When we consider the array of 21st century leadership challenges, most female CEOs cope with and initiate grand transformation better than their male counterparts. Without a doubt, we will be experiencing a tremendous “female leadership” shift, one towards a strongly global female outlook, where decision-making will be transformed based more on the application of soft skills, because hard facts are, in actuality, driven by soft skills.
This means female decision-makers will increasingly render their male counterparts outdated, for one reason because they allow themselves to learn faster and better, resulting in more empathy, stronger bonding and the creation of more competitive value-oriented organisations. With this improved approach, we will see conflicts resolved more efficiently and harmoniously by women CEOs, bringing in tomorrow’s kinder world.
In other words, the new leadership zeitgeist of the 21st century is clearly requiring us to ‘re-think’ leadership; we can longer comprehend and solve current and future challenges in the present manner, as these problems are simply far too complex and require inclusion and comprehensiveness.
I see three major interlinking factors that have the potential to shift the global economy from one long-term outcome to another.
1. First, we are consciously connected to one another’s plight, as if we are experiencing it ourselves, driven by belonging and bonding. This is a positive empathic drive.
2. Secondly, we need to redefine ‘value’ and ask ourselves whether the ‘competitive results-driven’ approach is really solving the problems of tomorrow.
3. And finally, today’s tempo is quick and the dynamics complex. This has become the ‘new norm’ and for too many, this is overwhelming. We need to learn to embrace ‘stillness’ to overcome this new norm.
Naturally, these are generally skills that are more inclined to be practiced by female CEOs, as females are inherently more intuitive, more empathic, and led by instincts, impulses, emotions and sensitivity. Though these are not solely female traits, they are typically rated as “feminine” instincts, counter to the way we normally look at leadership, as strong and dominant, because male CEOs feel anxious about equating themselves with such “soft skill” behaviours, even though these are now undeniably essential. This is probably the true competitive advantage for women CEOs who already cultivate such traits: that these soft skills will become increasingly essential for leading more successfully in the upcoming years.
Research has proven that women are better than men at reading other women and assigning them to jobs commensurate with their experience. When a female executive replaces a male executive at a firm, she can better identify the talent of senior women and put them in positions that match their talent. Since this is then a better fit for these women, they work better, which consequently enhances the firm’s performance.
It is often female executives who shift other women into more productive positions, a smart move as this is why performance goes up. A further study showed that the role of women on corporate boards has a similar effect: the higher the share of women on corporate boards one year, the more likely the company was to hire women executives the following year. This may be because women know each other through professional networks, and when there are women at the top – on a corporate board for example – they refer women to positions that otherwise might have been filled by men. The increase also could also be explained because women are less likely to discriminate against each other.
This same dynamic has been identified again and again. One report by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, considering 21,000 firms from 91 countries, concluded that having women on the board increases the ranks of women executives. Moreover, it found that companies with women on the board tend to be more profitable than those with just men. Women’s desire to create distinctiveness is stronger when they work with others who are similar. This finding suggests that there may be room in women-headed companies for ambitious women to create new jobs that haven’t existed previously.
Naturally, I see women CEOs cope better with social, economic and political transformations, as they are inclined to cooperate and adapt for survival. This is their natural instinct. This is a key factor to realise in women’s role as prominent leaders in the 21st century: often they recognise the warning of immense hardship for their team, their organisation and their social circle, and can cope much better under enormous pressure and begin, with their empathic and intuitive leadership approach, to acknowledge the many injustices that are perpetrated in their environment.
Still, there are only a few female CEOs who are protected in their position allowing them to lead successfully. In many industries and cultures, a female CEO is not appreciated, nor welcome, particularly if performing better than her male counterpart. This means women CEOs need to foresee dilemmas with astuteness to overcome possible future turmoil. This is one of the reasons they cultivate their sub-consciousness with more depth and tenderness, as it is part of a women’s adaption for survival.
Without a doubt, I recognise women as the leadership pioneers of the 21st century. But because only a few are protected, only a few are allowed to prevail, to succeed, to gain the respect of their male CEO colleagues and other stakeholders.
The fact of the matter is that current social, cultural, economic and political injustice simply cannot be a model for success; this will, in fact, militate against itself, as society realises and then rejects empty promises. This is a significant situation, one in which women tend to react in a more purpose-oriented manner and engage with a ‘we’ rather than an ‘I’ approach.
Women CEOs constantly feel under pressure to avoid mistakes, to continually prove their value within an organisation. This pressure is one of the key reasons today why female CEOs don’t necessarily feel safe and secure – a situation that requires tremendously more effort than their male counterparts to prove themselves equal or better – because male executives question the women’s expertise. So women CEOs are frequently afraid to rest on their laurels: feeling the pressure to use their initiative, they are more highly motivated to take constructive feedback to heart to improve the performance of the overall organisation which, at the end of the day, is a major benefit to themselves and the entire organisation.
Furthermore, female CEOs are better listeners, better collaborators, more approachable and accessible, inspiring others to focus on ‘we-purpose’ instead of their solo career. Even though the global business and political environment desperately needs more female CEOs because they are more genuine, still only 4% of these women are supported and protected, rendering it difficult for potential young female CEOs to stay up there in the long run.
It is an even more puzzling and mysterious phenomenon when we examine the hard data that describes the overall success that women attain when placed in successively higher leadership positions. In fact, it is even more apparent when we analyse the success women CEOs have in those functional areas that have traditionally been dominated by male CEOs. It has been scientifically proven that women CEOs are 2,7% more effective in leadership roles, primarily because they have to put in much, much more effort to earn the recognition and acknowledgement so readily offered to male CEOs. Women are pressed to never make a mistake and to demonstrate high competence, numerous talents and a cooperative attitude.
This irony is that these are fundamental behaviours that drive the success of every leader, whether male or female.
It has also been proven that women CEOs request more feedback and, from this, make more significant adjustments toward improving their leadership, as they are generally more empathic and comprehensive. This means, quite practically, that women CEOs tend to take more initiatives, display higher integrity and honesty, and drive results by soft factors, evolving the growth of others and developing themselves in an effort to achieve unity. Women are also better inspirers and motivators as they build relationships across different teams, departments and units, increasing cooperation within the organisation. Moreover, they are more adept at analysing problems and issues because they are more cautious, a skill acquired in their movement up to CEO positions. At the end of the day, they are the better communicators, more ‘powerfully’ and ‘politically’ correct. This naturally generates a trusting environment that teams and people wish to be surrounded with.
It is my personal observation that female CEOs excel at nurturing competencies such as developing others, inspiring and motivating others, building relationships, collaboration and teamwork, as these are based on honesty, fairness, integrity and trust. Even so, women CEOs and other female executives are less recognised for their natural talents because ‘leadership’ in so many cultures still tends to be a male dominated area, only slowly losing its old-school thinking with the dawning understanding that this antiquated thinking no longer delivers its core services. Today we must comprehend together, and solve dilemmas together, to overcome and to survive in teams, not individually.
Deep in the heart of every human being resides the instinct to cooperate. This means we must go ‘back to basics’ and review the way we interact, the way we communicate. We must revive co-operational interpersonal relationships.
This can only happen when people feel great pleasure, enthusiasm and a sense of belonging amongst others, sharing common ground and free exchange. This is invoked in the development process, an empathic process that motivates and inspires people – a trait that women CEOs tend to cultivate more easily and to a greater degree.
Because people tend to have little consciousness, or are even completely unconscious in terms of self- awareness, and deep down remain unaware of what it means to have an open mind when holistically analysing situations, we become fearful and anxious. Before anyone changes, leaders must acknowledge their own personal anxiety and learn how to deal with it. Naturally, women carry a different relationship towards ‘caring’ and ‘compassion’ than their male colleagues, and therefore their understanding towards empathy and intuition is often more embedded in the natural leadership skills.
Today, the advantages of female CEOs are not confined to traditional women’s strengths. In fact, at every level, more women are rated by their peers, their bosses, their subordinates and their associates as far better overall leaders than their male counterparts – and not surprisingly the higher the level, the wider that gap grows. It is time that senior executives and boards of directors start to get real by questioning why they don’t make senior positions more attractive and safer and more secure for women, so that women can be – as they should be – considered for CEO positions.