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See Jane Lead
by Lois P.Frankel, PhD

Chapter 1

The Feminization of Leadership

The day will come when man will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race.
—Susan B. Anthony

People often ask me how I choose the subject matter for my books. I tell them it always comes from having such a burning desire to share something with others that if I didn’t, I would feel my life’s mission was not complete. That’s precisely why I wrote this book. I believe we live in a time when women’s leadership and influence aren’t just needed—they’re required. More important, I know that women have the capability, strength, courage, and heart to lead communities, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and grassroots groups to places they need to go. They’ve done it for centuries. You may not think you have much in common with Avon’s president Andrea Jung or former director of the Red Cross Elizabeth Dole, but this book will help you to see that you do—and that if ever there was a time your leadership was needed, the time is now.

You also may not aspire to be a CEO, vice president, or director of an organization, but chances are you find yourself in a position where you want to influence others. That’s leadership. You may be responsible for a small committee of the PTA. That’s leadership. Or you might have ideas that contribute to creating change in an organization of which you are a member. That’s leadership, too. Women lead all the time—they just don’t call it leadership. They think of it as working toward a common goal, achieving results through people, or simply doing what needs to be done. In fact, that’s what leadership is all about.

A woman’s way of leading hasn’t always been valued, but there’s a change occurring in society that people are hesitant to talk about. It’s what I call the feminization of leadership. To discuss it openly would mean challenging how we have traditionally looked at leadership—and followership. It would also require embracing a concept that many people find threatening: Command-and-control, top-down leadership no longer works. When someone in authority says “jump,” employees, children, and volunteers no longer reply “how high?” The truth is, what followers expect from leaders in the first decade of the twenty-first century—and perhaps beyond—are the behaviors and characteristics that women have traditionally been socialized to exhibit. Throughout history, with little or no formal authority, women have influenced direction, change, and outcomes—they were simply never so bold as to call it leadership!

It doesn’t mean that men can’t or don’t display these qualities, but rather that women tend to do so with greater ease, confidence, and comfort—so long as it’s not called the L-word, leadership. The changing face of leadership is threatening to men because it requires thinking about the subject in a way that is counter to their own socialization and, in some cases, education. Similarly, women may feel threatened because it asks them to assume responsibility in ways they may never have before and to call attention to skills they have been admonished to hide.

“Nice girls” have a particularly difficult time assuming leadership roles and doing it effectively. When they do, they often try to make everyone happy (which, as you know, is impossible), delay decision making by trying to get everyone’s buy-in, hesitate to take necessary risks for fear of offending the powers that be, and communicate in ways that undermine their confidence and credibility. Ironically, each of these behaviors could work to the advantage of women—if only they would balance them with new behaviors that contribute to more effective leadership. In other words, stepping fully away from the nice-girl messages learned in childhood, and into adulthood, is all it would take for a woman to be a phenomenal leader for this age. Of course, that’s one giant step.

Society has done both men and women a disservice by placing the onus of leadership responsibility squarely on the shoulders of men. It makes men reluctant to admit when they feel incapable of or ineffectual at leadership and women reluctant to openly suggest that they might be able to do a better job of it. Nonetheless, we are at a turning point where both genders will have to become more comfortable with assuming roles they have traditionally rejected. This turning point is caused by evolving worker attitudes and values that women are best suited to address. Just as women have, in the past, had to learn from men how to manage using styles that did not come naturally to them, men will now have to learn from women the ways of bringing out the best in today’s workforce.

Despite the fact that American productivity continues to decline, most major corporations continue to be led almost exclusively by white males. A recent study conducted by Catalyst, this country’s premier women’s research group, reports that although women make up 46.4 percent of the labor force, only seven Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Women constitute only 5.2 percent of the top earners and hold only 7.9 percent of the highest titles in these companies.

Sources: Current Population Survey, Annual Averages 2004 Catalyst, 2003 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors Catalyst, 2002 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Offi cers and Top Earners


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