When Women Lead: Learning by Listening

Archetypes and Leadership

Fifteen years ago, I published a research paper and article on the topic of gender diversity in the workplace entitled, “Archetypes and Gender Diversity.” I was fascinated with the notion that women leaders might function differently than their male counterparts. Over the course of my 30+ year career as a corporate executive and entrepreneur, I have examined a plethora of leadership styles in research and practice: hierarchical leaders who rely upon command and control; collaborative leaders who actively engage others in the decision making process; and servant leaders who are driven by the common good and what leadership scholar and author Edgar Schein describes in his book “Humble Leadership.”

People often query me about what is the “best type of leadership,” citing examples from historical figures such as Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln. In reality, there is no one best type of leadership. Churchill was the best leader for our times as a war leader. His effectiveness as a peacetime leader has been debated.

Another question I receive is whether or not women are better leaders than men. Scholar and author Alice Eagly has conducted a vast amount of research on the topic of women in leadership. Eagly looks at characteristics among female leaders such as mentorship, collaboration, and the ability to enhance others’ self worth.

The question of women leaders can be incendiary. Political figures such as Hillary Clinton became a lightning rod for her opponents. Was it due to misogyny or simply a belief that she wasn’t the right leader for our time? While we may never know, there are characteristics that contemporary leaders possess that I believe will carry us forward in this trying and difficulty time in world history.

Starting with Images and Vision

One of those leaders is Eileen Fisher. I had the opportunity to hear her speak at a recent Zoom conference hosted by her Leadership Institute, Women Together. She described her approach to leadership as learning by listening and starting with a vision – whether that vision is for her clothing design company, her Leadership Institute or the farmers who supply the organic cotton used in the manufacturing of her clothing.

She discussed her reliance upon listening to others and asking questions as methods to keep things moving forward. Her desire as a leader to learn from others and from this input she is able to describe to others what sees for the future. She does this through collaborating and her belief that leadership is a journey and one that requires an openness to be learning all the time.

Listening, visioning, collaborating and learning – critical leadership skills at all time but especially important during times of crisis. To this list I would add humility: the ability to admit that as leaders we have challenges and need to rely on the input of others. Eileen Fisher candidly acknowledged her own challenges as a leader and the need to deal with those challenges decisively when the very core of her business model and our society are at risk.

Heart-Centered Leadership

Fisher referred to her leadership challenges as her “shadow side,” and areas that she is constantly challenges herself to master. When asked what methods she uses to deal with these challenges, she shared that she draws upon her inner strength, vision and what she described as a radiant heart – heart-centered leadership.

A Path Forward

In closing she offered a perspective of hope – that perhaps this time of slowing down as a result of the pandemic is both terrifying and exciting. That perhaps by slowing down we can heal the planet collectively and gain more clarity about what is really important in our lives as we forge a path forward in life and leadership.

#leadership #archetypes #womenleaders #vision #collaboration #leadershipcoaching #executivecoaching #aliceeagly #eileenfisher #womentogether #humbleleadership

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