Think about a female leader you admire and consider the qualities that woman possesses. She’s particularly cool under pressure. She’s focused but not rigid. She can take a bad experience and address it, then let it go. She shows great patience in the most frustrating circumstances.
As successful women leaders know, there are many facets to leadership. Some are more intangible qualities, things that we might not be born doing naturally but that, over time, we can teach ourselves.
Developing those intangibles can help us kick our careers into high gear.
The plus is that many natural leadership traits are already inherent to women, says Esther Wachs Book, author of Why the Best Man for the Job is a Woman: The Unique Qualities of Female Leadership. She interviewed female CEOs and identified several attributes she believes are unique to women, including:
* We can sell our vision
* We aren’t afraid to reinvent the rules
* We focus on achievement
* We show courage under fire, and
* We turn challenges into opportunities.
While Book’s assertion that these qualities are found only in women executives is debatable, she points out that management styles in today’s business climate have been changing for some time. Women bosses now find ourselves in more collaborative, team-oriented corporate environments that emphasize communication, networking and balance—traits we’re known for.
More Qualities That Count
Intangible attributes are qualities that might not have specific definitions, but most people know them when they see them. They also take time to develop. Make sure you’re cultivating these seven leadership traits – and take the advice from other top women leaders on how they did.
- Executive Maturity/Adaptability. Being able to face changes without allowing preconceived notions to get in the way goes far in leading others by example. And no matter how high up you’ve risen, it’s important to remember you too were once unsure of yourself and learning the ropes. “When I started, I was about command and control,” Lisa Borders, president of the WNBA, told the New York Times. “Now … empowering and enabling people is far more compelling, and the results are always better.”
- Empathy/Social Judgment. Accept that not everyone you work with will reflect the exact same abilities and outlook you’re accustomed to. Leadership means understanding those we lead. If you resist relating to your team, you’ll never succeed, says Geraldine Martin-Coppola, General Manager of Fabletics. “How well a team works together can make or break a business,” she told The Huffington Post. “If you can solve problems together, learn to work through differences and respect each other as individuals … you can overcome the toughest business challenges.”
- Presence. Think, act, and speak like the executive you are/want to be. Exhibiting presence doesn’t have to be overly demonstrative, just subtly confident, says Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard. Whitman says she learned this early in her career while working for Disney in the 1980s. She told Forbes: “I had to learn to stand up for myself; it was a male-oriented culture. Frank Wells, who was COO, told me ‘You’re just as smart as these guys; you have to speak up in meetings.’ It was a turning point for me.”
- Self-insight. Figure out what makes you tick. Do you love continually learning or do you prefer teaching others? Do you have a creative side you want to explore? “People think they’re stuck in one place, but it’s important to look at how you can leverage your skills to maximize where you’re at,” says Millie Tran, Director of Global Adaptation for Buzzfeed. “For me it was about figuring out how I could apply … my experience and skills in a new way.”
- Self-efficacy. Believe you can do more than you have the ability to do, and you will. Lindsay Pattison, Worldwide CEO of UK media agency Maxus, calls this trait “self-belief.” “We all have that cynical gremlin on our shoulder telling [us we’re] not good enough. Self-belief has many [forms], but without it, you’ll struggle to succeed,” she told The Huffington Post.
- Fortitude/Resilience. How you confront challenges and rebound from mistakes telegraphs to your co-workers your ability to regain control. Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, has dealt with more than her share in her tenure and has always bounced back—in part because she sees beyond the problem. “I want the bad news—the sooner the better,” she recently told Esquire. “Almost every problem, at the start, is solvable. The longer it takes to solve … the bigger the problem it [becomes].” Her take-charge approach prevents small issues from blowing up into disasters.
- Fallibility. You don’t have all the answers. But you can still be a winning influence by starting over when you fail. Learning from failures is the hallmark of self-confidence. “To any person changing careers, I tell them, failure’s not fatal—it’s feedback,” says the WNBA’s Borders.
What other intangible traits do you feel great leaders have? Share them in our comments section!