Strength Training for Women in Leadership

The October session for our executive leadership class will focus on strength training. No, we are not doing dead-lifts and squats. We are bringing in certified-strength trainer Gwen Hall from North Carolina to work with the class on how to leverage their strengths and manage around their weaknesses.

This got me thinking about the common strengths shared by most women that make them effective leaders. Women tend to have a high degree of self-awareness as well as organizational awareness, the two primary factors in emotional intelligence that have been tied to top performers. Learning how to self-manage or manage relationships is equally important, and a woman’s ability to do that increases with experience. I am was more interested in learning about studies that have been done to test women on leadership competencies, and what the data could tell us.

I found an excellent study conducted by Zenger/Folkman and published in the Harvard Business Review. The authors mention that public perception is that men are more competitive, results-driven, and women are better nurturers, relationship-builders. What their study found is that women scored higher than men on 12 out of 16 leadership competencies…and two of the traits where women “outscored men to the highest degree–taking initiative and driving for results–have long been thought of as particularly male strengths.”

Perhaps one way to explain why women score higher is that because of bias, either explicit or implicit, women have to work harder to earn respect, recognition, and rank, plus they are often doubly scrutinized and thus have little margin for error.

My big take-away from this study is that women may be surpassing men in demonstrating leadership competencies because they have to be twice as good to be recognized half as much. As the playing field becomes more level, hopefully we’ll see a time when men and women are evaluated equally and everyone is in encouraged to work to achieve their full potential leveraging their strengths.

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