04/24/2013 03:52 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2013

Women's Collaborative Leadership: Learning to Excel in the Workplace


For decades, John Zenger and Joseph Folkman have analyzed the leadership traits that lead to success. These include characteristics such as integrity, initiative, and problem solving.

Additionally, Zenger and Folkman designed tools to test these qualities, and made a somewhat startling discovery...

... Women outscore men in leadership effectiveness.

The primary reason, Zenger suggests, is that accepted leadership styles have changed over the years. While the "command-and-control style" once dominated the business world, more feminine attributes like collaboration tend to fit today's business model better.

Interestingly enough, however, the researchers also found that while 36 percent of men indicated they wanted to be CEO, only 18 percent of women felt the same.

Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath, and Mary Davis Holt may have the answer as to why in their 2011 Harvard Business Review post, "Collaboration's Hidden Tax on Women's Careers." In the article, they note that during a seminar with 150 female attendees one of the primary reasons the women indicated they hesitate in their climb up the proverbial career ladder is that they strongly prefer to "collaborate and cooperate rather than brazenly call the shots."

Unfortunately, even though the business leadership climate may be swaying toward a more collaborative atmosphere, there are those who wonder if collaboration is a sign of weakness. Specifically, Flynn et al noted that some see collaboration as a weakness when women:

Ask permission. Needing approval and not acting quickly communicates a lack of confidence, an unwillingness to make tough decisions, and/or a desire to avoid responsibility. Independent decision-making skills are critical to learn.

Appear indecisive. Balancing the need to consider choices carefully and acting on the information currently available is always tough. That includes being "comfortable delivering bad news or taking the opposing position." Have conviction in your decision.

Fail to assert a strong POV. Collaboration does not always mean decision by committee. "The best collaborative leaders are able to maintain their executive presence." Along with articulating their vision and providing inspiration, strong leaders give their teams latitude to work creatively and effectively toward the organization's objectives.

Modern collaborative leadership is an effective asset when properly balanced. Our experience at Springboard Enterprises with women entrepreneurs is that we need to teach many to own the conviction of their own voice. We emphasize learning to claim your successes and your own accomplishments. Owning your own voice with conviction is a key attribute for leadership.