Cover of The Web of Inclusion
Last week I spoke at a program sponsored by the Iowa Newspaper Foundation, Connie Wimer, and Business Publications. The program was titled "Inspiring Women Leaders: Our Influence in Iowa's Newspapers." It was a unique opportunity for women in the industry to hear from other experienced women in the industry who were on panels sharing their perspectives. I was asked to share my perspectives on leadership and I focused on why women's voices are needed now.
Basically the forces shaping our world today are creating a perfect storm for which women leaders are needed to change the conditions and to calm things down. We are living and working in a 24/7 world where the lines are blurred between when work starts and stops and life begins and ends. Organizations are struggling with rapid and unpredictable changes as demographics, technology, and the economics of work has shifted. Based on research (relying heavily from the work of Sally Helgesen, author of The Web of Inclusion and The Female Vision: Women's Real Power at Work), women leaders bring to the workplace these characteristics:
- We place a high value on relationships and judged the success of their organizations based on the quality of relationships within them.
- We prefer direct communication to communication up and down a chain of command.
- We are comfortable with diversity having been outsiders themselves.
- We are often unwilling and maybe unable to compartmentalize their lives so we can draw from personal experience to bring insights to our positions.
- We are skeptical of hierarchies and dislike perks and privileges that reinforce a pecking order in the hierarchy.
- We prefer leading from the center rather than the top and structure organizations to reflect this.
- We prefer asking big-picture questions about our work and the value in the world.
Here is the perfect storm—Organizations need these skills now more than ever!
- Relationship-building used to be considered a “soft skill” that tough, command and control leaders could not afford. Now relationships RULE—with customers, suppliers, employees, all stakeholders. If you are not good at building relationships, someone is blogging about it and customers are writing complaints on your website! 20 years ago Fortune Magazine featured “America’s Toughest Boos” in a recurring cover story. That was dropped and now they publish their annual cover story of 100 best places to work.
- Technology facilitates direct communication, networked technologies undermine hierarchies which helps leading from the center. A more holistic approach with an emphasis on green, sustainability, and inclusion.
- Diversity is inevitable in a global economy. As work and home become more integrated, compartmentalizing becomes a liability and we have an advantage.
Female leadership characteristics that about 20 years ago seemed far outside the mainstream are now seen as desirable and necessary to succeed. What used to be considered "feminine leadership" is now being advocated by men and women as the leadership characteristics needed today.
Women like to lead from the center and Helgesen popularized the word "web" as a way to describe organizational structures that are not hierarchical, but that weave people together. With the networks being used today, webs are more valuable than ever.
As I like to say, "leadership is a relationship and not a position" and we need leaders at all levels and in all organizations–profit and not-for-profit. We are woven together whether we like it or not so start leading from the center.