11 Unmistakable Traits For Aspiring Women Leaders

Aggressive, assertive, bossy, brusque, calculating, careerist. These are some of the ABCs often used to describe powerful women. That list leaves out ice queen, emotional, weak, tough, masculine and more. Male leaders are seen as commanding and in control, strong, decisive, confident and outspoken—all traits of effective leaders—but the negative stereotypes continue to exist for women in leadership roles. Labels and unrealistic expectations can get in the way for followers as well as for women attempting to move up through the leadership ranks.

“Women are being judged more, even by other women,” says Valerie Young, Ed.D., author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women.

Leadership is hard work, and the glass ceiling thrives in corporations and sometimes in our heads as well. Self-doubt and fear of new titles and heightened responsibility prevent many women from stepping up to leadership roles.

With so few female leaders at the top of organizations, there are not enough great female leadership role models. Many women fear they will not be taken seriously unless they emulate traits so commonly found in male leadership. However, dressing, acting and talking like a man only ignite those stereotypical comments, no matter how competent a woman may be. In an attempt to be strong, some women leaders do actually earn those negative titles.

Great Leaders Are Authentic

This statement has never been truer than for today’s female leaders. Women can and do make great leaders. However, they do not become great leaders by imitation or by trying to be someone they are not. They become great leaders when they are authentic to who they are, what they believe and what they value.

Faking who you are is hard work and completely unproductive. It can lead to a loss of identity and a deteriorating professional confidence that is critical to the success of female leaders. When leaders try to hide their true values, it creates an inner conflict that makes it difficult to truly lead.

The 11 Traits Of Successful Women Leaders

Women who do achieve leadership roles often are better, on average, than men in the same roles because they must work harder than their male counterparts to be noticed, respected and seen as successful.

Certainly, different business cultures require different leadership skills, but several studies of high-performing female leaders found that they are assertive and in control but they also temper their style with traits more commonly held by women. Among the similarities in traits and styles of successful women leaders are these:

1. Collaborative and empathetic with a democratic style of leadership

2. Competitive, but often they compete with themselves to achieve higher and higher goals

3. Persuasive and inspiring. They create an excitement and loyalty that comes from relationship building. They persuade without being threatening.

4. Motivating and encouraging of team performance

5. Possess an ability to delegate and empower others but still stay in charge

6. Use humor and empathy to build rapport and soften assertiveness

7. Often are more aware of group dynamics and unspoken culture that underlies an organization, situation or project

8. Explain multifaceted tasks and concepts without being threatening

9. Are well-rounded and authentic, and not afraid to be themselves

10. Are entrepreneurial

11. Approach leadership from the point of view of service to others

Transformational Leaders: The Gold Standard

Transformational leaders are inspirational individuals who lead with a strong vision and values. They lead rather than manage people, develop skills and foster creativity. Studies have shown that this leadership style leads to the highest levels of productivity and employee engagement. Greater innovation is also possible and enhances competitiveness. With transformational leaders, employees are empowered to look at problems in new ways, challenge the status quo and create new solutions. They are comfortable opening up to management and are not afraid to express their thoughts and ideas.

“One of the surprises of research on transformational leadership is that female managers are somewhat more transformational than male managers,” says Alice H. Eagly, professor of psychology at Northwestern University. “In particular, they exceed men in their attention to human relationships. Also, in delivering incentives, women lean toward a more positive, reward-based approach and men toward a more negative and less effective threat-based approach. In these respects, women appear to be better leaders than men, despite the double standard that can close women out of these roles.”

In several studies, women have rated higher on some of the core principles of transformational leadership. For example, they tend to lead with more transparency and are more likely to mentor and nurture followers rather than the command-and-control transactional type of leadership. Female leaders are also more likely to be open communicators and involve others in core decisions.

Becoming A Transformational Leader

Transformational leadership revolves around four key traits:

1. Idealized Influence: Communicate an inspiring vision, leading with purpose and value-based management. Transformational leaders walk the talk. They inspire their staffs around a common purpose and vision, allowing them to act in the best interest of the customer.

2. Inspirational Motivation: Demonstrate visible enthusiasm, confidence and optimism for the future. People want to work in an inspiring, positive environment. Yes, problems will occur but a sense that the team is working together to solve problems is both motivating and satisfying. Transformational leaders involve people in solutions rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame.

3. Intellectual Stimulation: Transformational leaders encourage creative solutions as well as differences of opinion. They encourage people to challenge the status quo to improve organizations. They allow people to be authentic so they can truly contribute.

4. Individualized Consideration: Transformational leaders focus on mentoring and developing the strengths of their employees. They treat everyone as an individual and draw out their uniqueness for the good of the organization. These leaders truly know their staff and about their life outside of work. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

The Balancing Act

Leadership for women is a balancing act of confidence, knowledge and skill. It’s tricky to maintain that equilibrium because as an authority figure you must often be the deciding voice on decisions. But when women lead as a coach and from a mindset of service rather than authority, they build loyalty.

While men can succeed with domineering leadership styles focused on control, it is the source of those dreadful stereotypes when the same style is used by women. In addition, leaders of both sexes are more successful when inspiring and motivating teams to work collaboratively to achieve success rather than ordering others to perform, and this style plays especially well for female leaders.

Many women have an innate ability to be transformational leaders. They need to step forward to lead, not in a style that mimics men, but in their own authentic style. Furthermore, women leaders have the responsibility to mentor and assist younger women to do the same.

In the words of Sasha Pirrie, vice president of sales for supplier Logomark and one of the 2015 PPB Rising Stars, “Be yourself. It is important to know the product line, your company’s message and your customer’s business—but always be yourself.”

Kathy Finnerty Thomas is president of Chandler, Arizona-based distributor Stowebridge Promotion Group. She leads a company culture based on a strong vision and values which can only happen with authenticity, integrity and trust. Her passion is public speaking and working with companies to train and facilitate programs on leadership, building a values-based culture and delivering exceptional customer service. She also actively volunteers at the university level speaking to and mentoring students. 

WLC 2016 Early Bird Registration Open Through February 29

If you are a woman working in the promotional products industry or if you employ or manage women in your business, you’ve probably heard of the industry’s premier education and networking program—the PPAI Women’s Leadership Conference. This year it will be held June 27-29 in Atlanta, Georgia, immediately followed by Promo Marketing Power Meetings. Since its inception more than 10 years ago, WLC has played a pivotal role in challenging professional women who share a common vision to achieve greater success. Register at www.ppai.org/wlc before February 19, 2016, to secure a spot and to take advantage of discounted pricing.