The best boss I ever had was a complete surprise.
I saw her coming and shook my head in disbelief: The woman temporarily appointed to fill in as our acting supervisor had a complete lack of experience in our area.
It turns out, though, that managing a division of creatives – writers, designers, artists, and editors – doesn’t require a visionary creator. Instead, our new leader was armed with strong organizational, leadership, and communications skills that made us the organization’s most productive, streamlined, and successful division.
Her secret? She respected our abilities, listened to our needs, empowered us with the budgets and resources we required – and then got out of the way so we could do our best work.
In my long career in journalism, public relations, and higher education, it’s the female supervisors who stand out. Interestingly, new research backs up my experience.
While women currently hold just 5.8 percent of CEOs positions at S&P 500 companies, according to Catalyst, females may actually be better suited to lead in almost every area, according to new findings from the BI Norwegian Business School.
In their research, Professors Øyvind L. Martinsen and Lars Glasø found that women scored higher than men in four of the five major leadership-centric categories.
“Businesses must always seek to attract customers and clients and to increase productivity and profits. Our results indicate that women naturally rank higher in general than men on ability to innovate and lead with clarity and impact,” explains Martinsen. “These findings pose a legitimate question about the construction of management hierarchy and the current dispensation of women in these roles.”
My experience suggests that women are strong, successful leaders due to several factors.
They are good listeners. They listen with their whole bodies; their ears hear our words while their eyes discern the tilt of our heads and their brains decipher our tone. They get the message loud and clear.
They anticipate the needs of their team. Rather than react, female managers scan the horizon for the resources team members need now and for the future.
They compile metrics, details, and statistics and effectively synthesize volumes of data into cohesive reports. Not only are women strong writers, they are detail-oriented and, at the same time, able to accurately determine the right way to formulate information for particular audiences.
They are concerned with the health of their team members. In addition to encouraging employees to live healthy lifestyles, they stop, look, and listen to ensure their high performers are mentally and emotionally healthy as well.
They play well with others, and they aren’t afraid to work solo. Women leaders value teamwork and promote individual performance at the same time. The two styles are viewed as complementary, not competing, interests.
They value free time, leisure pursuits, and family life. Female bosses encourage employees to use vacation time, personal days, and off-the-clock hours to pursue happiness. They know happy workers are productive workers.
They’re efficient and they aren’t hung up on the sound of their own voice. Meetings follow an agenda, start on time, and remain focused on the issues at hand. Things get done, goals are accomplished, everyone goes back to their desks knowing exactly what’s expected of them.
Perhaps I’m supportive of women leaders because I am one, or perhaps my experiences are borne out by other successful women.
Academic evidence suggests that in particular women who are high-performing and already successful tend to see their prospects improve under a woman’s leadership.
Luca Flabbi, a professor of economics at Georgetown, believes that women are better than men at reading other women and assigning them to the jobs commensurate with their experience. Top female leaders, Flabbi notes, put women in more productive positions, and their performance goes up.
Now, I’m aware that I may be in the minority, because I’ve heard many of my colleagues say they prefer to work for male supervisors. Men are perceived to be stronger, fairer, and more decisive that women bosses.
At the same time, recent data suggests that in times of crisis, women leaders with their strong interpersonal skills are perceived to be more trustworthy compared to their male counterparts.
The trust developed by women leaders with strong interpersonal skills results in better crisis resolution in the case when outcomes are predictable, says a study published in the journal “Psychology of Women Quarterly.”
In addition, according to recent Harvard Business Review surveys, women are perceived by their managers — particularly their male managers — to be slightly more effective than men at every hierarchical level and in virtually every functional area of the organization.
In the Harvard survey, women were rated as excelling in taking initiative, acting with resilience, practicing self-development, driving for results, and displaying high integrity and honesty.
Because my expertise is communications, I highly value the effectiveness and persuasiveness of leaders who can be both insightful and succinct. The best communicators, in my experience, are usually women.
My days of working for a male or female boss in a traditional 9-to-5 job are over. Instead, I work for a tough, demanding boss every day – me – and my boss never gives me a break. Thankfully, I don’t mind her unheard voice urging me on 24/7 to productivity, quality, and success.