Focusing on women leaders in the organisation and beyond

Women in business start with the same intelligence, commitment and education as men, though comparatively few women reach senior leadership positions. This is not just unfair, but also a missed opportunity for organisations, desperate for more good leaders and diverse leadership.

Starting more than ten years ago, the McKinsey Leadership Project has researched the success factors of women leaders in diverse fields. The 85 women interviewed by the project included leaders of small teams all the way up to senior executives in large organisations. Following the fieldwork, researchers also distilled their findings into a model called Centred Leadership, which comprises five related dimensions that distinguish women from their male counterparts.

These five dimensions are:

Meaning: finding your own strength and purpose. This is your motivation, why you do what you do. Or, as Katharine Graham, CEO of the Washington Post said, “To love what you do and feel that it matters – how could anything be more fun?” For professionals, meaning means greater job satisfaction, higher productivity, lower turn-over, and increased loyalty.

Managing Energy: Knowing your own energy, where it goes and how to manage it. While this is crucial for all professionals, 92% of women also manage child care, meal preparation etc at home, their career is more likely to be their “second shift”. Managing energy can mean spacing out energy-sapping tasks during the day but is primarily the awareness of your own energy levels during the day, and how this affects productivity and emotions.

Positive framing: Finding constructive ways to view your world. This is not the same as positive thinking, positive framing is not just about an optimistic view of the world. It is about accepting adversity and challenges and seeking actions to counter them.

Connecting: Identifying those people that can help you grow and build stronger relationships. McKinsey noted that people with strong networks and good mentors enjoy more promotions, higher pay, and greater career satisfaction. But, men’s and women’s network tend to have different characteristics – men’s networks tend to be wider and shallower, providing more opportunities for knowledge and professional opportunities. In contrast, women’s networks tend to be deeper.

And Engaging: finding your voice and collaborating with others. This means taking ownership of your own professional development and accepting risk as the cost of opportunity.

As you can see, Centred Leadership emphasizes the importance of positive emotions, something that can distinguish women from men in the workplace. This is due to the peculiar challenges faced by women – the option to opt out of a career, the pressures of motherhood and work, and the management of emotional ups and downs.

Centred leadership is therefore about having the physical, intellectual and emotional strength to drive personal achievement and to inspire others to follow that example. Though the model can also be applied to men, it has been described from extensive research into the role of women who rise into leadership roles in organisations and describes the strengths and experiences that are typical of women leaders.

Implemented correctly Centred Leadership has the potential to hugely benefit an organisation and a nation, for as stated by Melinda Gates, “When we invest in women and girls, we are investing in the people who invest in everyone else.”

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Image: The dimensions of Centred Leadership. Source: McKinsey

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