For decades, women in business strove to become members of the boys’ club. But now, trying too hard to tap into our “masculine side” has gone the way of 1980s power wear. Women have realized that we think and communicate differently-which means that we also lead differently. And because our natural skill set is increasingly valued in the global economy, we’re perfectly positioned to become today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.
“Women already have the raw material we need to become successful leaders,” said Dr. Nancy D. O’Reilly, who along with 19 other women, cowrote the new book “Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life” (Adams Media, 2015, ISBN: 978-1-440-58417-6, $16.99, www.drnancyoreilly.com). “We just need to shift our attitudes and master the best practices to put these natural skills to work.”
To be clear, this isn’t a contest between the sexes. As one of O’Reilly’s coauthors Lois P. Frankel, PhD, points out, women aren’t better leaders than men-just different leaders.
In her book O’Reilly has brought together 20 nationally acclaimed women authors to share their advice for breaking free of women’s traditional limitations in work and community. Coauthors include New York Times and Amazon best-selling authors, corporate coaches, an Emmy Award-winning television host, and more.
Here, O’Reilly and some of her coauthors share 10 ways you can use your feminine strengths to lead like a girl:
— Reframe your ideas about power. O’Reilly’s coauthor Gloria Feldt explains that instead of seeking “power over,” women are more comfortable seeking the “power to.” Feminine power is the ability to accomplish our goals, provide for our families, and make the world a better place-and to help others do the same.
— Don’t try to be the strong, silent type. Claire Damken Brown, PhD (another coauthor), says that women’s reputation for wordiness might stem from the fact that our talk patterns are indirect and detail-driven, meaning that we usually provide more background information than men. “So as long as you stay focused on goals and practice the art of the brief response, it’s okay to use your words,” O’Reilly observes.
— Ask for help. Women have long realized the benefits of tapping into the resources and expertise of others. “Because women don’t mind admitting what we don’t know and are willing to share the credit, we are good at spotting problems and making sure they get fixed,” O’Reilly points out.
—Take to the podium, woman-style. Leading Women contributor Lois Phillips, PhD, says women have a natural affinity for public speaking. We tend to provide information to help listeners achieve their goals, rather than to establish dominance over the group or negotiate status. We also want to connect to our audience and have an innate ability to read and respond to their nonverbal cues.
—Shift your perspective (and theirs, too). Women are able not only to power through tough times, but are often able to creatively use obstacles as teachable moments and stepping stones. And a big part of this quality has to do with an ability to reframe who we think we are and what we think we deserve. (M. Bridget Cook-Burch tackles this subject in Leading Women.) “This can help your entire organization become more future-focused and productive,” says O’Reilly.
— Stop trying to network. Instead, connect. The mile-wide-inch-deep world of traditional networking often leaves us feeling cold. “It’s easy to start asking instead, ‘What can we create together?'” O’Reilly comments. “The idea is to reach out to other women, offer to share resources, and see what happens.”
—Don’t be afraid to get a little personal. “Feminine skills like showing empathy, being emotionally intelligent, being able to put others at ease, caring about their concerns, and more are now ‘must-have’ abilities for leaders,” notes O’Reilly. “And these are not ‘soft skills’; they are quite difficult to develop. As my coauthor Birute Regine, EdD, points out, no one ever succeeded in mastering relational intelligence during a two-hour seminar.”
— Extend a helping hand, especially to other women. Women know the significance of a helping hand, mutual support, and mentorship, and we value the satisfaction and meaning that come from aiding others. In the workplace, this ability can mean the difference between being a “boss” and being a “leader”-a distinction that creates employee buy-in and engagement.
—Use your collaboration skills to tap into “collective intelligence.”As Birute Regine, EdD, notes, collaboration requires participants to accurately read nonverbal cues and others’ emotions, to use empathy, to put ego aside, and to be sensitive to fairness and turn-taking. All of these are feminine skills. Furthermore, research shows that groups are most likely to display a level of creativity that’s greater than the sum of its parts when at least half the chairs around the table are occupied by women.
—Trust yourself. From the way we dress to the jobs we do to the way we spend our time, society feels especially free to tell women how to live their lives. It’s very easy to internalize those voices and allow them to shape our choices, aspirations, and dreams-a path that leads to regret for too many women. “Trust yourself and listen to your instincts,” O’Reilly urges. “They are usually right.”
“As women, it truly is our time to step up and take our place as leaders,” concludes O’Reilly. “When we focus and hone our feminine skills, we can make a positive impact on our companies, our communities, and our world.”