There is a mountain of research revealing unequivocally that what people want from their leaders today is changing, and changing dramatically. And the good news is, women have never been better placed to lead, as we transition from an old style of leadership based on command and control, short term thinking and aggression, to one that is more in tune with feminine sensibilities of relating and empowering, sustainable thinking, and collaboration. In fact, we are wonderfully wired to do so.
But let's start with where we are so you can get a full grasp of the current leadership issue. If the loudest alarm bell of the past decade, blaring that the world was in leadership trouble was the global financial crisis of 2008, the World Economic Forum (WEF) is calling out a forward-looking warning sign. Each year the WEF asks its Global Agenda Council Members to identify the issues they believe will have the greatest impact on the world over the coming twelve to eighteen months. They generate the Top Ten Trends, which is a forecast of the social, economic, and political flash points that reside on our collective horizon.
In 2014, lack of values in leadership was number seven out of ten on the list, and more specifically, the kind of values in leadership was stated as a primary concern. That was troubling enough. But turn to the 2015 report, which calls out lack of leadership as number three on the list, with a shocking eighty-six per cent of respondents agreeing that we have a leadership crisis in the world today. From a business perspective, only twenty-three per cent of survey respondents have confidence in leaders of international organizations to effectively implement the mandate of their organization.
When the World Economic Forum declares that there is a global crisis of confidence in leadership today, you know we have a problem. The time for incremental change has long come and gone. New leadership is no longer a nice to have: It is now an imperative. And women have a starring role to play in this new future.
The rise of the feminine
Coming out of the global financial crisis in 2008, researchers John Gerzema and Michael D'Antonio were writing the book Spend Shift: How the Post Crisis Values Revolution is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell, and Live, analyzing what the new normal behaviors were as the economic and social dust was settling. As they were working on their research, they noticed a trend forming that they hadn't expected and couldn't quite articulate (certainly not in research or data terms).
Many of the behaviors they were witnessing were what people were referring to as feminine traits. Deciding that they wanted to explore this in an analytical way, they embarked on an ambitious research project for their next book, The Athena Doctrine: How Women and the Men Who Think Like Them Will Rule the Future, which explores the rise of feminine skills and competencies and their impact on leadership, policy, and innovation.
In the research, they asked 64,000 women and men in thirteen countries to classify 125 human traits; half of the sample by gender and the other half by which traits were most important to leadership, success, morality, and happiness today (these were the same traits we give to the women in our workshops). The countries they researched represented sixty-five per cent of global GDP and included Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States.
What they found was pretty exceptional and perhaps surprising considering the male dominated cultures of many of these countries: people consistently picked what they considered feminine traits or values -- such as selflessness, empathy, collaboration, flexibility, and patience -- as the most important traits for leadership.
The majority of people researched also rejected masculine notions of control, aggression, and black-and-white thinking notions that traditionally underlie many of our business, political, and social structures. In their survey, eighty-one per cent of people said that man or woman, you need both masculine and feminine traits to thrive in today's world, which is a massive global values shift. And the headline of the research that grabbed our attention when we first read it, and that stuns audiences when we present it, is that two-thirds of people thought the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.
Just think about the reality of what this research may mean - especially for women. For as long as we can remember, feminine traits have been undervalued, dismissed, and have had no place in our work environments. Leading with intuition, kindness, humility, and empathy has up until now not been encouraged for women in many organisations.
But there is a significant and world changing shift taking place right now. A shift that is not only acknowledging the value of our natural, inherent and authentic feminine traits and how they serve both leadership and the greater good, but that is also blatantly stating, by men, women, and the next generation, that a balance of the feminine and masculine is what the world needs to actually thrive. If there were ever a permission slip to step fully into who we are, and to own our authentic power as women, this is it.
The WEF report we visited earlier also looked at what traits were needed, by raising the question: What kind of skills do our leaders need today to address the issues we face in the world? They identified these key virtues: A global interdisciplinary perspective; long-term, empirical planning; strong communication skills; a prioritization of social justice and wellbeing over financial growth; empathy; courage; morality; and a collaborative nature. Can you see the pattern emerging? Again feminine traits--such as empathy and collaboration over dominant and self-reliant; long-term planning over short-term financial gain; and a focus on humanity and wellbeing, not just profits--are emerging as the ascendant traits for great leadership.
And in case you needed even more evidence (and perhaps permission), for the value of feminine traits, consider a recent study from Stanford Business School, that examined the promotion rates of 132 MBA graduates over an eight year period following graduation. The researchers found that women who can combine masculine and feminine traits effectively did better than everyone else, including the men. These women were promoted 1.5 times more often than most men, twice as often as feminine men, three times as often as purely masculine women, and 1.5 times as often as purely feminine women.
The path is being laid. For so long women have felt forced to either take a back seat due to their feminine traits or entrench themselves in masculine traits in order to move forward, fitting a model of leadership and into a workplace culture, that seemed to value them in isolation. What we are now seeing, what is becoming glaringly obvious, is that the way for women to truly thrive at work and in their lives, is to honor themselves, celebrate their own strengths, define their own meaning of success, and get to work on their own terms.
This is an edited extract from the new book "Lead Like A Woman: Your Essential Guide for True Confidence, Career Clarity, Vibrant Wellbeing and Leadership Success" by Megan Dalla-Camina and Michelle Mcquaid. Download your first two chapters for free.