The world’s oldest story is a story of leadership. The Epic of Gilgamesh, written in 18th century B.C., recounts the leadership journey of Gilgamesh from a corrupt leader to a leader who better governed his people. From the beginning, it seems that humankind has been concerned with bad leaders, good leaders, and what good leaders do differently.
Far more recently, researchers with University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School compiled twelve competencies of successful leaders: communicating effectively, being adaptive, creating a culture of accountability, building effective teams, developing others, leveraging diversity, executing a strategy, making decisions, managing change, solving problems, formulating a strategy, and leading innovation.
When I asked a group of female leaders how critical these traits are to the task of leadership, most of them were rated as “important”—at least a 4 on a 5-point scale. (“Leading innovation” scored slightly lower at 3.9.) Of these traits, female leaders rated communicating effectively, being adaptive, developing others, managing change, and solving problems as the most important leadership competencies while leading innovation and leveraging diversity ranked the lowest.
When asked how well female leaders in their organization performed these competencies, the average for each competency fell in the 3-4 on a scale of five (good to very good). Female leaders were rated highest for “making decisions” and “solving problems” (3.9 out of five) and scored lowest on “building effective teams” and “leveraging diversity” (3.4 of five).
This is where self-report studies can get a little hairy. When people are asked to describe or rate their own behaviors, beliefs, or actions, they tend to overestimate or underestimate themselves. For example, in a previous study of this kind, men actually rated female leaders higher than women rated themselves. Similarly, people tend to rate themselves in the middle of a scale as they did in this study, thereby avoiding extremes. Polling men and followers or direct reports of the female participants would have given a clearer picture of the actual performance of female leaders.
That said, two things can be said in regards to these results. First, female leaders can place a higher priority on diversity by seeking it at all levels in the organization—from hiring a diversified workforce to fostering an environment in which cultural differences are respected and appreciated. Given the increasingly globalized and diversified world, it’s important for leaders to relate well with people from diverse background and ensure that all voices at the table are heard and acknowledged.
Second, women seem to be less confident about building effective teams compared to other areas, which is surprising given the collaborative leadership style that women traditionally adopt. To foster a more collaborative environment throughout the organization, female leaders can take the following steps:
- Become acquainted with the skills and gifts of individual staff members. This allows you to see how a group can work together.
- Rather than relying exclusively on individuals, form teams to address ministry concerns or initiatives.
- Utilize team-building activities to improve team performance.
In the secular business sector, the transformational, collaborative leadership styles and competencies of female leaders are highly favored. By prioritizing diversity and fostering a team commitment and cooperation, female leaders can take their leadership from the middle of the scale to the top—from “good” to “great”.
Dr. Halee Scott is an author and independent social researcher who focuses on issues related to leadership and spiritual formation. She teaches seminary courses in spiritual formation, theology, and leadership in seminaries across the country. Her next book, Dare Mighty Things: Mapping the Challenges of Leadership for Christian Women (Zondervan) releases spring in 2014.
Check out all the posts in this series on Christian women in leadership by Dr. Scott:
- How “Sticky” is Your Ministry for Women Leaders
- Shattering the Glass Ceiling
- Moving Mountains: Removing Barriers for Women Christian Leaders
- Good to Great: Harnessing the Power of Diversity and Team-building
- Navigating Icebergs: Greatest Challenges Facing Female Christian Leaders
Be sure to register for the 2014 CLA National Conference in Dallas, April 14-16, and save your spot for the Christian Women in Leadership Forum scheduled for April 16. Great price savings now through October 31, 2013.