Women leaders click with emotional intelligence
They are no longer shy about putting to use feminine qualities at work, and creating their own style
After two decades of working for an assortment of companies, with some trepidation, I took the proverbial plunge. I embarked on my new journey to build a technology startup in Dubai. My key task was to set the right tone for the company. I had a blank canvas in front of me, and all possible colours in my palette. The brush strokes had to have my distinctive imprint.
As an entrepreneur, my greatest opportunity has been the chance to mould the business by applying my own leadership style. As a woman entrepreneur I can explore approaches that come naturally to me. I am able to continuously dig deep, and let my instinct take over to formulate my game plan, whether it comes to the team we hire, the opportunities we go after, or the technology we bet on.
Women business heads are increasingly rejecting the traditional command and control leadership style, and instead using the power of instinct, transparency, integrity, empathy and compassion. These are not a nice-to-have corporate wish list, but powerful tools in the company arsenal for sustained growth. The results may not be staggering at the outset, but these companies see solid sustained growth in the long run. Yet expectations from women leaders, and perceptions about them were very different in the past.
In the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, the main antagonist, the ill-tempered Queen of Hearts is quick to pronounce death sentences by shouting "Off with their heads." She represents the female leader stereotype - an extremely aggressive micromanager, with a strong appetite for punishing people at random.
Indira Gandhi, India's sole woman Prime Minister for more than a decade, was often described as the only man in her cabinet. At that time, it seemed natural to calibrate her performance using male standards. The comment was not just disparaging for her cabinet, but it also did not do justice to her contributions. In the 20th century, women had to operate in a male dominated workplace, and so were compelled to draw lessons from the male leadership manual. This is no longer considered effective because successive women executives have scripted their successful tenure by introducing their distinct touch.
Women are no longer shy about putting to use their feminine qualities at work, and creating their own leadership style that heavily draws on compassion and empathy. This is not to say that men cannot be empathetic. Microsoft's Satya Nadella has been a champion of empathy in innovation. Yet, women are more likely to apply a good dose of empathy and compassion in their working style. In my company, I have insisted on making empathy foundational in how we design our solutions, hire talent or connect with customers. We even used an empathy map to design our office. Notably, businesses in the Middle East operate at an emotional level. There is a strong presence of women leaders in the UAE government in education, community development, youth, tolerance, food security, and happiness and wellbeing and so forth. When successful women leaders are asked about their management style, their responses are peppered with words like sustainable, organic, emotional intelligence.
Indra Nooyi's management mantra for PepsiCo is performance with purpose, based on the premise that financial gains and social responsibility are conjoined twins. She uses emotional intelligence when managing employees.
Similarly, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, asks us not to confuse leadership with bullying and aggression. "Leadership is the expectation that you can use your voice for good. That you can make the world a better place," she says as she motivates women in the workplace to "lean in". Hence, it made sense for me to extend some of the technology learnings in my company to build the IT curriculum for underprivileged children in India.
This is not to say that women leaders have it easy. According to M&A, private equity, and VC database PitchBook, in 2017 merely 2 per cent of total VC funding in the US went to women led startups. Constraints inevitably open up unconventional doors such as crowdfunding that has no traditional biases. Last year, a study by Price Waterhouse Coopers found that over a two years span, female led crowdfunding campaigns from the US were 19 per cent more successful at attaining their seed crowdfunding targets.
Paucity of seed funding motivates women founders to build a more sustainable business.
Women executives have used their charisma to inspire others. Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post speaks about being fearless. Ginni Rometty has boldly led massive and risky changes in an effort to reinvent the technology behemoth IBM. There is nothing more powerful than a team that is inspired and raring to go. When I assign work to my team members, I like to weigh in on the big picture. It is important for employees to know exactly how their contribution is fulfilling the company's purpose.
Women in leadership positions should draw on their natural abilities. We should play our natural game but never forget our responsibilities towards building a culture of purpose, diversity and nurturing ecosystems and communities, to create sustained businesses.
Shalini Verma is CEO of Pivot Technologies