Even though I sometimes grow weary of the whole “are men or women better leaders?” debate, I do think there can be value in paying specific attention to the development of women as leaders. Recently, I read a book that offers very concrete suggestions to help women discover their unique talents as leaders. It’s called the Power of Women, authored by Yale psychology professor Susan Nolen-Hoeksema.
From talking with my female colleagues, I know that even though women have parity in many workplace situations, there are still pockets where this isn’t true. Historically, women have not had access to many of the societal levers of power— land ownership, voting rights, marital equality and so on. This has steadily been changing, however, with our ever-increasing entry into the workplace over the past 50 years. We are at a time in history when women are finally positioned for professional success in a way that works for them.
According to Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema, that’s exactly what women should do: change the game by using talents unique to their skill set, honed by millennia of learning to work around the prevailing system. In The Power of Women, Nolen-Hoeksma outlines four key strengths that women bring to “every corner of their lives. . .to get the job done, fix problems as they arise and help people in need.” She has identified four basic “strengths” and conducted research as to how women apply these strengths differently than men.
When I read the introduction to the book, my initial reaction was that these four strengths were fairly generic and definitely not just the domain of women. To my relief, early in the book Nolen-Hoeksema clarifies that both women and men possess these general skills sets. What sets women apart is that they employ these skills differently than do men. The book aims to give women the insight and tools to leverage their strengths on their terms instead of force-fitting themselves into a masculine format.
Four Ways that Women Shine
- Mental Flexibility: Women are very creative in finding solutions, focusing on getting things done, not just on doing things their way.
- Sense of Identity: Women tend to create identities based on who they are rather than what they do, or what they have.
- Emotional Awareness: of themselves and that of others. Women can more easily identify and anticipate emotions than men, allowing them to forecast the emotional consequences of various life situations.
- Relational Strengths: Women are skilled at understanding others’ perspectives and forming strong social networks that support them during stressful times.
Don’t Like The Rules? Create Your Own!
True, there are external, societal norms that govern our workplaces. Many of these “rules” are unwritten and subtly enforced by the predominant culture. So, it stands to reason that if the workplace culture is dominated by males, then the rules will have a bias toward masculine norms. It’s equally true that these norms have been shifting over the past few decades to include a wider a variety of influences on the workplace culture: gender, ethnic, religious and lifestyle.
Successful women haven’t waited for these norms to equalize; they’ve made do with their circumstances and persevered in spite of them. As author Nolen-Hoekstra says,
“Rather than focusing on the obstacles to their progress, women deftly go over, under and around these obstacles. They are not concerned with what women should be doing (Have children or not? Be in the military? Be national leaders?) Instead, women are concerned with how women can do anything they want and need to do.”
This message appeals to me: rather than complain about what one doesn’t have, find a way to go out and get it!
Built-In Support Tools
True to her theme of providing support, Nolen-Hoeksema’s book provides a treasure-trove of self-assessments and worksheets to guide the reader on her journey to self-empowerment. Even better, all of the worksheets are available for free via a download from the publisher.
This book is a very meaty 336 pages, filled with solid research to support the author’s claims and interesting anecdotes about successful women from all corners of the globe and all walks of life. If you are seeking an affirming, yet practical book on making the most of your leadership skills as a woman, I’d highly recommend this book.