Monday, August 13, 2012

Working for Women

Last week there was some interesting articles about how the number of women GC's in the Fortune 500 had grown, which as it often does led to a number of articles about how women lead differently than men.  Which, in turn, led the commentariat to either shout out about how women are better than men, women are the same as men and the odd neanderthal here or there lending their opinion that women belong at home taking care of the babies.  I find the direction the conversation goes whenever women leaders is mentioned to be both sad and humorous.

In my purely non-scientific, anecdotal experience, I like working for strong women best - and weak women least, with strong and weak men sandwiched in between.  While this is my preference, I don't pretend that it would work for everyone.  I like strong female leaders because they tend to have the best characteristics of strong male leaders (great business acumen, charismatic, forward thinking, decisive, etc.) and a flavor of more traditionally female traits (nurturing, caring, wanting to invest in future generations, etc.). Because of that they make great mentors.

Strong female leaders across all industries tend to take more time to develop the talent working for them.  Not by coddling, but by challenging and providing learning opportunities.  They tend to play the office politics/business politics better.  So well, that you rarely know they're playing until after the game is over and they've won.  They tend to be more open to ideas other than their own, and more willing to share credit when the idea succeeds.  Of course, they'll throw you under the bus in a heart beat if you're incompetent or worse, wasting your talent.

None of this is to say that men couldn't be just as effective.  Some are.  Men tend to say they are all business and don't want to let the politics of "feelings" get in the way of profits.  In reality, men bring just as much drama to the table, sometimes more.  But their general refusal to acknowledge it makes it much more disruptive.  A strong male leader will also take the time to mentor or build the talent under them, but most do it with the intention of bettering their own circumstance.  It's a subtle difference, but one that changes the skills and benefits that the mentored get out of the relationship.  Rather than identifying a weakness in the mentored, and helping them build on it, male leaders tend to identify people with raw talent in the areas that the leader is weak and help them build upon it.

Any strong leader can get good results, and one is lucky to work for either type of leader.   The rest is personal preference, and personally I favor "Girl Power".  However, now that I'm the mother of three boys, I'm always looking for ways of developing strong leadership skills in them that transcends gender.  Any advice on that front is always appreciated.

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