Speed of change, an innovation imperative, globalization, and the power of diversity are just some of the market factors that dramatically shifted the business landscape over the last decade and demanded a new approach to leadership.
As a female entrepreneur and conscious capitalist who advises top executives on purpose and strategy, I noticed that the most successful modern leaders — regardless of gender — exhibit what are traditionally considered “feminine” leadership traits. I hesitate to even label them as such since these essential qualities bridge the gender divide and act as the common denominators in the most respected, successful, and significant leaders of our time.
Consider Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines, Jerry Stritzke of REI, and John Mackey of Whole Foods. These leaders built strong workplace cultures, engaged teams, and nurtured high-performing businesses by breaking the mold of typical leadership and daring to be different as they disrupted even the most traditional industries. Each day, they continue to go to battle and face enormous headwinds along the way, but the way they lead is part of the secret to their success.
While I could point out many attributes to successful leadership, these five consistently show up in conscious leaders who are taking their companies to new levels. These leaders are successful not only because they possess these traits — which were once considered more feminine — but also because their companies hire, form strategies, and make decisions through this lens.
1. Highly communicative
Adept communicators achieve more connectedness with their teams, invoke a deeper trust, and inspire greater productivity and accountability. Inclusive conversation styles are a hallmark of many women leaders, but men who employ this approach and seek diverse opinions find they have better buy-in and overall better solutions brought forward. Communicating often and reinforcing core values in every interaction with employees will inspire confidence from your team.
Conscious leaders guide their organizations using a shared purpose and vision — not using command and control. They know that the collective brainpower of their organization is only unleashed when people come together to solve problems, so these leaders foster an esprit de corps and encourage cross-functional project teams.
The old way of relying solely on technology to connect departments has given way to meaningful connections happening face-to-face or over webcams to ensure teams work together to perform at the highest levels. One way leaders can encourage collaboration? By showing they are open to other points of view within their leadership teams — an example employees will likely mirror.
While many businesses live quarter-to-quarter when it comes to hitting sales numbers or satisfying Wall Street (in the case of public companies), possessing a long-term view for the health and stability of the business is a common trait in female leaders. Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, is said to have a 10-year vision for the company and often talks in terms of two- and three-year goals. Her views on artificial intelligence and machine learning could be described as “moonshot goals,” but she helps her team see into the future.
Women are often planners, and as more females achieve leadership positions, we see more companies concerned with issues like environmental and community impact. Maybe it’s the hyper-competitive business world created by a majority-male workforce that forced so many of us into short-term thinking, but the ability to cast a long-term vision is a leadership trait that the best leaders of all genders now embrace.
Admitting you don’t have all the answers and showing humility when you make a mistake: these are qualities often viewed as feminine traits, but they project strength and confidence in a way that’s beneficial for anyone.
Author and researcher Brené Brown turned the popular notions of vulnerability on their heads. She equates vulnerability with the courage to show up and be seen, and she insists that leaders who are more self-aware and vulnerable inspire others to be honest with them — instead of simply saying what they think the leaders want to hear.
Valuing employees as people rather than vehicles for specific tasks is a trait that comes naturally to most female leaders. That’s why women are known for building strong professional relationships.
The ability to understand what others are feeling — to detect if they are overworked or frustrated — is a skill that “clearly contributes to effective leadership,” says the Center for Creative Leadership. Leaders of all genders are only as successful as their teams, and showing employees they are valued as human beings is one more way to bring them together behind the common cause.
The bottom line
These valuable leadership traits, no matter what body they show up in, have proven to impact overall business performance. Case in point: Research from McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm, revealed that gender-diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to outperform their peers, while research from Catalyst showed that companies with more women on the board experience higher financial performance.
Feminine leadership traits are just some of the qualities conscious leaders are bringing to the forefront as companies look to grow and thrive in a diverse and increasingly complex business environment. For women, it’s about embracing some of your natural instincts and seeing them as strengths. As for men? It’s often about giving yourself permission to let your competitive guard down and recognizing that many of these traits are signs of strength that will result in greater levels of trust from your team.