Tuesday, September 29, 2009

5 Tips for Women to Become Leaders

What does it take for you to rise to the top of your career? Do you think that what it takes to become a leader depends on whether you're a man or a woman? This was a question recently explored in a column I did for Gannett:

Why do some women get to the top of the career ladder while others fall off or get stuck halfway up?

According to a new book, the key difference may be that women at the top all have one thing in common: They have found ways to be happy in their professional and personal life, which seems to give them that extra something needed to succeed.

“How Remarkable Women Lead,” (Crown, $27.50) by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston is, the authors say, based on five years of world-wide research and more than 100 personal and in-depth interviews with women leaders from around the world.

The book comes at a time when the number of women in the upper ranks – and what gets them there – has generated a lot of discussion. The number of female CEOs on the Fortune 500 is 3 percent, with slow progress in the number of female directors, officers and high-paid company earners. Further, even while women earn about six in 10 college degrees, women leaders under development continues to lag in comparison to men.

Women also continue to debate the issue of having a career and a family life, but Barsh and Cranston say there was no dilemma for the females leaders they interviewed.

“Our women saw ‘work-life balance’ for what it is – an unattainable goal. They love their child and they love their work. There was no either/or. Accepting ‘and’ filled them with energy,” Barsh says.

Barsh, director of McKinsey & Co., and Cranston, a McKinsey Leadership fellow, say their research shows that successful women leaders all share five building blocks of leadership:

1. They believe their jobs have meaning. “Men work for pay or for attention, but for these women, they want to make a difference,” Barsh says. The happiness they get from their jobs is motivating and gives them purpose, she says.

2. They confront life in a constructive way. “They step outside of negative or pessimistic feelings, and re-frame how they see the situation,” Barsh says. This “positive framing” gives them clarity, energy and flexibility, she adds.

3. They work at building connections. By having strong relationships with colleagues and team members, the female leader is able to share her passion and vision, and that inspires others “to make extraordinary commitment to the work, too,” the authors say. Women leaders practice inclusiveness and collaboration at all levels, they add.

4. They put aside their own fears to make things happen. The women spoke up for themselves, took chances and seized opportunities. “Our interviews suggest that fear drives many women to set an unrealistically high bar that would stop anyone,” the authors write.

5. They find the source of their energy. “For me, my strength is built by beauty. So it means that I look at art or listen to music when I need to re-charge. Other people may find being alone and quiet builds their energy and strength, or that being around other people energizes them. It’s whatever works for you,” Barsh says. She notes that women leaders advised avoiding “energy drainers,” whether it was a specific person or task. “One woman called them energy vampires,” Barsh says.

Barsh says she wrote the book because she wanted to figure out what it took for more women to rise to the top of the ranks. She says that the women leaders who were interviewed shared “the good, the bad and the ugly” of their careers, citing their failures and successes.

“I think one clear pattern did emerge when addressing the biggest obstacle for women becoming leaders and it was this: Sometimes women get in their own way,” Barsh says. “These women all said that more women need to take ownership of their careers and become more self-aware of what it takes for them to be successful.”

The research also showed that the successful women leaders all had someone who helped them along the way, especially by senior-level men and women “who stuck out their necks to create opportunities,” Barsh says.

What do you believe is important for women to become leaders?


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Blogger David Benjamin said...

This is a very interesting topic. I believe for more women to become leaders, current women leaders need to flourish and be recognized.

There was a time when African Americans weren't allowed to play in Major league baseball. Once Jackie Robinson and others paved the way, proved that they belong the floodgates opened.(Racism aside)

We all know that women are just as capable as a man of becoming a leader. As more strive for that goal, more will reach it.

We have our 1st Black president, times are changing. I only hope that women get the same opportunity as men to prove themselves.

September 29, 2009 10:39 AM  
Blogger Anita said...

I believe times are changing, but at the same time, as a working woman, I know that we've got to do more to be supportive of one another. More of us need to mentor other women (no matter our age), and we need more men like you to network with and help support us. Thanks for your comments.

September 29, 2009 10:50 AM  
Anonymous Anthony said...

I agree that there's a lot of work left to do. I think these posts and books (like How Remarkable Women Lead) keep the topic on people's minds, or at least on women's minds. I often hear people say that various social stigmas are gone, but we know women are still struggling to maintain equality in the workplace. Issues like this need to continue to be discussed because otherwise everyone will operate as if nothing has to change--and that's just not true.

September 29, 2009 5:25 PM  
Blogger Anita said...

I think one thing that was interesting to me about this issue was how the women were able to be happy in both their private and professional lives, and the happiness in one was key to the other. I hope other women will come to understand that it doesn't have to be "either/or" for them.
Thanks for your comments.

September 29, 2009 5:45 PM  
Blogger Tiffany Winbush said...

Thanks for the tips Anita. There are a number of organizations who work to ensure women are leaders in every aspect of public and private companies. I have the opportunity to attend THe White House Project's New York Go Run training this weekend. The organization is dedicated to helping women become leaders, especially in the political field. This type of training and encouragement would be helpful throughout all fields. And as you mentioned, mentoring is extremely important.

October 9, 2009 10:12 AM  

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