A Prime Time for Women in Leadership
By David M. Traversi
Leadership in general is failing. And it's failing at in increasing rate. Just open up the newspaper or click on the television and you'll be bombarded with evidence of the failure of leadership in just about every arena - government, politics, the military, social movements, religion, sports, the corporate world, even in the family. Identify a problem, from global warming to the subprime mess to steroid use to the increase in gang activity among our youth, and you'll ultimately have to assign responsibility to failed leadership.
Why is leadership failing? In a word … technology. Technology is not a bad thing. In fact, I happen to believe it is a very good thing. It represents a meaningful part of the human potential. But we have to recognize all of its dimensions and deal with them.
We have to recognize that, in the past generation, technologies such as computers, the Internet, and mobile phones have conspired to overwhelm us with increasing amounts of increasingly complex data, downloaded at faster and faster rates. As a collective practice, leadership has simply fallen behind the pace of everything else in the world that has been accelerated and complicated by technology. Often leaders are unable to distinguish useful from useless data. Even if they can, they don't have time to understand what to do with the useful before it quickly becomes useless. They're trying to "drink out of a fire hose." As a result, fear, stress, resistance, lapses in integrity, inability to focus, lack of personal responsibility, absence of creativity, and most importantly, a lack of positive results are the hallmarks of leadership today.
Leaders got us here. And leaders are going to have to get us out of here. But right now, we are in a leadership crisis. We just don't have enough effective leaders. And we lack an effective way of developing and training the leaders we need. We consult the traditional leadership authorities and they provide us checklists of character traits that an effective leader should embody and functions that an effective leader should perform. But they don't generally tell us how to embody those traits and perform those functions. They tell us the destination, but not the means - the engine - to get us there.
In my book, The Source of Leadership: Eight Drivers of the High-Impact Leader, I identify eight personal drivers - energies that exist within each of us - each of which drives the ability of a person to embody a particular character trait of an effective leader and perform a particular function of an effective leader. The drivers are presence (and I'm speaking about consciousness and mindfulness), openness, clarity (of thought, emotion, and behavior), intention, personal responsibility, intuition, creativity, and connected communication.
As these drivers emerge in coming years as fundamental components of the leaders who are able to succeed in this challenging environment, women in my opinion have a natural advantage over men. Specifically, women in my experience have more developed energies of intuition and connected communication.
Each of us was gifted with a powerful source of inspiration - a knowing, an intuition - that is embedded in this omniscient energy that binds everything that is. But fear often causes us to abandon this knowingness too quickly in favor of a "safer" route supported by "facts" or the opinions of others. In doing this, we abdicate the crucial role that active intuition plays in life. In my experience of working with thousands of leaders, men and women, over the years, women abdicate far less than men. In other words, they are far more likely than men to have a more developed sixth sense and to listen to it more closely. In turn, this enables them to be better self-defined (intimately knowing her values, beliefs, higher purpose, and vision of the future, and able to express them clearly), to be more inspiring (able to listen deeply to others to discover a common purpose and then give life to her vision by communicating it so that her team members see themselves in it), to better form a vision (processing ideas and possibilities into an organizational objective), and to build a responsive structure (one that is highly responsive to the high-velocity, highly complex, interconnected existence in which we live).
In the complex, adaptive system in which we live, where everyone is interconnected and relationships are paramount, communication is essential for survival. Once past mere survival, the better you communicate, the better your relationships will be. The better your relationships, the better your life will be. Better communication is a function of increasing the connection in your communication.
I have also found in my experience that women are naturally better communicators than men, and particularly in the deeply connected way that will be increasingly needed for effective leadership in the future. As a result, they will be better equipped to inspire, be supportive (strengthening others by fostering an environment that encourages the taking of risks, collaboration, self-leadership, and recognition, and facilitating the transformation of challenges to personal growth), engage a team (recruit, engage and inspire people to realize her vision), and create accountability (foster a culture and implement systems requiring each team member to contribute his or her share within a collaborative environment).
What about the other six drivers of presence, openness, clarity, intention, personal responsibility, and creativity? It is not as evident to me that women have any natural advantage in these areas. But, given that effective leadership of others begins with effective leadership of the self, the advantage of women may lie in the fact that, in my experience, women are amenable than men to accessing and developing these drivers. Here's to the dawn of a new age of leadership by women! You are needed in every arena!
David M. Traversi, a nationally known executive coach, is the author of The Source of Leadership: Eight Drivers of the High-Impact Leader, released in September 2007, www.thesourceofleadership.com.