October 12, 2006

What makes a woman a leader?

  • Women bring several unique traits to leadership positions, such as teamwork, communication skills and the ability to discern and label patterns of ideas.
    Special to the Journal

    In 2005, CREW Network conducted a national survey of its membership on questions of position and pay. The survey revealed that while 36 percent of real estate professionals are women — up from 32 percent in 2000 — women continue to lag behind men both in terms of pay and occupancy of senior level positions.

    The Wall Street Journal reported that the growth of women in senior level positions was flat in most specialties and barriers continue to exist to women above the vice president level.

    CREW Seattle mirrors the national report, having among its members a relatively small percentage of women in senior leadership positions in companies or in their own firms. As it is the goal of CREW Network for women to reach parity in the real estate industry, there is a renewed focus on women in senior leadership positions at both the national and local levels.

    The characteristics that have propelled women into senior leadership positions tend to run a similar path. Drawing from our own experiences and those of our respective clients, we have observed a number of consistent traits in senior-level women leaders.

    Creating community

    A dominant trait of senior-level women is a passion for creating community. Long before collaboration and teamwork became the buzzwords of the 21st century, women worked their way up through organizations most often in conjunction with others. They form teams, get to know their team members well and devote a large amount of energy to team member success. Such commitment to the group not only allows them to source and integrate a variety of skills, it generates a synergy that is central to achieving success.

    A number of women we have encountered do this so naturally that they do not treat it as a strength. Yet without that strength, teams fail to pull in one direction to reach their goals.

    Key to that process of team building is a second trait: strong collaborative communication skills. The women leaders we encountered tend to be highly verbal, speak with ease and more importantly, listen with ease.

    While they want to make their points and drive towards results, their communication style on the surface appears to be less combative or competitive than many of their male counterparts. The successful women leaders we have seen are particularly effective at steering away from posturing, allowing others to make their points but cutting argument for argument’s sake short and moving the focus to forward action.

    Beyond listening

    Strong collaborative communication raises a third trait: the ability to discern and label patterns of ideas. Listening requires not only hearing the words but also hearing the meanings behind the words and the patterns they form. Seeing patterns is both a linear and nonlinear process, the latter arising from the use of intuition.

    While it would be hard to say if there is anything to the popular expression “women’s intuition,” intuition, in whatever sex it resides, has been recognized as extremely important to generating creative ideas. There has been a groundswell of support among strategic thinkers in the last five years for the idea that contemplating alternative images of the future requires thinking beyond rational processes. Visionary thinking is arrived at intuitively from tuning into subtle energies at work in subconscious realms.

    For example, in initial project meetings where there are lots of ideas, personalities and goals, intuition allows women to hear what the group is saying, find the patterns and communicate the group’s vision in a way that works for everyone.

    Women practice the art of “intuiting” personalities and their messages and provide that vision to move forward with a plan. It’s not that men aren’t intuitive, but it has more to do with women being able to round-up the issues in their heads, similar to rounding up children’s multiple activities and laying out a plan to make sense of it all.

    Intuition and strategic vision

    The intuition of patterns enables not only the successful resolution of day-to-day operational problems, but also to the creation of strategic vision. Countless studies have shown that organizations with a strong vision perform significantly better than those without one. Those leaders who tap into both the linear and more intuitive thinking of others and within themselves can generate a strong strategic vision and raise the probability of success.

    There are undoubtedly many other traits seen among successful senior women leaders, not the least of which is the passion for hard work, achievement and overall betterment.

    Are these traits unique qualities of female leadership? No one has been able to link such qualities reliably to any biological difference. However, they do seem to appear with more regularity among women.

    Further, as the world moves towards a global, networked and distributed workforce, those traits are becoming increasingly important and women’s penchant for showing these traits is leading to a heightened interest in women leaders and the behavior of women leaders. This is not to say that men do not possess these characteristics. Many in the commercial real estate profession articulate ideas, get feedback, formulate plans, generate enthusiasm and commitment, and, together with a diverse team, go forth and accomplish.

    Being in leadership positions in this profession has many opportunities to use these more “female” qualities — whether you are a man or woman.

    Julie Benezet, a management and executive consultant, is owner of Business Growth Consulting. She has held executive positions in various companies and worked as a finance lawyer and a psychologist. Melanie Corey-Ferrini, AIA, owns Dynamik. She combines her background as an architect and real estate analyst into creating locations and developing brands.

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