Women in Leadership
Posted Thu, 03 Mar 2005
Leonardo da Vinci's famous Vitruvian Man, or, as he is often called, -The Universal Man-, is an ideal figure, the embodiment of a balanced, healthy person. Like da Vinci's beautiful drawing, a good leader must have balance. Working with chief executive officers in the business and sports world, executive coach Shirley Hickman-Smith helps leaders to develop and grow to their full potential - and she uses an anatomical model to do it. The model, developed by US-based Carl Mays, views each part of the body as representing a quality essential to leadership - and when these are combined, the body of a fully-rounded leader emerges.
A leader must first have heart, says Hickman-Smith, and practising self-awareness is part of this. The backbone of a leader involves showing courage and perseverance. The muscles give a leader the physical vitality and endurance needed for planning ahead. A leader's hands put goals in writing, research and achieve, seek solutions, and -lend a helping hand-. Shoulders are used for sharing responsibility, and working shoulder to shoulder with associates.
The brain, of course, represents the power of the mind, and thinking like a leader.
Eyes visualise results. The ears are used to listen and learn. A mouth can usefully be used as a leader to compliment others and vocalise thoughts.
For a start, she says, 'women tend to have more heart. They tend to be more tender, gentler, and empathetic in their approach.' And while muscle strength is not usually associated with women, the female race has endurance: 'Women can endure more pain. And they're not afraid of hard work.' Women have the eyesight or vision needed to see both the bigger picture - and what is needed to get there,' says Hickman-Smith. And as for ears: 'Generally women are brilliant listeners. They are good at reading between the lines, expressing feelings and dealing with conflict.'
Internationally, good management and leadership are becoming more and more associated with the qualities Hickman-Smith describes. Empathy, a high level of interpersonal skills and a consultative style are now viewed as important to leadership. And most often, they are viewed as 'female' traits that come more easily to women than to men.
Bodyshop founder Anita Roddick is a prominent example of a particular female leadership style, put to extremely effective use. 'I run my company according to feminine principles,' she says. 'These are principles of caring; making intuitive decisions; not getting hung up on hierarchy; having a sense of work as being part of your life, not separate from it; putting your labour where your love is; being responsible to the world for how you use your profits; and recognising the bottom line should stay at the bottom.' And, inarguably, this works for her.
Male Managerial Style
Yet the successful male managerial stereotype is strongly embedded, and female managers are pressured to conform to it, says Susan Vinnicombe, director of the UK-based Centre for Developing Women Business Leaders. The 'masculine' traits of self-confidence, competitiveness, decisiveness, aggressiveness and independence are all generally still viewed as being essential for a successful leader.
In the long experience of Joan Joffe - former chief executive and now consultant to the Vodacom group - men and women generally have different leadership styles, both of which are important. 'There are male and female traits that are quite easily distinguishable in a business situation,' says Joffe.
'In some situations you need an authoritative, very strong, almost dictatorial style of leadership - a kind of command and control attitude that boys learn at school. Women by upbringing are more in a consultative type of role - a nurturing, caring type of situation,' she explains. Joffe, who has been in business since 1959, describes her leadership style as characteristically 'female', and says this has never been a disadvantage. 'I've never had a problem with my gender. On the contrary, it's been an advantage. I ran my business in a consultative fashion, encouraging people to participate and state their views - and it was successful.'
For Gwede Mantashe, the fiery leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), expecting women to have particular qualities, such as a nurturing nature, 'subconsciously creates a situation where women are given higher standards to meet than men.
'For a woman to be a leader she must not want to have specific qualities as a woman - she must have the general qualities of leadership,' Mantashe argues. He cites Emma Mashinini as an example of a leader in her own right - not a leader as a woman. Born in Johannesburg in 1929, she worked her way up as a factory worker to one of the founders of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a body that united trade unions across South Africa.
Leaders, says Mantashe, must be assertive, decisive, and passionate about what they are doing. 'Take for example [Foreign Affairs Minister] Nkosasana Zuma - her style is as aggressive and robust as any other male leader. And with all the problems associated with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, she goes into a war situation like any other leader, engages, and turns it around.'
NUM works with a woman minister, he points out. 'Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka's style isn't soft, and she engages with a very tough and arrogant sector, and does so competently.'
Peter Storey, past Bishop of the Methodist Church of southern Africa, says that since the world has had to make space for women to develop as leaders, 'men expect women not to be as decisive, or to make hard choices. They find to their surprise that women leaders don't necessarily have to be some sort of nurturing hen.' He points to political examples of far-from-soft women leaders: Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and Condoleezza Rice, the last of whom he describes as 'ruthless person'.
Storey says: 'Women can go toe to toe with men in a very tough world. And they can demonstrate the same weaknesses that come to any person with a lot of power ... Women are going to produce good and bad leaders, just as men do.'
Hickman-Smith's model of a leader using his or her ears to listen and learn is one that Storey has arrived at himself. In leadership, he says, 'there is a need to make clear-cut decisions balanced by the need to listen very carefully to others and to hear their guidance.' Storey's personal experience of leadership has been 'becoming more ready to listen, and increasingly aware of the value of people you work with, and their opinions ... To ensure people around you feel free to tell you where you are screwing up'.
Only one of southern Africa's 13 Methodist Bishops is a woman. 'It saddens me to see a greater percentage of women in parliament than in the church. We shouldn't be lagging behind,' says Storey. Acceptance of female clergy differs from area to area, he says. But, when appointing ministers in the past, he says: 'There would often be a protest when I wanted to place a female minister, and then five years later I'd have a demonstration when I wanted to replace her.'
Like Storey, Patekile Holomisa, president of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa, emphasises the ability to empathise, consult and listen - qualities often defined as 'feminine' in western corporate environments - as central to good leadership. Raised by an uncle, himself a traditional leader in Pondoland, this imposing man was made, as a boy, to feed and clean up after dogs and pigs, and to look after lambs and oxen. In retrospect, this was done deliberately, says Holomisa, 'so that in the future I would not call on people to do anything I would not do myself.'
He also learnt 'the need to consult people who are going to be affected by your decision ... You need to be patient with them, to allow the people to speak and to guide them towards a decision. Then your responsibility as a leader is to enforce that decision.' As for women, 'they have always been leading, from behind,' says Holomisa. 'Even though community meetings are dominated by men, sometimes the final decision is not taken in those forums.' The men will say they want to go away to ponder an issue, and then they will consult their wives, sisters and aunts for advice. When they come back to the meeting you find that the men are wiser. 'Women tend to be practical. They don't theorise, because they are directly affected,' says Holomisa.
When it comes to matters of custom, women and men have different, specific roles to play, he argues, which together make up a harmonious whole.
He speaks about a traditional, rural world, yet Holomisa' s views on male and female leadership are not all that different from current business thinking.
Male and female leadership styles can be used together to strengthen an organisation, Joffe asserts. 'In the South African context it is extremely relevant and important to have different views in leadership and on boards. Women bring diversity and different viewpoints,' says Joffe. 'There is a lot of strength in diversity. Women should not try to be like men, adopting a style that isn't theirs for the purpose of conforming. 'Different styles and different ways of looking at things are extremely advantageous for a management team.' AL
Stats SA Table
A report released by the Employment Equity Commission in 2001 showed that women are inadequately represented across all sectors of the South African economy: 13% of all top management positions are held by women and 20% of all senior management jobs have gone to women. According to latest figures from Stats SA, of the most senior officials and managers in the public and private sectors, 29% are female. This figure is heavily weighted by the large proportion of women in senior positions in Parliament and Cabinet. Thirty percent of all our parliamentarians are women, putting South Africa at number eight in the world in terms of gender equality in government.
Key findings of a 2001 survey by Corporate Women Directors International of women board directors of South Africa's top publicly listed and government-owned companies are as follows:
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