadership. This is truly the most effective way businesses are running companies right now. We must combine the proven leadership skills and talents of women with men’s leadership strengths.

We discussed how men and women generally have different, yet very compatible leadership strengths. Where men tend to be aggressive, bold and decisive, women tend to be collaborative and inclusive, caring and risk-aware. Each of these skills is equally important. Men and women together have a lot to offer, and all benefit from this dynamic combination of talent!

Let’s face it, companies should not be run by men only, or predominantly by men, or by women only. Our skills complement one another, and we need all of them to thrive in this hyper-competitive global economy. To succeed in the long term, companies need winning cultures. Women often bring a genuine concern for the spirit of the people who are working very hard to achieve outstanding results. This is critical.

Think about it. If the people of a company do not feel appreciated and valued, if they do not feel they are heard and that their ideas matter, if they are not being encouraged to learn, grow and succeed, they will lose their passion for their work, for their company, and they may lose respect for senior management. A company can have breakthrough results for a year or two or three, but they will not sustain them without strong culture.

Take a look at this: 70% of people in business in the U.S. do not feel fully engaged. About a third of these people are actively looking for a new job, and about a third do not like their boss. These statistics point to a real problem! But it’s a problem that can be resolved with careful attention and follow through.

It’s really not that difficult to develop a winning culture. First, it’s our attitude — are the senior executives thinking of their people as teammates? Do they ask for their ideas and advice? Remember, the best ideas are bottom-up ideas! Want something improved, ask the people doing that work. Empower them and they will rise to the level of your trust.

I know, senior executives are way too busy today, spending about 50% of their time in meetings. I recently spoke with a very accomplished executive who, after thinking for a minute, said he bets he spends 75% of his time in meetings.

So many managers I speak with in my work say they seldom see their top people, who tend to stick together on the executive floor or wing. In our hearts, we know this is not true leadership. We must get out of our offices and limit those endless meetings to make time to be with our team members. Conversations are the work of a leader! Let’s ask our people how they’re doing, what they need, and their opinions on what our priorities should be going forward.

Just today, a friend, an astute businessperson, told me that she worked for a company for years and contributed a great deal. When she resigned to start her own consulting practice, a senior person came to her office to speak with her about it. In her many years with the company, that was the first time he had come to her office.

Contrast that with this story: A VP of a large company said she called her EVP about an issue. He said, let’s discuss and make a decision. She asked if he would like her to come up to his office, and he said, “No, I’ll come down to your office.” That may seem like a small gesture, yet it was very thoughtful on his part. That is a senior person with the humility to reach out.

After all, the only true open-door policy is when we walk out our doors to be with our team members.

Here’s another relevant story. This summer, Bill Curtis of Porter & Curtis was in Rome on business and had dinner with a friend —  a priest from Philadelphia who is on assignment at the Vatican. The priest told Bill, “You won’t believe this, but I was working at my desk late yesterday afternoon and I hear a soft knock on my door so I look up, and there is Pope Francis! He simply asked, ‘How are you doing?’ Pope Francis likes to walk the halls and check in with his people.”

There you have it, from the top! If we’re too busy to check in with our teams, we need to change our priorities. Yes, our results are critically important, but our people and our cultures are equally important.

Do some of our senior executives think that speaking with their people is not their responsibility? I surely hope not. Remember, to sustain our success, we need strong and responsive leadership, including the emotional intelligence and soft skills that women can bring. And we need to be approachable, and reach out to build people’s confidence and enthusiasm.

Every business is a people business. It’s about our relationships, including our internal relationships. Our team members and others co-workers are our internal clients!

What can we do to raise morale and productivity?

Share leadership with women. Learn from women just as they learn from men. Also, explore emotional intelligence. With simple, daily practice, we can significantly raise our EQ and have a positive and energizing effect on our teams. If anyone would like to find out their EQ baseline, I would be happy to direct them to resources that are available.

The bottom line and takeaway from the webcast was that we must have talented men and women working together at the highest levels of our companies. That is the strongest leadership possible, and we owe it to our people.

This is not a gender issue, it is an economic issue! Stronger culture means stronger results.

John Keyser is the founder and principal of Common Sense Leadership. He works with executives helping them develop organizational cultures that will produce outstanding financial results year after year, and a striving for continuous improvement, theirs and their team’s. You can reach Keyser at [email protected] and 202-236-2800.

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