by Carol Vallone Mitchell
Five of the 23 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 work at technology-sector companies. Two of the five women run a company in the Silicon Valley. These statistics are surprising for an industry that has been regularly labeled a ‘boy’s club’ and spotlighted for its dearth of women in leading roles.
But, it’s not surprising when you review the culture of the companies helmed by women. The culture is one of innovation, where risk-taking and openness to new ideas leads to the creation of new products, markets, customers, and opportunities.
Studies indicate that women are more likely than men to have the type of competencies needed to thrive and lead in this culture. Successful women leaders use a collaborative leadership style that is infused with the characteristics of emotional intelligence and encourages talented people to be creative. My research on gender differences in leadership style, which resulted in the women’s leadership profile of success described in my book Breaking Through “Bitch”: How Women Can Shatter Stereotypes and Lead Fearlessly, confirms these findings.
The key qualities and outcomes of this innovation-driving style are:
1. Empathy: develops teams
Empathy allows leaders to relate to others, build emotional connections with their employees, and establish bonds among them. This sense of community facilitates information sharing which is a necessary component of leading and managing innovation and change.
2. Self-awareness: builds trust
By being in touch with their feelings and those of others, leaders use their emotions to guide decisions and facilitate creative conflict resolution. Self-aware leaders understand how they are being perceived and therefore know how to modify their behavior so that others can relate to them and engage with them. Their trustworthiness encourages people to “stick-out-their necks” because taking risks fuels innovation.
3. Inclusiveness: promotes idea sharing
Leaders who are democratic involve others in problem solving and brainstorming. They do not assume that they always have the best answer. Empathy paired with inclusiveness keeps creativity, ideas, and innovation flowing. In an environment where people are hired for their knowledge and capabilities, it makes good business sense to actually tap into their strengths and skillset.
4. Erasing hierarchy: breaks down communication barriers
In order to encourage collaboration, leaders can do a variety of things that diminish the boundaries that heirarchy creates.
They establish a common ground with others in the organization by providing a platform to have casual conversations about mutual interests which creates rapport. These connections balance the difference between a leader and those on different “rungs of the ladder” in the organization.
They assume other people can keep up with them, which erases any air of superiority and replaces it with a relateable and approachable persona that encourages employees to step forward with their ideas.
They distribute decision-making and engage teams in ways that make them feel like owners in the enterprise. By letting others take the lead while coaching and guiding them, they become partners in achievement.
5. Cultural & political savvy: forms pathways & connections
Successful leaders are astute at grasping a culture’s or group’s dynamic and determining how to best use that knowledge to take action. They know how to navigate the power network of the organization and help their teams seed their ideas in fertile ground.
6. Communicating insights & vision: inspires others’ thinking
By thinking outside of the box and having the cognitive horsepower to gain credibility with their teams, successful leaders take a broad, long-range view of the world and observe trends that will impact their organization. They “connect-the-dots” by deciphering significance out of a jumble of voluminous information. They share their insights in a simple and straightforward manner so that others can easily understand them and not be intimidated. These leaders often inspire others to think outside the box.
Although men and women demonstrate many of the same leadership competencies, successful women exhibit them differently than men. And that difference makes all the difference.
These women are assertive, yes; driving, yes; in control, yes; but they have filed smooth the hard edges associated with stereotypical male authoritative leadership. They have infused the best stereotypical female qualities into their leadership style. It is those qualities, as listed above, that are the secret recipe for creating a sustainably innovative culture.
In striving toward innovation, today’s organizations benefit from a culture that emphasizes risk-taking and openness to ideas. The leaders who nurture these cultural attributes build trust through empathy, self-awareness, and inclusiveness. They also erase hierarchy, employ cultural and political savvy, and translate a vision. These skills are already the hallmarks of successful women leaders. Let us allow them to show us the way to sustainable innovation in not just the technology sector but in all types of organizations.
To learn more about women-led innovation