In its recent report: A Portrait of 21st Century Leadership, US consulting group, A T Kearney, suggests a rapid evolution in the way large corporations are run in an era when growth is hard to find and volatility is everywhere.
Many people believe that it takes the 5 C’s to be a successful leader:
But A T Kearney believed that getting to the top of an organisation – and staying there – was a lot more complicated.
It conducted an analysis of 4000 listed companies across 35 countries that generated the highest value (criteria economnic profit and sales growth) between 2003 and 2012 and identified 560 champions, 154 of which were in EMEA.
Sources of success among champions
In analysing the sources of success among champions, A T Kearney wanted to undersand the personal qualities of the leaders who direct them. Its interest was in the differentiating factors that separate leaders from followers. Most interviewees were CEOs, about 50 per cent were female.
The study’s results produce a compelling picture of what contemporary executive leadership looks like – the Leader’s Way.
Highlights of the Leader’s Way
- Think “differently” in volatile, rapidly evolving markets.
- Manage dislocations caused by technological change. Look for disruption and teach yourself its sources
- Own a clear, comprehensive knowledge of the competitive arena and your company’s capabilities.
- Adapt to stimuli, understand complexity, and take inspiration from change.
- Apply a life-cycle approach to new business.
- Take risks. Take the organisation beyond its boundaries.
- Execute in collaboration with talented teams. Give those teams real power.
- Commnicate with stakeholders so that they understand the benefits of a strategy. Move hearts and minds.
- Have courage, show passion. For men and women they assume different shades of emphasis, especially in the case of managing work and family.
- Be authentic. Men and women apply the same sets of functional management skills, but they differ in how they apply them and in how they value the human dynamics of their organisations.
How leaders make winning business choices
Gender Differences, Gender Similarities
Senior leaders are emphatically analytical people. It is evident from their responses that successful leaders need a big personality to succeed in the complex environments they navigate.
They contend with changeable customer needs, evolving industry basics, and disruptive technologies.
They demonstrate a marked ability to connect with different kinds of people and engage them, whether those people are on their teams or on their boards.
This is true for both men and women. Is the recipe for leadership different for men and women?
According to A T Kearney’s data, the differences are less about where they play than about how they play.
Where to play
The women in the study rate vision and strategy higher than the men do. On the other hand, men place more emphasis on execution.
Women mention authenticity as a powerful way to create an atmosphere of trust among stakeholders and winning commitment of their teams. That, paired with being selective in choosing their teams, supports the creation of a “no blame” culture.
Intriguingly, stakeholder management is the leadership factor that registers the widest difference between genders. For male leaders, it ranks as a crucial factor, especially when the question is framed as the ability to understand stakeholders’ needs by demonstrating the benefits of strategy while simultaneously managing and sometimes challenging expectations. Female leaders value this, certainly, but they rank it lower than men do.
Team management is especially valued among women, although men also recognize its importance. Team building is not just a matter of personal preference or the result of the more “emotional” personality conventionally ascribed to women. On the contrary, it is a consciously pragmatic method of leading teams toward concrete results and getting the best out of an organization.
Finally, both sexes rank communication highly, though they appear to approach it differently. “Women,” says a female UK executive, “have to emulate male-defined communications. They have to be vocal, loud, and forceful. Humility and honesty are not valued. “In fact,” she warns, “they can be perceived as weakness.”
How to play
Courage and confidence are twin personal qualities valued highly by our interviewees . In difficult situations—investment choices chief among them—these qualities are indispensable. Revealingly, female leaders in our interviews rate these qualities higher than their male counterparts.
This does not necessarily mean women are more comfortable taking risks than men. It is more likely that women who are courageous are the women who end up succeeding in male-dominated cultures.
Having spent their careers working in such environments, female senior executives find themselves drawing on their reserves of courage with great frequency. Women speak more commonly than men do about consciously going out of their comfort zones.
Tellingly, leaders of both genders rank passion high on their list of valued qualities. Curiosity raised to the level of passion gets noticed by organisations. It inspires people and persuades them to a point of view. Communicating passion, according to interviewees of both sexes, in some cases inspires stakeholders more than other more tangible incentives.
Not surprisingly, the category in which male and female leaders divide in noticeable ways is in how they balance work and family—modeling behavior, perhaps, for their companies.
Most of the women underline how they successfully manage family and business thanks to support from relevant others (including, in more than one case, husbands leaving their jobs or taking a pause to favor their wives’ career development). But if for women the decision to keep working after starting a family is a crucial career crossroads, for men, work and family together provide a source of stability and balance.
Men, as they portray themselves in the study, are somewhat more likely than women to view creation of a diverse workplace as a matter of personally mentoring individuals rather than creating structured programs that formally promote diversity. And women indicate a stronger tendency than men to value open organizational cultures. Female interviewees report that they routinely encounter challenges in adapting to the “male” culture prevailing in top management. Networking and mentoring skills, they assert, are perceived as “male” abilities owing to women’s perceived “limit of being task oriented.”
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