The idea that ‘men are from Mars and women are from Venus’ may make us chuckle when enjoying a 1960s movie classic. But when back in the workplace environment, the majority of HR managers would discourage such stereotypes as out-of-date – and even a barrier to team productivity.
In a world where the classic secretary has now morphed into the automated CRM, archaic concepts of ‘female-friendly’ job roles simply appear an outdated use of time and resources: data-hungry organisations yearn for maximum brain power from all employees – and this often makes gender irrelevant when assigning tasks between team members.
However, just as all female professionals are now harnessing the same access to education and experience as their male colleagues – many female business leaders may also be leveraging some natural gender differences to ‘step ahead’: high-performers such as Apple’s Angela Ahrendts are raising eyebrows among all aspiring female project leaders – but also many male managers who might be seeking to emulate the natural behaviours that may give female leaders the edge.
Angela Ahrendts: ‘The last five years have been the most stimulating, challenging and fulfilling of my career’ © Bloomberg
ATTENTIVE LISTENING TRUMPS ‘COMMAND AND CONTROL’ EGO
We have all seen the movies: gulping an overheated Costa coffee, the fresh employee checks in his barcoded briefcase to some towering London skyscraper – only to find a printed week brief that micromanages every task by the minute.
This ‘command and approach’ image of team leadership may be what the majority of project managers consider the recipe of a successful organisation: top-down decisions and regimented hierarchy ‘surely create better efficiency’ – and many female professionals have even interpreted this 1990s ‘Microsoft mode’ of leadership as the behaviour to emulate for any chance of success.
However, when we speak to real-life leaders such as Apple’s Senior Vice President Angela Ahrendts, this assumed ideal quickly vanishes in industry giants leading the charge: in organisations such as Apple, the effort to create equal representation of women among senior management is not a marketing stunt; but rather a smart business move that keeps project management methodologies on the bleeding edge. Ultimately, an industry giant hungry for every ounce of employee output cannot afford to ignore the unique assets different minorities bring to the table – and this includes unapologetically harnessing the advantages of a female management style.
And when we challenge the suspicion that female managers may hold the edge for ‘calm and calculated corporate leadership’, recent studies are here to back it up: according to a recent study in behavioural psychology, the socialised tendency among women to ‘listen attentively’ to subordinates not only creates a more inclusive working atmosphere – but also translates to decisions that are more stable and ‘data focused’, and therefore acts as a boost to objectivity when setting project targets (Gibson, 2017).
In this file photo taken on April 11, 2019 International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde arrives to speak during a press conference during the IMF – World Bank Spring Meetings at IMF Headquarters in Washington, DC.
MONO-TASKING CANNOT KEEP UP
Under the pressure of the cameras, the majority of female leaders would rather regurgitate the view that any gender stereotype is simply a patriarchal undertone designed to hold female professionals back: televised interviews are almost rigged to tease out any ounce of controversy they can muster, and so the ‘gender neutral’ flavour of feminism is simply safer when articulating the importance of broader equality.
However, as we speak to real-life political leader Christine Lagarde, this ‘media-calibrated’ articulation of feminism is quickly swapped with something much more robust. Remaining true to her French ‘vive la difference’ approach to female empowerment, this female executer makes no apology for the unique skill-sets women bring to the table: women are simply considered better at multitasking than men, and the majority of female politicians in Europe recognise this as something to harness – not to ignore.
Schematic representation of the task-switching paradigm. Connor, 2013
And although it would be easy to dismiss this as an innocent worldview from a time gone by, this long-suspected assumption is actually backed up by recent studies in human psychology: as women have a tendency to make more informed and less erratic decisions than men, this in-turn enables women to manage multiple priorities more efficiently –thus indicating superior multitasking abilities (Eagly, 2015).
And when we compare this to a recent study from the University of Harvard, this suspected difference in multitasking between the genders may not only be a social phenomenon: as represented in the diagram above, this pilot designed to test the gender differences in task switching and coordination revealed that women may possess a hard-wired advantage for managerial activities (Connor, 2013).
Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib speak with reporters during a press conference on July 15, 2019 | Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images
LEARNING MAY UNLOCK THE RISE TO THE PRIZE
Without doubt, the tendency to engage in more productive communication and coordinate multiple responsibilities more efficiently are qualities that any business leader should strive to emulate. Whether due to nature or nurture, these behaviours are simply more intrinsic to female leaders – and the large corporate giants are leveraging this brain power to secure their market edge.
However, building on this higher tendency to listen is the tendency to learn: this tendency to continually re-evaluate internal biases and incorporate constructive criticism could be the final piece to the puzzle that enables an organisation to cease following blind ‘testosterone targets’ – and finally switch to the same science-style of management used across industry titans.
TASKS TO APPLY THIS WEEK
In this week’s newsletter, we explored the long-debated question of whether the genders differ in their natural approaches to leadership – and whether qualities unique to women enable a better approach to leadership and team management. Whether this is due to nature or nurture – we will never know – but any CEO can choose to introduce or amplify these observed behaviours as a boost to their existing teams. If you are a CEO or business executive, consider completing the following tasks starting today:
- Switch from ‘feel good motivation’ to calm calculation: if you are founding an organisation or launching a high-impact sales division, the benefits of a ‘wolf of wall street’ culture only go so far. As Angela Ahrendts would point out, shifting to a mode of ‘calm calculation’ and attentively listening to your team members – although possibly creating longer-term targets – is ultimately what enables a multinational such as Apple to rise ahead of the competition.
- Become an efficient multitasker – or fail: setting ‘A then B’ targets may appear intuitive for the moment – but don’t expect this model of task organisation to carry you to where you would like your organisation to arrive. Ultimately, your ability to impose a smart project structure and daily schedule that layers multiple activities could be the difference between breaking ahead of your competition – or instead remaining stuck, only to be taken over by one of the corporate giants you should have emulated to begin with.
- Switch into learning ‘absorption mode’: as the humility to ‘switch over’ to a science-like approach to planning and managing projects may be the dividing line between small organisations and their industry titan equivalents – this simply boils down to whether the founder is willing to pull the trigger now, and take this process of emulating successful leaders to a more systematised level. At CONQA, we were actually founded to deliver this experience within an efficient one-time event format: for less than the price of a plane ticket, we have been fortunate to be able to distil decades of collective leadership methodologies across the spectrum of high performance domains – and then enable attendees to apply this new ‘learning software’ and join the pack of titans in their industry who might already be pacing ahead.