Real Leaders

5 Leadership Lessons From Female Leaders to Power Us Through Difficult Times

The coronavirus pandemic has upended our world, and businesses are facing economic uncertainty. As leaders, we must build confidence while guiding and supporting employees and customers through the storm. But there’s some good news: we can look to female leaders for how they have successfully managed during difficult times.

For nearly 20 years, I’ve worked at an advertising and marketing firm serving Fortune 500 clients. I’ve used consumer research to solve problems and improve the human experience. And in 2020, I was honored to serve as a delegate at the World Economic Forum.

On my journey from account executive to company president, I’ve noticed subtle, yet powerful tools that women often use to lead. While I’ve encountered many men who demonstrated these same skills, I think women may be more naturally inclined to use these qualities. Here are five invaluable lessons from female leaders.

01 Motivate and Inspire Others through Gratitude

Female leaders can be more open to showing appreciation publicly, proving they care about their employees as people as much as they care about the business. 

When things are stressful, it’s easy to overlook the contributions of individuals. Instead, encourage people and motivate their excellence. It’s nice to send a personal note to acknowledge the fantastic work that an employee did for a client, but mentioning it in a team meeting or a group email — in front of others — shows the entire team that you value that worker’s contribution. Be specific. Call the person out by name and describe what she or he did to earn your gratitude. Do this for employees at every level. 

It’s especially important now when many workers are scared about job security. Acknowledging their value to your organization can ease fears about employment instability. And with less stress, workers are more likely to be inspired to strive for excellence.

02 Be Resilient, But Demonstrate Flexibility

People use childbirth as an example of female resilience. I’d like to explore psychological resilience — the way women can tap into their emotional intelligence (EQ) to recognize and manage anxiety. This helps female leaders focus on what’s important. Instead of dwelling on the negative, they look to the positive for what they can control. If you apply this lesson, you can clear your mind and identify steps to keep your business running.  

A key aspect of resilience that is often overlooked is the ability to adapt to change while demonstrating compassion for others. As a woman, throughout my career, I’ve had to change my communication style to relate to different coworkers, managers, and clients. Because of my flexibility, I’ve been able to build strong, emotional connections for highly effective partnerships. 

03 Show Empathy and Support Activities of Interest 

Stay attuned to staff and customers — especially when you aren’t seeing them in-person. Try to connect on a deeper level by paying attention to their environment, and how they’re behaving in it. 

When you’re on a video conference, notice body language. Is the person in a house with distracting kids or spouse? Or does he or she look lonely and isolated in their apartment? Is the person unusually quiet? If something seems off, follow up privately and ask how they are doing. Some people won’t feel comfortable expressing their feelings aloud, so try to notice and respond to their emotional cues. When people appear challenged, practice grace, patience, and compassion.

For employees, be mindful of what people enjoy doing and give opportunities that uplift their spirit. I’ve noticed that some staff gravitate toward designing creative projects for clients. Others want to plan social activities, like video conference happy hours or fun contests, to stay connected. Encourage activities that satisfy individual purpose and empowerment. 

04 Embrace Inclusion

Inclusion means listening to and using ideas from people of different races, ethnicities, genders, gender identities, religions, ages, and sexual orientations than your own. Because female leaders are often underrepresented in executive roles, they can be more adept at including ideas from people with different backgrounds.   

A 2017 McKinsey & Company data set showed that organizations with ethnic and cultural diversity were 33 percent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability. During this epidemic, you’ll likely need new and ingenious ideas to help your business survive. Embrace inclusion to drive innovation. 

05 Get Feedback

Women in leadership often welcome feedback. Use this to strengthen your company. Find out what matters to your employees by asking them. What are the issues that worry them? Is it getting sick? Or lack of childcare? How can you better support them? Discover what you need to do to make your employees feel safe to come back to work. Use HR surveys for input. And make sure to get diverse perspectives from people from different levels, departments, and backgrounds. 

Using these five lessons from female leaders, you can create actionable steps to support employees and customers while overcoming adversity and bolstering your business.  

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