Most women find it hard to ‘man up’ and embrace hard-driving, hard-nosed leadership styles, writes MOSIMA SELEKISHO
Women’s Day is a good time to share a secret … recent events give women executives a big opportunity to fulfill their potential as key contributors to corporate success as they are ideally placed to meet the growing need for a new type of corporate leadership.
A spate of organizational failures and missteps highlights the shortcomings of power leaders (corporate kingpins who operate on some elevated plane and go unchallenged for years) and self-serving leaders (who do well personally while their operations go to the dogs).
Most women find it hard to ‘man up’ and embrace hard-driving, hard-nosed leadership styles. Now they don’t have to. Increasing focus, worldwide and locally, falls on the advantages of servant leadership.
The concept has been discussed for more than a generation by business gurus and corporate consultants. Simply put, servant leaders are there to serve the people and the organization. Rule through fear or hierarchy is out. Rule through shared purpose and teamwork is in.
Most women have to make a few adjustments when adopting this leadership style. Traditional roles as a mother and the pivotal figure in the household give them a head start. A key characteristic of servant leadership is a listening skill. Any woman with children knows the importance of listening and absorbing information from several sources at once while being a calming influence.
Children with a problem want the mother to fix it. Subordinates with problems want the same. The servant leader responds by getting them to open up, share perspectives, look at options and together decide the way forward.
Leaders like this are not there to further their own agenda. They are happy to meet the needs of others. Peers and subordinates go to them to tap their knowledge, experience, and skills, which the leader is happy to share.
A servant leader (like a mother) shows empathy. This type of leader is accessible. Insights are shared. Feedback is constant. Suggestions can be made and ideas debated. No one worries about who gets the credit (or blame) as the team and the wider corporate vision is more important than individual ego.
Servant leaders lead by example, not by dominating every meeting and conversation.
Just like mum, the servant leader knows you cannot say one thing and do another – the kids’ notice and credibility suffers. So, you go the extra mile and put yourself out, knowing that subordinates are more inclined to put in long days and nights when they know the boss does the same.
The leader draws on an inner belief in excellence; that only the best will do. Leadership by example ensures this culture is quietly instilled. Mothers know they are rearing the next generation. They take pride in every accomplishment notched up by their offspring.
Servant leaders are much the same. They are happy to share power by encouraging others to take responsibility for delivery in this area or that. When success is achieved, they are delighted to acknowledge the team’s contribution.
Servant leaders are resilient and reliable. They get the job done without fuss and fanfare. In so many respects, they are just what South Africa needs … and a high proportion of them will be women.
Selekisho is a Director at Signium Africa (previously Talent Africa), a leading recruitment company based in South Africa offering executive head-hunting and leadership consulting – servicing sub-Saharan Africa.