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Competitive advantage: Why women make great leaders

Alina Dizik, Special to CareerBuilder

With so many different approaches to leadership, there's another variable to add to the list -- whether you're a male or female also helps determine your management style. Susan Spencer, author of "Briefcase Essentials", says women have their own unique approach to leading in the workplace and have 12 natural leadership skills that emerge. "Women's skills are different than men's and when they work together [with men] they have a balanced leadership that benefits the entire organization," she says. Most successful organizations have a variety of leaders and leadership styles within the company -- including both male and female leaders can make it a stronger workplace.

Curious to know how women lead differently then men and why it's beneficial to have both types of leaders? Here, Spencer explains how female leadership styles differ from their male counterparts.

Leading instead of commanding

Female leaders are more concerned with helping everyone feel like a necessary part of the team rather than being the only ones at the helm. "Women do not manage by 'command and control' as men do," Spencer says. "They manage by embracing teamwork and building solid professional relationships with each member of the team." In a tough economic environment or when leading a company that's going through turbulent times, this quality can help employees feel like they are more connected to their workplace.

Communicating effectively

Much of the time running an organization or department requires stellar communication skills, something that many women have mastered, says Spencer who was once a general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles football team. "Women communicate with employees at all levels of an organization regardless of their pay grade," she says and adds that it contributes to a positive working environment. Having this free flow of conversations also helps keep employees on the same page and prevents isolation.

Acknowledging mistakes

Admitting your wrongs can be difficult for top managers but it can help subordinates relate to the boss and realize that he or she is only human. This is another positive trait. "Women leaders are not afraid to admit their mistakes," Spencer explains. "By being straightforward and forthcoming about accepting responsibility where it rightfully belongs, they earn the trust and loyalty of their employees or organization."

Leading with empathy

One of the most important traits of female employers is their ability to empathize with their employees, says Spencer. Especially when a company goes through challenging, leaner times women may be more understanding of the specific hurdles of their subordinates without simply dismissing them as unproductive employees. "They will be highly attuned to the problems of others and can put themselves in their shoes," she says. Using empathy to manage conflict between employees is also a key skill.


Another key characteristic of female leaders is the flexibility when making company decisions, Spencer points out. "Men think linearly and women think contextually," she says. This means that women have "the ability to consider multiple options to problem solve and arrive at a broadly analyzed problem." Contextual thinking results in a more thought-out process when making some company decisions and can lead to innovative solutions, she says.

Even as some companies realize these characteristics, many women still see huge barriers when trying to reach the highest positions in their firm and many still cannot land the same key roles as men. Women still get "pigeonholed into high end administrative tasks," Spencer says. At some companies, women are part of a broader stereotype of men being natural leaders and have a constant need to battle these misnomers, she explains. It's not all bad news: In the last 10 years things are changing, especially at the largest companies where mentoring and other programs are meant to provide a network for women looking to lead organizations.

Last Updated: 01/06/2011 - 2:40 PM