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Female Leadership: Women can be bosses – naturally female!
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Female Leadership: Women can be bosses – naturally female!

Nadin-Shirin Zimmermann

For me, female leadership means leading with female qualities and standing up for a more connected and inclusive way of working together.

The leader benefits here, especially from these three female skills, which are in no way new or surprising, but in the business context have so far been neutral at best, but tend to have negative connotations; namely:

  1. Networking Ability,
  2. integrative communication skills and
  3. Empathy.

With these future competencies, however, women are clearly in pole position when it comes to the leadership tasks of tomorrow!

Many studies show that future networking and collaboration capabilities will be the key success factor of innovative and resilient companies. And this results in leadership requirements that are often referred to as we-qualities.

For example, the Harvard Business Review also published a survey of employees in December 2020 in which the importance of managers’ ‘interpersonal skills’ was rated significantly higher than their cognitive skills during times of crisis. The result of this study was also that female managers were able to increase the engagement level of their team significantly better than their male colleagues through inspiration, motivation on the one hand and initiative and agility on the other.

And there are other skills that are now on McKinsey’s list of Future Skills and that we women were actually born with. One example of such future competencies is the ability of leaders to build and sustain relationships. McKinsey subsumes attributes such as humanity, friendliness and approachability under this heading.

So clearly: the famous “cat table” in the executive office to keep interactions and exchanges with employees as short as possible has had its day!

Now, the management task has largely consisted of ensuring the quality and efficiency of the organization and its products and services. Now, in many areas, the focus is on innovative strength and adaptability to rapidly changing conditions. Thus, resilient relationships are needed, both with employees, colleagues and customers, as well as with external organizations and companies. And this, as we all know, requires enhanced skills such as networking, integrative communication and empathy.

To illustrate the strategic relevance and urgency of networkability for future-proof companies, the following three examples are helpful:

First, very successful digital business models are emerging in which companies neither produce everything themselves (have to) nor operate all services in-house (have to), nor develop all technologies themselves (have to), but instead link – i.e., network – a wide variety of products and services through so-called platform models. Well-known examples of this are: Amazon, Zalando or Westwing.

Another example of high networking performance is companies whose customer journey fits seamlessly into the relevant ecosystem. A common example here is online stores: No one creates a customer profile for each store anymore, but does so via social media logins. Of course, the direct link to the payment provider’s website and seamless interaction with the delivery service for shipment tracking is also ensured.

But we see clear networking efforts not only in external perceptions, but also in internal organizational structures and processes, even to the point of developing a network organization. This is certainly the use case we experience most often as managers or employees. Depending on the maturity level of the agile organization, work is already done in Circles or agile methods and tools are used. And these working worlds support and demand a new and more intensive way of working and collaborating.

This clearly shows – whether corporate or team leadership – networking is a central core competence of tomorrow’s managers.

Sovereign leadership connects, networks and exemplifies!

And my dear women, networking is something we do every day now, when we juggle our daily lives and already pack the riding gear in the morning and have the musical instruments ready or we lay our calls right during soccer practice.

If we embrace this understanding of leadership, then the task of leadership is to open people up to taking new paths and becoming active shapers themselves. This requires a suitable form of communication, namely one that connects and allies . That is why I understand integrative communication, verbal and non-verbal, as a style and a framework in which development potentials are released and creative freedom is made possible, so that learning is a joy. And this kind of collaboration – especially in diverse teams – cannot be taught with YouTube tutorials or Manager Magazine articles, but only by example!

And we all know how effective leading by example can be when we have brought children through the defiant phase or have been allowed to accompany a teenager. Because there we don’t need a retrospective or a feedback meeting, they butter us right up if what we say doesn’t match what we do. And this applies just as much in the office and is, in my opinion, urgently needed in the leadership team!

Empathy is the basis for reflection and change of perspective

Actually, I believe that no company has ever been successful without empathy. But this was certainly not described as a special leadership qualification, but rather as assertive. Empathy forms the basis for reflection and a change of perspective: two essential qualities that we urgently need in agile working environments, diverse team constellations and innovative processes. Now empathy is not gender specific, however, people who take on a wide variety of roles exhibit a higher capacity for empathy. And that’s where we women have certainly had a great learning field for millennia and can lead empathetically both through socialization and through our own experiences.

And since qualities such as networking, communication and empathy are needed at different levels and in a variety of areas, they are also referred to as “transferrable skills”.

So now, please, let’s “transfer” exactly this female skill to the executive floors!!!

“What can I do to strengthen my own leadership skills in a focused way?”

Now, when the added value of a leader no longer lies in technical or management expertise, but in the honest sense of leading people, then personal attitude and inner values become important. And that starts with self-leadership.

For me, there are three elements of self-leadership that are important in the leadership context of tomorrow:

1. know one’s own value and needs

In terms of knowing our own worth, as women we often hear, “You need to be more confident and assert yourself for a change!” But what this is really about is knowing your true value; because maybe your personal strength lies in listening or keeping calm when all egos are boiling up in a meeting… And it is exactly these skills that are now becoming more and more important and we may consciously use and communicate this as a strength in leadership.

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The second aspect is both knowing one’s own needs and taking them into account. Clear keyword: PAUSE – because we have all experienced this, at the latest in Corona: If you don’t create islands for yourself, the rest doesn’t work out either.

And dear leader: people who know and satisfy their needs are MORE MOTIVATED… So let’s talk openly and honestly about exactly that in the meeting! Especially in times of leadership tandems, part-time executives and ‘servant leadership’, it literally matters how we understand each other.

2. be connected with the whole

This sounds rather esoteric, but the fact is: Feeling connected to something bigger gives people meaning and orientation! And this also has an effect on the job, because those who feel connected there have been proven to make faster and better decisions because their own contribution is understood in the overall context. That’s why many companies also work with employees to develop their “purpose,” or the company’s why.

The decisive factor here is that this feeling and the need arise from within and only in the next step do they correspond to the outside. It does not work the other way around! That is, it is a central task of self-leadership to become aware of one’s individual connectedness.

3. be mindful with yourself and others

Mindfulness, certainly a current trend with lots of great tips on Instagram, but that’s just not something we associate with our everyday office life. What we are always dealing with professionally, however, is transformation: in other words, the central question of how familiar and perhaps also cherished patterns of thought and action can be renewed in ourselves and in our team. And that is exactly what mindfulness is needed for. This is a state of perception and awareness in which I pay attention to myself and others (customers, colleagues, competitors, etc.). And with this attitude conflicts in the own I and in the togetherness are perceived, so that these are addressed and made approachable, in order to be able to lead the internal and external actions to a solution, i.e. change.

Emotions are part of it, that’s why we should give them space

Being aware of the situation and emotions, allowing and accepting them, sounds misplaced for the office, of course. BUT – the alternative to keep it under the lid and ‘back to daily business’ works rather only in the short term! And the HBR (Harvard Business Review) clearly showed that women led better through the crisis and kept the engagement level in the team high because they showed empathy and openness to uncertainties, mistakes and learning development and that is always connected with feelings.

We have all used up a lot of our resources over the last 2-3 years and we feel this in every team meeting and in every meeting, where emotions often really run high due to the high level of uncertainty and reduced energy reserves. And my learning, whether from my global project management role or as a leader of intercultural teams and certainly in my start-up, is: to make room for exactly that.

So my leadership tip is: get to know yourself, find out what is important to you, what values you stand for, what gives you strength and energy and what drives you? Then you already have good answers and clarity about your leadership competencies to lead in a networking, integrative and emphatic way.

And this is then also not rigidly according to the motto: “I lead according to the leadership style XY.”, but your leadership is intuitive and authentic and the people around you feel that.

Consequently, you often don’t need a title at all, but lead as a matter of course: Because women can be bosses – naturally female!

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