Are Women Leaders Different From Men?

In recognition of National Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day last week (March 8), I want to encourage women to step up and be leaders.
As a female leader, I am often asked “are women leaders different from men?” Perhaps people expect a discussion about the relative strengths and weaknesses of each gender regarding leadership positions. But I think this is the wrong question. Primarily because we wade into murky waters when trying to generalize about a full half of the population based on gender alone. We are so much more than our gender. We are a product of our environment, our culture, our genetics, our worldview.
And yet. Gender does, of course, play an enormous role in our lives and our lived experiences. And so, while I will steer clear of addressing that particular question, I will instead address what research shows regarding how gender affects the way that many women handle the opportunity for leadership.
 Leadership is about motivating people, inspiring people, creating a culture that augments high performance, accountability, results and thriving. Becoming a leader can be stressful, it can be confusing and confounding, and it can be exhilarating. And, of course women, as well as men, can excel at these tasks, if they choose to undertake them.
The research, however, suggests women are more hesitant to step into these roles, considering themselves unprepared or unworthy. As recent events have reminded us, the world could stand to have more women’s voices in leadership positions, so I would encourage women to seek them.
Based on my own experience, I encourage women to:
Seek Mentors: Don’t be shy. Just ask. Make sure to ask someone you admire. Most people are more than willing to help. But also remember you are a capable human being. Don’t follow advice blindly. Does the advice line up with your own ethical standards? Does it make sense? Is there something about it that is unclear or makes you uncomfortable?
Be Ready: Research (and Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In) suggests that women hesitate when offered a new opportunity. Don’t turn down an opportunity that someone else thinks you are qualified for due to either unnecessary modesty or lack of self confidence. Some research has shown that women only apply for a job if they think they have 100% of the listed qualifications. Men feel qualified if they meet 60% of the qualifications.
Observe: those around you. Emulate people you respect. Also, as a leader, take the time to understand the history and culture of your organization. It is important to have this understanding so you can assess what, if anything needs to change, how fast you can lead change, whether it will be welcome or resisted and whether it is the best thing to be doing with these people at this time.
Never Compromise on ethics or integrity. This seems obvious, but the higher you climb the institutional hierarchy, the more politics comes into play.
Identify people you can trust versus those who are trying to please you. Again, the higher you go, the more of the latter you will find.
Be Resilient and Persistent: I cannot overemphasize the importance of these two qualities. Leadership involves creating a vision, developing a strategy, and executing it by having the right talent in the right places and fostering innovation and agility. You will have failures. You will hear “no.” But if you are resilient and persistent, not to mention a creative problem solver, you will find success.
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