By Larry Wilson, Author of Play to Win
[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]A[/dropcaps]t one time I shared the stage with author Ashley Montague, a cultural anthropologist. His best-known book is The Natural Superiority of Women. Basically, Montague believes that women are superior to men in the area of emotional intelligence. He explains that, once women realized they were not physically superior to men, getting things done out of raw physical power was not a viable option. Women had to figure out different ways of existing, so they learned to be more adaptable, versatile, resourceful and empathic. These characteristics are so common among women that they’re often referred to as “feminine traits.”
An example is “women’s intuition.” Men have intuition, but don’t tend to credit their intuition in making decisions. Yet women are happy to acknowledge they made a decision solely based on how they “felt” about it.
Another example is a woman’s right to change her mind. You could say that women often see more options than men. In our culture, it’s more acceptable for women to wear their emotions on their sleeve and talk about their feelings than it is for men – because, of course, real men don’t cry. Instead, they get more ulcers, but that’s a small price to pay for being a real man.
We also know that on average, women live seven years longer then men. There’s no physiological reason to explain why, but there is evidence women live longer because they are allowed to be more emotionally expressive.
Montague may be saying that as women were developing these skills primarily to survive, they were unknowingly developing skills in the art of influencing others that all leaders need, especially so in our changing times.
Now, if some of you “non-females” are saying, “Look, I’ve been doing just fine with my manly traits and don’t need to work on my feminine side,” then you might be missing out on a huge opportunity. I’m not talking about working on your feminine side. The fact is these aren’t really feminine characteristics; these are skills that, as a species, we all have to learn in order to survive. We just have to wake up and remember to use them.
So let’s drop the male/female labels and only talk about critical skills leaders must learn:
• Adaptability. Stubbornly sticking to what worked in the past is the opposite. This is driving into the future looking only in the rearview mirror. Another flawed leader response when things start going south is, “We’ve got to get back to the basics.” The flaw here is that you can never go back to anything. What you can do is prepare for the accelerating change that’s coming right at you by adapting to change rather than running from it.
• Versatility. Yes have a plan, but don’t let the plan have you. The dictionary defines versatile as “able to move easily from one subject, task, or skill to another.” Leaders know that, in theory, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Yet in practice, a straight line seldom exists. Often leaders have to take a detour, go with the flow, ride the horse in the direction the horse wants to go, or tap dance their way to the goal line and move easily while doing it.
• Resourcefulness. True leaders know their best resource is in the hearts and minds of the people they’re leading. There’s nothing worse than a leader pretending to have all the answers. It creates a distrust that leads to a heart and mind shut-down – the greatest waste possible.
• Empathy. Leaders must gain trust before anyone will follow them. The fastest way to get there is to put yourself in their shoes, to understand and love them, and then invite them into your shoes to get to know and love you.
Whether you’re a male leader or a female leader, these are key traits of a true leader.
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Larry Wilson was an internationally recognized pioneer in change management, leadership development and strategic thinking, and is the co-author of The One-Minute Sales Person and Play to Win. He founded two companies, Wilson Learning Corp. and Pecos River Learning. Larry worked with companies to help them “create the organization that, if it existed, would put them out of business.” Larry passed on in 2009 and will be greatly missed, yet cherished through his books and articles for years to come. One of the things that Larry used to say was “Love your customers so much that they want to refer business to you since who can resist love?”
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