A Woman's Framework for a Successful Career and Life
James Hamerstone and Lindsay Musser Hough, authors of A Woman's Framework for a Successful Career and Life, writes how women's ambition and leadership skills impact career success.
Leadership Skills Impact Career Success
By James Hamerstone and Lindsay Musser Hough
Over the last two decades, opportunities for women have increased dramatically. However, although women account for roughly 50 percent of the workforce, less than 15 percent serve in leadership roles – perhaps suggesting that women’s progress in the workplace has stalled. The reasons behind this are complex: discrimination, organizational inflexibility and conflicting expectations regarding gender roles, to name a few, all play a role. Moreover, there are core stylistic differences between men and women that impact their success at work.
Both men and women perform better when they understand how these differences affect their own approaches and interactions within the workplace. In this article, we discuss two of these core stylistic differences and how women can leverage them to achieve success within the workplace.
Ambition can become a complicated word when it's used in reference to women. For instance, saying that a woman is "ambitious" can carry an underlying connotation that she is brusque, non-collaborative or masculine. As such, these stereotypes can undermine women's success in the workplace.
So, what does ambition really mean? And how should it be used? The truth is that ambition is a healthy byproduct of confidence, security and belief in oneself. Being ambitious means having a desire for personal achievement and making decisions that will position you well for the future. Learning to become comfortable with ambition can help sustain and grow a healthy career.
In her book, In a Different Voice, Carol Gilligan theorizes that women lack qualities crucial for workplace success. Gilligan believes that the research is not flawed, but that the interpretation is. For example, boys tend to play competitive games while girls gravitate towards more cooperative play. The male researchers conclude that boys are more comfortable with conflict, competition and a will to win, while girls struggle with this, thereby leading them to miss out on career success. Gilligan, on the other hand, believes that girls aren't avoiding conflict; instead, they place more significance on continuing relationships than on winning. From a workplace perspective, the girls' model may be more indicative of desirable leadership skills.
In Necessary Dreams, author and psychiatrist Anna Fells suggests that the absence of recognition prevents the development of ambition and expertise required for pursuing a successful career. Girls tend to deflect recognition and underplay their accomplishments when presented with a new opportunity. For instance, one of James Hamerstone's former students desired a higher salary but felt uncomfortable disclosing her 4.0 GPA and top ranking in her major. After coaching, she learned how to ask for what she wanted - and she got it, receiving the recognition she deserved. Women need to be encouraged to negotiate and pursue their goals. Confidence, which is crucial to ambition, is developed through receiving recognition and feedback about successfully achieving those goals. And by divulging their accomplishments and talents, women take a positive step toward achieving your goal and opening the door to new opportunities.
The concept of leadership can be baffling when considered in terms of gender. Are women or men better natural leaders? Should women be more like men: decisive and directive? Or should women embrace their own qualities by motivating employees through collaboration and personalized attention?
Data shows that women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles, particularly in business and government. By improving skills that go hand in hand with leadership - such as communication, negotiation, decision-making and career planning - women can better position themselves for career success.
Styles of Leadership
Although leadership requires strategy, not all leaders are created equal. Leaders typically fall into one of two categories of leadership styles:
•Transformational - collaborates with employees to identify a goal and create a vision to guide and inspire employees to achieve the goal; described as collaborative, motivational and team oriented
Though no one leadership style is superior, data suggests that the transformational style is more likely to lead to increased productivity by employees. Because women generally possess more skills required to be a transactional leader, many people believe this makes them better leaders.
Qualities that Make a Great Leader
According to Edgar Schein, a former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, it is the responsibility of the leader to understand, create and sustain a positive organizational culture. In order to do so, leaders should possess the following crucial qualities:
•Ability to connect with others
Like Shakespeare wrote in his play As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage and all the men merely players. They have their exits entrances and men in his time plays many parts.” Similarly, leaders must be able to play their part by projecting these qualities to others.
The Power of Presence
To be a great leader, one must exhibit a powerful presence. In turn, this commands attention from employees and other colleagues and inspires commitment and compliance. Women can start building their presence within the workplace by:
•Building a relationship with colleagues and/or employees
•Giving full attention to someone who is speaking
•Thinking before speaking
•Presenting ideas in a succinct manner
•Using declarative sentences
•Establishing a physical presence that projects confidence (e.g., standing up straight, speaking clearly)
•Dressing the part for the desired job
•Asking others for their perspectives and opinions
•Engaging others in problem-solving
•Being authentic and comfortable with yourself
In addition to creating a "presence" within the workplace, a leader must also establish a sense of power among her colleagues and/or employees. Women can build power by:
•Displaying exceptional performance
•Acquiring responsibilities across several units
•Forming alliances in the organization
•Getting involved in company picnics, holiday parties and sports teams
•Helping subordinates achieve higher roles within company
Regardless of what type of career women seek, ambition and leadership are both crucial to their success within the workplace. By understanding how these elements play a role in their own work approaches and interactions, women leverage these skills to build a successful career.
James E. Hamerstone a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Management Department at Gettysburg College and the creator of the popular "Women in Organizations" seminar. In addition to his work on women in organizations, he teaches International Management and Human Resource Management. He frequently speaks on the topic of women and work. Prior to teaching, he was a senior human resource executive at TRW, a space, defense and automotive supply company and Senior VP of Human Resources at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.
Lindsay Musser Hough has worked in the management consulting industry for over 10 years. Her area of consulting expertise is in assisting government agencies implement large-scale transformations and innovative programs. She has worked with clients ranging from the US Transportation Security Administration to the PA Department of Public Welfare. Throughout her career, Hough has been active in workplace diversity and inclusion efforts and has coached many young men and women on career development topics including networking, work-life fit and personal branding.