In recent decades there has been a noticeable shift in the leadership landscape, with more and more women taking up leadership roles in a vast array of business endeavors. These women are bringing fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and different approaches to managing teams that operate in a landscape that arcs from small business to global corporate giant, and everywhere in between. This article explores successful leadership styles used by women and how their impact is set for enduring success.
Women Leaders in Business
According to a study by McKinsey & Company, companies with diverse leadership teams, including women, are more likely to outperform their peers. The report also found that companies with a higher percentage of women in executive roles tend to have higher profitability and better overall performance.
In January 2022 McKinsey published an interview with Stephanie Hill, executive vice president of Rotary and Mission Systems at Lockheed Martin – a $16 billion, 35,000-employee organization.
When asked about what leadership principles have been helpful, Hill replied: “You start by keeping your commitments to your team. And if you’re not able to keep them for some reason, you own up to it. Everybody makes mistakes, full stop. And the most powerful thing I’ve seen done – and that I try to do – is to say you’re sorry. You tell your team, ‘You know what? That thing I did or that thing I didn’t do, that was wrong. And you have my commitment that I’m going to work on it so that it doesn’t happen again. And if it does, I want you to hold me accountable’.”
Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, is known for her collaborative leadership style, where she encourages her team to share ideas and work together to achieve common goals. Barra says: “Diversity in the workplace leads to better decision-making and better outcomes.” Under her leadership, GM has been able to bounce back from various crises and deliver strong financial results.
Former CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi is known for her transformative leadership style, where she focused on investing in healthier products, expanding PepsiCo’s reach globally, and promoting sustainability. Nooyi famously said: “If you’re trying to create a company, it’s like baking a cake. You have to have all the ingredients in the right proportion.” Under her leadership, PepsiCo became one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies.
Although she is not (yet) involved in the business sector, prime minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern – who stepped down from the position earlier this year after being elected (in 2017) the youngest national leader in democratic history, only to be pipped by Finland’s young female PM Sanna Marin (in 2019) – says of women in leadership: “One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”
“Good leadership consists of showing average people how to do the work of superior people.”
Women tend to deploy different methodologies and mindsets than their male counterparts (and competitors). They often adopt a more collaborative and inclusive leadership style, encouraging participation and teamwork. They prioritize building relationships and empowering their teams to achieve their full potential. It must be said, however, that this is not necessarily an empirical global phenomenon.
• Transformational Leadership: is a leadership style that inspires and motivates employees to perform beyond their expected capacity. Women such as Indra Nooyi and Mary Barra have demonstrated this leadership style by setting a clear vision for their companies and empowering their teams to achieve it.
• Servant Leadership: prioritizes serving the needs of others, rather than one’s own interests. Women leaders such as Oprah Winfrey and Sheryl Sandberg have demonstrated this leadership style by prioritizing the needs of their employees and customers and putting them first in their decision-making.
• Collaborative Leadership: encourages participation and teamwork among employees. Women leaders such as Ginni Rometty, former CEO of IBM, and Ursula Burns, former CEO of Xerox, have demonstrated this leadership style by promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace and encouraging their teams to work together to achieve common goals.
Dr Julie Ducharme: glass ceilings shatter
Since earning her MBA and Doctorate degrees in business and organizational leadership, Julie has become a five-time national best-selling author, recognized by INC magazine. Julie hosts a podcast; numerous TV appearances with CBS, ABC, and Fox; is a professional public speaker; and a serial entrepreneur. Her co-authored book,
Leading By My Ponytail: Why Can’t I Wear Pink and be the President was named by INC as one of the top 60 leadership books for women. Her most recent book, Authentically You: Empowering Your Way to Success, is changing the way women approach their lives.
Julie is also a serial entrepreneur with four companies and has stepped up to take on the role of senior vice president of marketing for the Leigh Steinberg Sports Academy project.
“Leadership is a critical factor in the success of any business. The style of leadership used by an organization can have a profound effect on its culture, productivity, and overall performance. Different styles of leadership may be better suited for different types of organizations or situations. It’s important to understand the various options available so that you can determine which one is right for your business,” Julie says.
“I like to say that I am an adaptive leader as well as a situational leader. Cambridge University defines adaptive leadership as a ‘practical leadership framework that helps individuals and organizations adapt and thrive in challenging environments. It is being able, both individually and collectively, to take on the gradual but meaningful process of change’. And in this world of business and leadership we must change and adapt rapidly.”
Situational leadership is “a style that refers to when a leader or manager of an organization must adjust their style to fit the development level of the employees they are trying to influence”.
Julie says: “After being a president, CEO, and leader for the past 23 years I learned two important lessons in leadership. Everything is not black and white, so we must adapt not only to the situation, but we must adapt our leadership style to meet the needs of the people we are working with. One size does not fit all in leadership and the good leaders know this and apply this method.”
“As you diversify your leadership you diversify your ability to have awareness in a variety of areas and bring in a competitive advantage.”
Dr Julie Ducharme says autocratic leaders are bad for business: “This is a pyramid-style where if you are on the bottom, you are never going to talk to the company hierarchy. It’s a leadership style that feeds off fear . . . and sadly this leadership style was very popular under patriarchal systems – people felt trapped working in fearful, hostile environments. Production drops when people are fearful; innovation and creativity go out the door.”
Adaptation is Key
Julie agrees with the McKinsey report when she says integration of diversity into an organization it brings in a greater perspective and depth. She says it creates the ability for leaders to be able to find relatability in their possible clients and as well as their employees.
“As a leader of several organizations, I want my perspective to be challenged. I want openness and passion for diversity of thought in my organizations. I want my teams to know their thoughts are important in the work we do and that I value them. As a leader I want my thoughts challenged to know I am as innovative as I can be.
“When I can increase the diversity of leadership in my organization, I will increase awareness as well. What do I mean by this? Well, we all have been shaped by our experiences and those experiences make us more aware of different situations, and how we handle them. As you diversify your leadership you diversify your ability to have awareness in a variety of areas and bring in a competitive advantage.”
At the end of the day . . .
Developing an effective leadership style takes time, practice, and reflection. By understanding the different approaches available and applying the appropriate tips for each one, you can create a style that best suits your organization’s needs and helps foster an environment of respect, collaboration, trust, and innovation. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that regardless of what leadership style you choose, it is vital to stay consistent with your approach so that everyone involved understands expectations clearly as well as what needs to be done in order to achieve your business goals.