What Makes a Leader?
Of course, it helps if the various groups working at a company can agree on what makes a leader.
“The vast majority of women are working in corporate cultures that embrace outdated definitions of what makes an effective leader — definitions of leadership that don’t cut it in today’s marketplace,” observes Sarah Alter, president and CEO of Chicago-based Network of Executive Women (NEW), a women’s leadership organization serving the retail, consumer goods, financial services and technology industries. “Today’s business environment demands leaders with so-called ‘feminine’ leadership traits” — such as empathy, humility and vulnerability — “though they are traits that today’s most effective leaders, male or female, possess.”
Many businesses, however, “don’t always see the value and results brought by leaders who are patient enough to take the long view and who understand the importance — and can model — work-life integration,” notes Alter, adding, “This is just one reason women are still vastly underrepresented in senior leadership roles.”
Last spring, NEW issued a report, “The Female Leadership Crisis,” which uncovered what Alter calls “four deeply rooted aspects of most workplace cultures that are causing women, especially women executives, to leave. First, favoritism and bias are embedded in our corporate cultures. Second, women, especially at the upper levels, feel isolated. Third, when given a new role, women don’t feel as supported by their peers or managers as men do. And, exacerbating the first three, work-life issues still have not been addressed — and they are taking on toll on women and men.”
Retailers that can address these issues – perhaps through such vehicles as NEW’s Blueprint for Gender Equality – will be able to position their emerging leaders for greater success, and by extension, enable their businesses to perform better.