Research says that women, on average, are better at crucial leadership skills like empathy, self-awareness, social adaptability, and adaptability etc., Also research shows that there are very few women at the top leadership level in many of the organizations. Time has come for women to know their strengths and to utilize them to climb to the top in their workplace. This paper talks about few of the strategies women may adopt if they wish to climb to the top of their professional career. These strategies, namely strengthening the social skills, unlocking the potential of team members and following a disciplined life are normally ignored but are very important for a leader.

Key words: Leadership, emotional intelligence, potential, Glass Ceiling, Discipline

  1. Introduction

Though we live in a world much different from that of our mothers and our grandmothers, where higher education and career choices for women were so limited, it still cannot be said that gender equality is achieved. Women are not making it to the top of any profession throughout the world. India is placed at the 114th position out of 142 countries in the gender gap index of 2015. According to the business standard report 2015, only 4% of women are in senior positions in the Indian corporate sector, when compared to 11% in Asia. According to 2016, Fortune 500 list, there are just 21 companies whose CEOs are women, which amounts to only 4%.  Research confirms that women are represented in less than 10% of Board level and Director level positions [1]. The late Kenyan Nobel Peace laureate, Wangari Maathai, put it simply when she said, the higher you go, the fewer women there are. ‘Glass Ceiling Effect’ [2] is the complex barrier that indicates that as women progress to the top, they will encounter a subtle barrier that prevents them from advancing upward to the top management level, to the position where power and authority is concentrated. Obviously, there are exceptions and most of such women leaders who have climbed to the top and have made a significant difference in their profession, follow a few strategies. Leadership skills can be developed overtime through personal mastery and socialization.  This paper discusses the subtle strategies that normally are ignored, but can go a long way in giving women the perfect edge in leadership.

  1. Emotional Intelligence and Team work:

As 90% of leadership successes are being attributed to a high Emotional Quotient, and research says that women are innately more emotionally intelligent than men, and have an edge over men when it comes to expressing their emotions and perceiving the emotions in those around them, we can use such factors to climb the ladder of success. An invisible force that powerfully drives human behaviour and affects people and teams can be related to the term social skills. These invisible forces play a great role in project performance.  

Shortly after the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, the Shuttle exploded destroying the vehicle and all crew members.  Although the destruction of the Shuttle Challenger was caused by the hardware failure in the O-rings sealing on the right solid rocket booster, the human decision to launch was, in itself, flawed. The resolution to launch was based on faulty group decision supported information and further aggravated by the related mismanagement of that information.      Then, when Hubble Space Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, with a budget of 1.5 billion dollars, it was a major setback as the images sent back by the Telescope were blurry due to the wrong curvature of the 2.4 m mirror of the Telescope. The Hubble Failure Review Board named the cause of the flawed mirror as a “leadership failure,” and the result of ignoring social contexts, though in the horrible aftermath of the discovery of the flawed mirror, the setback was turned into a major comeback as the space crew set up a series of coin sized mirrors to cancel out the primary mirror’s detection. Human errors cause technical disasters of all kinds. As the behaviours of teams are spawning grounds for disasters like the Challenger’s explosion or the Hubble’s flawed mirror, a woman leader with a good emotional quotient can detect behavioural norms that foster such errors and can prevent them. Some of the strategies that can aid in managing the invisible human forces are given below:

Strategy 1:  Influencing the Team by strengthening Social Skills:

Human beings and especially, women are innately emotional creatures, which is why an inability to manage or influence the emotions of those around, can undermine interactions and endeavours at every turn. One should learn to consciously respond to others’ emotions, rather than just instinctively react from a threatened ego. This has got to do with everything, from negotiating a nuclear deal or any purchase, to leading organizational change, right up to enjoying more harmony at home. Leaders who can influence and are able to take others along with them are those who are tuned into their own emotions and that of others [3].  The good news is that anyone can develop their emotional intelligence irrespective of age, even if they have not done in the past.  In fact, it’s one of the few things that actually improve with age. Paying more attention to those small clues that come from the expression on a person’s face helps in knowing both – what they are saying and what they are unwilling or unable to say. In Emotional Intelligence, the term social skills refer to the skills needed to handle and influence other people’s emotions effectively. These skills include Persuasion and Influencing Skills, Communication Skills, Conflict Management Skills, Change Management Skills, Building Bonds / Rapport and Team-Working Skills. Leaders with such skills read the emotional currents in a situation, and fine tune what they are saying to appeal to those who are involved. They also can diffuse difficult situations with tact and diplomacy. They are also good listeners, who are prepared to hear about problems; they deal with difficult issues straight away by full and open sharing of information. They are those who make change happen without alienating anyone. People who are good in this skill are extremely good at building rapport, and they are great networkers, building and maintaining a strong network of contacts and connections. Such leaders will be able to articulate a vision, and make others enthusiastic with it.

There are four ways a leader can use this force in optimizing team members’ energy: (a) expressing authentic appreciation and making it habitual – Emotional rewards matter far more to us than monetary rewards.  Genuine appreciation increases mutual respect, opens communication and grows people, (b) Addressing shared interests or a wilful collaboration – the interest to find out what my team wants that I can want for them, also, (c) Appropriate inclusion – they do this by making people feel that they are accepted by others, in whichever groups they are in. A good leader will think of every person she can include in the team work by authentic relationships. This enhances trust worthiness and efficient work performance, and (d) Strong commitment to outcomes or solutions – This is done by clarifying roles, accountability and authority for each team member that improves workplace efficiency. Every team member should be clear about what they are accountable to deliver. And also addressing the unpleasant and uncomfortable realities with an optimistic mindset is very important.

Strategy 2: Unlocking the Potential of the team members:

There may be many types of people in a project team and a good leader should be able to unlock the hidden potential within them. One definition of the word “potential” says it is “what you can do but have not yet accomplished.” It is dormant ability, untapped power, ignored strength, reserved energy, unused ideas, or hidden talents. Someone said that the wealthiest place on earth is not the gold mines of South America or the diamond mines of South Africa or even the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, but the richest deposits of our planet lie in the local cemetery.  Buried beneath the rubbles of those sacred grounds are songs that were never sung, books that were never written, paintings that never filled a canvas, and ideas that never became reality. Tragically, our grave­yards are filled with awesome and powerful treasures called potential that was never realised. There’s a wealth of potential within everyone, but only a small percentage of the 5 billion people on this planet achieve a significant portion of their true potential and the potential of others remain untapped. A woman leader with a higher emotional quotient will be able to easily grasp the reasons for her team members, who are not able to realize their potential and help them in achieving that. There can be two main reasons- the fear of failure and inability to manage repressed emotions.

(a) Fear of Failure:

In Africa, there is a kind of antelope called the Impala antelope. It can jump a height of over 10 feet and a distance of greater than 30 feet.  Impalas are fleet runners and will simply jump over anything in its path. Yet a mere 3 foot high wall is enough to keep a whole group of these creatures enclosed in one space. This is because of one problem – The Impala will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will land. It stands imprisoned by what is actually child’s play for them. Made to jump, yet remain imprisoned. What a tragic picture for many who are afraid of failure and who are not able to take the risk. Thomas J. Watson, the founder and first president of IBM, said:  “Failure is a teacher, a harsh one, perhaps, but the best. That’s what I have to do when an idea backfires or a sales program fails.  You’ve got to put failure to work for you. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it.  So, go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can because that’s where you will find success”. Failure can make a person braver in the face of opposition by teaching her limitations and strengths.

(b) Inability to manage Repressed Emotions:

People encounter hurt on the journey of life, whether in their personal or official life and such repressed emotions turn a few into insecure individuals. Such people cannot achieve their potential nor will they allow others to achieve theirs, unless they acknowledge their insecurities and deal with it. They will either be passive and people pleasing or aggressive and narcissistic. People Pleasers are extremely nice and by that, they try to get the love and attention of others; they also use people pleasing skills to control others by manipulating to do things for others to get what they want. At the workplace, such people do not tell their boss what they are thinking as they are worried about their job and promotion. Stuffing one’s honest feelings away, rather than finding a gracious open minded way to bring up thorny issues would cause trouble, and the issue or situation will never be resolved. Though being honest doesn’t have to mean being confrontational, it takes courage to speak truthfully and risk contradicting someone else’s viewpoint.

An aggressive or narcissistic person defines his self worth and his very identity to his success or his best interests. Many such narcissistic leaders micro-manage progress involving in the smallest details so that they can feel powerful and significant. They are also proud and driven by performance; they do not trust, have superficial relationships and use others as tools for accomplishment. Thus, they sideline their enthusiastic employees and even admonish them if they try to achieve success without their micro management and guidance. This makes many colleagues to run to them for help and guidance, without trying to use their own intelligence and hence unable to realize their potential.

Strategy 3:  Following a Disciplined life

Discipline is a habit and a way of life, where one tries to be on time and live in a systematic way. Many successful people attribute their success to discipline. For a women leader who would like to manage both her home and office effectively and all the while keeping her fit, practicing discipline is very important. We should never see that as something that restricts us and takes away our right to freedom and a good time. But there is so much more to the term than that. William Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the creative genius was notorious for his meager literary output, in spite of his towering gift. Someone wrote about him this way: Never did so great a mind produce so little. He left Cambridge University to join the army. He left the army because he could not rub down a horse. He returned to Oxford and left without a degree. He began a paper called The Watchman which lived for ten numbers and then died. Coleridge had every poetic gift but one – the gift of sustained and concentrated effort. How many of us, like Coleridge, are blessed with incredible talent, but are not disciplined to harness and put it to any good use. Great leaders should learn to be disciplined in every aspect and teach discipline to others.

  1. Conclusion

According to Pew Research Survey [4] on women and leadership, “Americans find women indistinguishable from men on basic leadership qualities like intelligence, capability to be innovative and stronger than men in matters of being compassionate and organized leaders”. It’s not intelligence that makes a person an outstanding leader, but emotional intelligence abilities [3]. And the good news is that women, on average, are better at almost all these crucial leadership skills, like empathy, self awareness, social responsibility, coaching and mentoring, adaptability, influencing and inspiring others. Women’s brain has been bequeathed with a natural talent on leadership, and the mental flexibility of the women’s brains has an important trait of leadership expected of a leader. John. F. Kennedy once said, “We need men who can dream of things that never were but we also need the female mind as well”. If our country has to progress, we need the talents, skills and competencies of both men and women; we need more women who exhibit leadership capabilities that involves courage in the face of fear and that utilises boundary spanning and resourceful problem solving. It is time for women to learn these leadership strategies and climb to the top and influence the world.

  1. References:
  1. Davidson, M.J. and Cooper, C.L. (1992), Shattering the Glass Ceiling, Paul Chapman Publishing. London.
  2. World Economic Forum (2014) The Global Gender Gap Report. http://www.weforum.org/docs/GGGR14/GGGR_CompleteReport_2014.pdf
  3. Goleman, D. (1995) Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.
  4. Kim Parker, J. M. (2015, January). Women and Leadership. Public Says Women are Equally Qualified, But Barriers Persist. Washington D.C., United States: Pew Research Center.

About Author:

Dr. Latha Christie, Scientist ‘G’, MTRDC

Dr. Latha Christie graduated in Electronics and Communication Engineering from GCE, Tamilnadu with Honours and later received her M.S. and Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. She also has completed her International Executive Diploma in Project management from I2P2M in collaboration with George Washington University School of business, Washington DC. She joined MTRDC in 1987.