Why Women Executives Should Just Be Themselves
Many people think that to get ahead in the business world, women need to emulate men. But there's plenty to suggest that the real secret to leadership success is authenticity.
SANTIAGO— Putting on one face at home and another at work is passé. Increasingly, firms are looking for leaders — including women — who aren't afraid of being authentic,who can take off their masks and just be themselves. But for women, in particular, that may be easier said than done. For many of us, that involves getting over the idea that we need a "man costume," that we need to act like men, in other words, to be successful.
The reality is that women remain under-represented today in senior, corporate positions. They account for just 5% of the managing directors of Wall Street S&P 500 companies, according to figures recently compiled by the research firm Catalyst. And while 32 women headed Fortune 500 firms in 2017 — a record figure — the number fell to 24 (a drop of 25%) barely a year later. These are disconcerting figures. Furthermore, findings of the U.S.-based Network of Executive Women reveal that women in senior positions are four times more likely to leave their jobs than men.
People who are still wary of female leadership often cite the "Queen bee syndrome," which contends that women in senior management actively discriminate against other women in promotions. A study by the bank Crédit Suisse found otherwise, revealing a tendency among female CEOs to surround themselves with women in positions of responsibility. In fact, women are 50% more likely than men to appoint a woman as a chief financial officer.
The authentic leader accepts that they don't know everything and that they're not perfect.
Another misconception is that women have to behave like men to become effective leaders. Author Bill George, a professor at the Harvard Business School, popularized the concept of "authentic leadership." There is a lot of debate obviously about what exactly makes a good leader, but people tend to agree on things like honesty, responsibility, humility and courage.
What defines a leader, whether male or female? Honest leaders don't hide, not even when it comes to doubts or weakness. They aren't ashamed of having vulnerabilities or being frank about how and why a decision was made. Responsible leaders admit the mistakes they make and are upfront about mistakes made by colleagues — so that the whole team can learn and improve.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, speaks at the World Economic Forum annual meeting — Photo: World Economic Form
Authentic leaders are humble, accepting that they don't know everything and that they're not perfect. These are people more receptive to other views and willing to learn, and who know when to delegate or ask for advice without feeling guilty. And then there's courage — perhaps the most important attribute of all for authentic leaders, who aren't afraid to question the status quo and defend their team if necessary.
And then there's courage — perhaps the most important attribute of all.
Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, says it won't do any more to present leadership as a list of qualities. We ought to see it, rather, as being rooted in honest, maybe even flawed individuality. Being honest, she believes, is more important than achieving perfection. Another leadership icon is Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, who has long advocated being OK with yourself, both physically and mentally. Take breaks, she says, to avoid a constant state of crisis.
Authenticity is valued all the more in this age of Internet, social networking and selfies. Younger generations want to know more about their leaders. If our leaders, both men and women, are honest, responsible, humble and brave, they will be better examples for progressing in the right direction.