Exploring Female Leadership: Obligation or Opportunity? A Female Leader’s Role in Growing Female Talent: Part 4

December 15, 2014 | Lexy Thompson | HCI
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Here we are, the conclusion of our 4 part series on the current state of Women in Leadership. I would like to start by thanking you all for taking this ride with me; I hope it’s been as enjoyable and interesting for you as it has for me. Though all of the research for this series has been intriguing and eye-opening, I have to admit what I am about to share is probably the most relevant.

What do women in leadership have to say? What’s really going on out there?

Common Ground

When you interview a couple dozen senior female leaders across the country running companies of all different sizes and industries, you hold your breath and keep your fingers crossed that they all have some things in common. Otherwise, all the work you’ve put in is for naught, and you have to write a conclusion that is less than conclusive.

Luckily, that is not the case here! In fact, almost every leader interviewed addressed three primary issues similarly: 1. Understanding “Management versus Leadership”, 2. The mentors willing to open doors for them, and 3. Female confidence.

Understanding Management Versus Leadership

Almost unanimously, it was agreed that management was different from leadership, but both were connected. In general, participants felt that, in nature,  

Management is pragmatic. Leadership is strategic.

Dawne Hickton, CEO of RTI International Metals, Inc., put it simply – “It’s important to recognize there’s a blend of both. Every good manager should also be a good leader, but it’s not necessarily true that every good leader is a good manager.”

What does this mean for young women aspiring to brave the ranks and lead? It means they need development – not just “training” on how to have a tough conversation or different management styles, but development into leaders. One participant mentioned that she was frustrated there wasn’t any training available in the market to help develop potential candidates from being task driven to being vision driven.

If no such training exists, how did these women get to where they are today? Did you guess the answer? Yep, mentors (aside from hard work and excellent performance of course!).

The Mentors Who Opened Doors for Them

If you read the article I wrote on this last year, then that title may have a familiar ring to it. I raised the same question we’re exploring today – where are all the female mentors? What I discovered was that there simply weren’t many females in leadership roles, if any at all. The mentors of executives today were primarily male. Most of the participants relayed that while they had many informal mentors, most of them were males who recognized their potential as high performing talent.

This is great, because, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, all leaders are responsible for development, especially of high performing talent. But, what was most important to take away from these conversations was that all of these women inarguably felt the mentorship of these men was integral to how they succeeded.

What can we deduce from this?

Mentors open the door for you. Your performance and contribution are what get you in the door and keep you inside.

The point I want to drive home here is that, like the men these women spoke of, female leaders shouldn’t be developing talent simply because they’re female, but because they show up, work hard, and produce high quality work. When those females come along, they are 100% worth your mentorship!

Female Confidence

This one is tough, because there are a variety of reasons and double standards that may create circumstances that prevent women from being, or displaying, confidence. Confidence in who someone is, the value they add, and their abilities as a leader.

In part 3, we discussed the “B” word, having to “have it all”, and unequal pay. These are very real factors that affect women every day. What became very clear through the interview process was that these women did not allow these factors, or any other gender specific ones, to stop them from their pursuit.

Confidence affects so many factors of being a leader. Kaye Ceille, President of Zipcar, was particularly fervent about how men typically come off as more confident than women. If you lack this confidence, you’ll be eclipsed by your peers with equal skills and qualifications. She urges,

We need to help women develop confidence.
I am a product of that

In conjunction with other things, confidence allowed her to take feedback constructively and grow from it, rather than shrink from the challenge.

Susan Brady, EVP of Linkage Inc., felt that confidence and self-worth were some of the most important factors holding women back from their full leadership potential. Though she felt “confidence is something you can build, self-worth is not”. She argues that your inner-critic causes more distress in achieving your goals as a leader than any externalities could. In her book The 30-second Guide to Coaching Your Inner Critic, Susan has managed to find a way to mentor women on a massive scale on how to shut the devil on their shoulder up. As is evident by the reviews of her book, many women have found immeasurable value in her advice.

As if to intentionally sum it all up, Dawne comments on confidence by saying,

The most successful women I’ve seen are smart, they’re sharp, they do their job, they come in and they’re themselves.

The Importance of Mentorship

If there is anything I want you take away from all of this, it’s that mentorship is critical for ALL prospective leaders. For those of you who don’t feel women need an extra nudge, you’re wrong – the numbers and reality prove otherwise.

The idea isn’t to develop someone solely because they are female– the idea is that there is a gap, a detrimental one, and it needs to be filled. Taking the blinders off to look more acutely at this gap is strategic and smart – it’s what leaders are expected to do. So, if you’re a female leader, take the 30 minutes someone is requesting of you. Aid a fellow female because you were in her shoes and remember how helpful one open door can be. Don’t neglect the males, but don’t shirk your responsibility as a female in leadership. Most of you think it’s vital anyway!

Remember, knowledge is power. With great power, comes great responsibility.