Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash
Since I can remember, attempting to attract and retain female board members, directors and CEOs has been a priority for forward thinking and discerning companies. And concurrently, since I’ve been a teenager, I’ve been aware of the disingenuity of taking these steps merely to fulfil quotas and create the appearance of equality. Yet if we look beyond gender and look at attributes of feminine leadership (not female leadership - but feminine leadership) I suggest there is a deeper need for truly feminine leadership across every board of directors in Britain, particularly in service based businesses. Perhaps that will allow more women to easily find their places at the top.
What is feminine leadership?
Feminine leadership promotes the qualities that we may not typically associate with business. Empathy, vulnerability, sensitivity, intuition: these are not traits that we add to our job specifications for CEO or CFO perhaps. Yet it is precisely those attributes that make feminine leadership so powerful. These qualities create a balance between the masculine focus, strategy, direction and counter the competitive, judgmental and win/lose approach that we still see in many industries.
My personal experience
I attended a girls-only school which taught me that women were able to ‘do anything’: hold the highest office in the land, take on directorships and run companies and organisations; in short, to create a career in whatever they wanted to do. Yet as a country (and perhaps in Westernised democracy) we do yet not fully value the innate qualities that most women (and many ‘sensitive’ men) demonstrate naturally: our intuitive, feeling, empathic qualities, which come from within our deepest selves, and they certainly don’t get much of a look in within the business context.
Despite my advantageous schooling, I received a conflicting message through spiritual teaching at church - that who I was being (the essence of feminine leadership) was not enough for authority. Like so many women, I adapted to this belief, that I had to ‘man up’ for work to survive, or alternatively, use the ‘wounded’ feminine archetype (seduction and manipulation) so men would succumb to my charms because who we are, is not enough.
Running a business has allowed me to learn to lead with feminine energy, which, over the previous 12 months has resulted in some heartening results: increased turnover, more clients who align with my vision and approach, and exciting opportunities to expand my work. This has allowed me to create a lifestyle and way of working that truly supports who I am and what I best bring to the world.
What advantages can feminine leadership give us?
Feminine leadership can help us keep our businesses aligned with the values that many service based businesses were founded upon. It can help us with decision-making, cashflow and discernment, for example, deciding who we will and will not work with.
What does this look like in practice? Well, a strong empathic nature gives you a deep understanding of customer needs and fears, which can turn a customer service problem around. An ability to trust to our intuition, to heed the warning that your gut has nudged you that a particular client is NOT the right person to work with, despite all appearing to be well on paper.
An ability to slow down, whether in slowing down the sales process, the signing on process, and whatever other actions are need at the beginning of the relationship between us and our clients, helps create ease and allows us to embody the value we provide.
A particular sensitivity can enhance the relational ability - so we focus on building the relationship, rather than closing a deal or meeting a target. Sensitive people are finely tuned to the dance of energies between the relationship - and are more likely to see it as ongoing, mutually beneficial partnership, rather than a transactional necessity. All this can all feed into building strong feedback systems and processes, contributing to business flow and expanding the pipeline.
Losing your edge
Does this mean using only these skills means your business will work better? Of course not, we need both. We need the balance. Yet we need to infuse our businesses with the qualities that currently are (usually) less than welcome in the boardroom, in order to make them more sustainable, more profitable and create better value for our clients and customers. It all comes back around anyway.
Most empathic and sensitive women do this naturally with most of their network and communities. They sense, they feel, they intuit. They do not push ahead, compete or judge. But they often don’t know how to demonstrate the value of these skills in some workplaces without being seen as wimpy, emotional or weird.
Creating space for a new partnership
Granted, we have started seeing change as a collective. With the new GDPR compliance date inching closer, we see how the concept of ‘permission marketing’ is emerging through legislation. Tender documents request suppliers to explain how they will partner with their clients, and how they will ‘create a collaborative approach’. We talk about the ‘customer experience’ and the ‘patient journey’. But paying lip service to these ideas, does not make change.
It takes effort on both sides here. It takes those of us with a stronger feminine energy (this isn’t just women, I know men who have an amazing ability to sense energy shift for example) to speak up and use our voice - rather than stay silence and comfort ourselves with an internal ‘I told you so’ when an opportunity turn bad, exactly as we knew it would.
It also requires us to create a structure for that feminine energy to be heard: space for the ‘quiet ones’ to speak up, and new processes for feminine leadership to flourish. We need checks and balances in our processes, and space to allow our clients to share what they need from us. We need to ask ‘Does this feel right?’ to our key feminine leaders when the next opportunity shows up, as well as analysing the profit we can make. We need to cultivate the culture of rewarding relationship building as well as the number of calls made or conversations closed. Less easy to measure perhaps, but equally of value.
We need to partner with these energies - both within us, and in the people who embrace and embody those qualities within our places of work. We can all allow a little more of our inner feminine, however strange it may feel to practice at first, to better serve our clients, our industries, our communities and ourselves.