What Women Can Do To "Lean In" To Leadership

What Women Can Do To "Lean In" To Leadership

Patricia Pippert, M.A.

Word Count: 860 words
Time to Read: 2 minutes

According to Sheryl Sandberg, in her recent much-debated book, Lean In, women are not making it to the top of their professions anywhere in the world:

  • out of 100 global heads of state, only 9 are women
  • in the corporate sector, women in C-suite jobs top out at 15-16% (a number which hasn’t changed since 2002)
  • in the non-profit sector (often considered a bastion of women-led organizations), only 20% of the top positions are held by women.

So what can women - currently in managerial and supervisory positions - do right now to ensure they turn those positions into leadership roles and set examples for other women?

First, don’t forget the basics of what makes a leader.  According to Hilary Owen in USA Today:

"Management is based on order and control and makes use of sophisticated processes. It came into being during the Industrial Revolution, when a mass of uneducated workers needed to be marshaled. Leadership, on the other hand, is about expressing the human spirit - the real source of greatness… We have to shift from a dependency state to one of participation in which everyone uses his or her own power and potential to serve and fulfill a purpose.”

It is generally agreed that women are more natural nurturers than their male counterparts.  Rather than that being considered a flaw - could this nurturing be a woman leader’s power?  Nurturing can be put to productive use in the workplace as women coach and develop their employees (particularly other women) and lead them to achieving a greater purpose for their organizations.  Leadership/nurturing includes:

  • communicating regularly with employees – sharing need-to-know as well as nice-to-know information to build trust and develop open dialogue with those employees
  • communicating with management and peers to strategically build a network 
  • giving effective feedback (up, down, and across), whether it’s positive reinforcement or constructive, to bring out everyone’s best
  • delegating work to (a) help develop others and (b) free up time to assume more visible opportunities
  • coach employees to improve skills or behaviors that are substandard or unproductive as well as coaching employees to take skills that are already above average, and take them to a new level
  • resolve conflict between parties that may be negatively impacting productivity and help others to learn to resolve their own conflicts in the future.

Sandberg gives three pieces of advice that are appropriate for women hoping to build their leadership skills:

1.  Sit at the table
Women have a tendency to underestimate their abilities.  When they are successful at work, they say, “I succeeded because someone helped me” or “I was lucky” or “I worked hard.”  Some might interpret “sit at the table” as meaning try to do it all - a temptation that women have struggled with for years.  True leaders know (or have learned) how to effectively delegate tasks and responsibilities to others so that they can sit at the table, take on higher visibility projects, and lend their talents to more productive work.  Also, leaders coach their associates (other women) to greater heights and to ensure that they, too, are reaching for opportunities.

2.  Make your partner a real partner.
Again, delegation is key.  Since women have a propensity to need to do everything themselves, they don’t let go of projects or tasks - at home or at work.  In families where both the husband and wife have full-time jobs outside the home - women are doing 3 times the child care and 2 times the housework once they’re home from the office.  And at the office, they repeat this kind of behavior when they try to do everything instead of making their “partners” at work (colleagues, peers, employees) real partners by delegating tasks to them.

3.  Don’t leave before you leave.
Because many women become pregnant while employed and intend to take some portion of the maternity leave their organizations offer, they start planning that maternity leave months in advance.  They begin, in Sandberg’s words “quietly leaning back”.  They don’t raise their hand for opportunities as they once did, they remove themselves from task force or project teams, and they start “down-shifting” long before they need to.  The problem that creates is - have they made the job less interesting for themselves to return to?  Most new mothers say they feel overwhelming guilt at leaving their new-born to return to the job so it had best be an interesting job they’re coming back to.  They can ensure it’s interesting (and fun!) by working through, and helping others work through, any conflict that might exist, by building a trusting, cohesive team, and by exemplifying what constitute effective communication.

At Wolf Management Consultants, we apply the latest research-based techniques to help women in leadership step up to the role so as to advance their careers and be seen in the same light as their male counterparts. Our 2-day program, Leadership Skills for Women, is a customized program for women currently in leadership roles or those women who aspire to become leaders. For further information, contact us at (858) 638-8260 or on the web at www.wolfmotivation.com.



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