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Advancing Women In Leadership – 6 Clues To Overcome Gender Differences In Leadership Effectiveness

Written by: Albana Vrioni, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


What makes you as a women leader succeed in a leadership role?

Leadership studies indicate that lack of presence of women in leadership is explained by their hesitation to opt for a leadership role, discouragement from socio-cultural and organisational factors, and perceived lower effectiveness in such roles as compared to men.

They highlight that gender affects leadership effectiveness in all its four domains: Character, Competencies, Communication, and Context (Callahan & Grunberg), and that gender impact is largely due to “stereotyping”, which influences perceptions and mindset.

Women like men keep these stereotypes alive, in different ways, for different reasons.

While stereotyping is helpful for quick decision making and when time and education are lacking, it impedes effective leadership, business and social innovation which require critical thinking and mobilization of untapped resourcefulness of women leaders in leadership roles.

While female and male leaders can be equally experts on technical side of a leadership role, perceived differences on their influencing power, conversational intelligence and relational skills leave a visible mark on their leadership effectiveness. In helping women to overcome these differences, I’ve observed that these differences originate not so much on their innate traits but rather on educated capabilities in leveraging 4Ps – Permission, Power of authority, Power of strength, and Protection.

I share here 6 clues that help my leader clients upgrade their mindset to increase their leadership effectiveness once they are in a leadership role.

1. Get to know how gender stereotyping affects the perception of “THE KIND OF LEADER” you need to be in your leadership role.

It is frequently cited that “Leaders shaped history through their character” (Carlyle). Character contributes to the potential and the realization of the leadership effectiveness. Applied research confirms that key aspects of character relevant to leadership are not gender specific. It is the gender “stereotyping” that influences leaders’ effective in a leadership role.

Because gender stereotypes provide “implicit, background identity” relevant to leadership, people hold expectations on whether a leadership role shall be hold by a man or a woman.

Studies indicate that men and women can be equally effective leaders (Eagly et al), unless the leadership role is gendered.

These “gendered” expectations influence “perceived” effectiveness of the leader in a role, they influence leader’s attuning to the role, and as a result leader’s overall effectiveness.

Further, as leaders are successful in one context, they tend to assume similar leadership challenges, reinforcing their leadership style preferences but also creating a gender stereotyping associating with success in the concerned role.

Clue 1: To understand what gender stereotyping are vested to your leadership role I invite you to look at the culture narratives of the organisation, stories of success and failure and at the kind of leadership associated with them. And then look at your own biases, for they will implicitly or explicitly affect your leadership posture and your influencing effectives. And only then you can look at the permissions you are giving or not giving to yourself in your leadership role, at your affinity to power, at how you build resilience, and at the protection mechanisms that you mobilize.

2. Get to know how your leadership COMPETENCES are affected by gender stereotyping.

A leaders’ effectiveness is tied to their role specific competencies, as well as to their transcendent leadership skills, of which the relational, influencing, and communication skills are affected by gender and leave a visible mark in leaders’ effectiveness.

Relational skills in leadership are tied to gender in explicit and implicit ways. Women and men relate with each other in different ways which are “acceptable or not” depending on whether they fall under gender expectations of the group. Consider the famous poem “If” of Rudyard Kipling ( a manifesto to manhood) and “If” for females (see 2 efforts to reproduce Kipling’s If for girls and women). They are just an illustration of the stereotypes indicating that men are traditionally connected through the element of “agency”, while women through the element of “communality” . Although these stereotypes are changing slowly, the degree to which each group accept deviations of the “stereotype” within the group, is also reflected in the degree to which these two groups relate to each other as complementary or as opposing forces.

Clue 2: To strengthen your relational skills I invite you to aim at connecting these groups, and build on their complementarity by modulating your conversational habits towards dynamics that connect, create trust, and mutual respect. And the first step for doing so is to accept, nurture, and embrace diversity within the female leaders, permitting and supporting the element of “agency” developed by nature or nurture.

Influence is a leadership competency that is tied to the perception of leadership by others. When the leadership roles are gendered, how the leader gender fits to expectations exerts an important role in the initial influencing power. It is the influencing strategies that the leader choses to leverage that define the leadership effectiveness in consequence.

We know that perception of competence, which relates to status, and of likability of a leader, which relates to the “attraction”, affect their influence effectiveness.

So, a “community and nurturing” behaviour will increase the leadership effectiveness of women which are perceived of “low status”; while an “ambitious and action driven” behaviour will increase influencing power of women perceived of “high status”. Low status and high status are culture-bound attributes, therefore leaders working internationally will need to uncover the meaning of these attributes locally.

Influencing strategies are learnable, but leaders seem to opt primarily for strategies that are closer fit to their character and to their “zone of safety” – physical and psychological. Depending on the fit with the context, they may be successful or not.

Clue 3: When you create an “inner congruence” of the strategy you chose for a given context, your character, and your relation with the stereotyping vested to your role, your influence becomes impactful. To strengthen your influence effectiveness I invite you to start by increasing your self-awareness on how your influencing skills for getting to the leadership role will need to expand to effectively perform in that role. As Marshall Goldsmith puts it “What got you here, won’t get you there” – meaning what got you to a leadership role, will not necessarily make you successful when you are performing in such a role. Changes in the perception of the status and in the expectations will require you to re-calibrate your influencing skills and strategies with the context.

Conversational skills: 50% of a leaders’ effectiveness is explained by the effectiveness of their communication. Effective leadership depends on the quality of relationships. And the quality of relationships depends on the intelligence of our conversations, which is the ability to modulate our conversations in ways that allow us to connect, navigate solutions and architect a better future with the others. (Judith E. Glasser)

Getting to understand how the gender stereotyping affects leaders’ attraction to certain dynamics of conversations helps to overcome blind spots that render your communications less effective. So, while men are perceived to be more prone to the “addition to be right”, women choose to be indirect so as not to enter in a “fight” dynamic but rather keep a “tend-and befriend” to the extent possible. These perceptions influence both sides equally, leading to unexplored potential of what could otherwise be a moment of breakthrough.

And yet, although the assertive style of men favours their selection to the top jobs, with 80% of change initiatives failing to succeed, initiatives that are predominantly led by men, we may be tempted to say that the assertive, direct style of men leaders does not ensure their effectiveness in performing in a leadership role.

My observation is that it is not women’s tendency of talking in more indirect, elaborative, and emotional way that make them appear less assertive, fit for, and effective in a leadership role. It rather is the unexploited potential of leveraging different levels of conversations according to the context.

While not all leadership roles are transformational, not every context is fit for a transformational perspective, and not all leaders are “transformational” primed,

However, the ability to modulate conversational habits to adjust for “the expectations”, “the context” and “the desired relationship” is a key challenge for most of the leaders.

Although women are more transformational in their communication style, men and women are equally concerned by the need to elevate this competency pillar. Gender stereotyping seems to make it more pressing for women who aspire for leadership roles; business and social issues in a world led predominantly by men makes it equally pressing for men leaders, too.

Clue 4: elevating your conversational intelligence, is an incontestable leadership asset which will unmistakably strengthen your relationships and your effectiveness in your leadership role. To understand how your conversational intelligence is influencing your leadership effectiveness, I invite you to start by elevating your self-awareness on how you navigate the different conversational levels (Transactional, Positional, Transformational) depending on the context. And then look at what are the permissions you give to yourself, the authority and the strength you want to convey, and the protection mechanisms you activate for you and for the others. When you attend to the chemistry of your conversations your relationships and your influence develop at a different level.

3. Understand how the context of the leadership role affects your conflict resolution.

The leadership context is affected by the kind of group you will lead, the kind of work to be performed, and the kind of culture which the leader and team are part of.

Effective leaders are aware of, and they adjust to the context in a variety of ways to assure optimal team performance. This adjustment becomes crucial when it concerns conflict resolution. Conflicts can be implicit or explicit, on a technical level of how things are done , but also at a higher level process of Purpose, Vision, Values and Virtues.

Resolving conflict in the workplace merits understanding that the magnitude of response to the stressors is different gender wise: “fight or flight” is a more masculine response, while “tend and befriend” is a more feminine response. Effective leaders reflect this on how they modulate stress in the team, how they set stretching objectives for the team , and how they ensure a harmonious climate.

They understand that while women tend to “tend and befriend” or “please and appease” in response to stress they will not bear more stress than their level of dignity and autonomy allows them, and that they may spill their stress response in ways that can be as deteriorating for a team performance as fight and flight.

Clue 5: Because leadership is brutally tested on conflict resolution, I often refer to skills in conflict resolution as the “make or break” of the leadership effectiveness.

To boost your leadership effectiveness in conflict resolution , I invite you to start by looking how your “gender-role” associated meaning is reflected in your leadership style. Then, you may want to reflect on the level of permission and autonomy that you accord to the expression of your thoughts and ideas. Further, I invite you to use your awareness of the cultural context you perform in, of the prejudices and the role of status in your leadership context, and then select your conflict resolution strategy accordingly.

4. Understand how gender influences expression of creativity and resourcefulness and impact your leadership effectiveness.

Resourcefulness, finding new ways to meet goals, is a key leadership skill. It entails identifying novel and creative ways to bring, assemble, and transform resources to launch, grow, and sustain a business and a venture. One key aspect of resourcefulness is breaking boundaries and generating and capturing new or unexpected sources of value in the process of business growth and venturing. In venturing, however, the end point is not fixed upfront. Women leaders are therefore challenged to enlarge their pallet of creativity skills to include skills to sell their creativity to the outside world, to create alliances that complement their resourcefulness, and to transform creative ideas and innovation into a viable business.

Creativity is a key attribute of resourcefulness and an extremely important quality in successful leaders and vital to organisational success. Creativity is expressed in 3 main competency pillars, of which women associate themselves stronger with generating new and exciting ideas, and less so with creating analytical intelligence to evaluate whether the ideas are good ideas, and with applying practical intelligence to execute one’s own ideas and to persuade others of their value.

Women leaders lead the organisation by taking where the organisation is going as a starting point, and extend existing notions based on where the organisation and its people stand. But the pallet of creativity skills they associate themselves with limits their perceived leadership effectiveness when their role calls for leading the organization beyond its point of readiness “for stretched goals” or for leading the organisation to a different, as yet unreached and new starting point.

Clue 6: To expand resourcefulness and to convert creative ideas into a course of action, I invite women leaders to prepare to take more sensible risks building on their intrinsic motivations and strong social skills. In this pursue I suggest you to gently expand the pallet of the creativity skills you associate with to include selling your ideas, being persuasive and receptive to extrinsic rewards – not to match men, but rather to unleash your power of authority and your power of strength. Further you will need to look at the protection mechanisms you put in place when leveling up risk taking. The later will influence the expression of your leadership effectiveness, overall.

Concluding thoughts

Leadership effectiveness is affected by gender stereotyping, which men and women keep alive in different ways, for different reasons.

Women advancement in leadership, does not happen in vacuum from the socio-cultural, economic and organisational context they operate in. The stereotyped expectations of those who surround them and the relationship they have with the gender-role association do matter. By enhancing self-awareness on how the gender biases colours our narrative on leadership effectiveness, we are better equipped to navigate our mindset to creating new realities, new narratives.

I hope the 6 clues offered in this article will encourage your pursuit and the impact you can make in advancing women in leadership.

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Albana Vrioni, Exexcutive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Albania Vrioni coaches and advises business leaders worldwide on Generative Leadership and Entrepreneurship supporting them re-imagine the future, see beyond what’s obvious, and reconcile conflicting truths and competing values. Having succeeded in critical transitions, Albana developed strategies on how to shift the mindset for creative achievement, boost resourcefulness, and manage one's energy to achieve what matters and thrive in changing the game.

Her mission: A conscious leader in each game changer.



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