Insights: Why women make good leaders at work
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Insights: Why women make good leaders

Insights: Why women make good leaders

Women can use their innate characteristics to help create a workplace culture that will attract the best people, to build the teams that enable both them and their companies to thrive

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Hanan Nagi is founder and CEO of HNI

In recent years governments across the region have made significant strides to accelerate gender equality. Today, women make up half of the UAE’s Federal National Council. Saudi Arabia has also launched a raft of initiatives to advance female empowerment and increase the participation of women in the labour market.

However, when it comes to the private sector, women remain under-represented at the highest levels of leadership. Earlier this year, 18 prominent local and multinational companies in the UAE signed a pledge to improve gender balance in the workplace, with a focus on increasing the representation of women in leadership positions to 30 per cent by 2025.

Research suggests that leadership talent is a blend of genetic makeup and learned experiences. So, when it comes to women in leadership, what are those innate skills and characteristics that help us succeed, and what is it that we need to learn and hone?

  •  Leadership traits: Leadership styles and approaches differ amongst women as much as they do amongst men, and there is no typical stereotype for a successful female leader. That said, as a female leader, I’ve seen and experienced how certain gender traits lend themselves to leadership.
  • Empathy and collaboration: Women often have an inherently empathetic disposition that makes them naturally approachable, which fosters better communication across teams and promotes a more collaborative approach to doing business. As an employer, I see how teams are more likely to get behind decisions they are consulted on, rather than instructions issued autocratically from the C-Suite.
  • Prioritising and multi-tasking: Most women play many different roles in life as parents, caregivers and homemakers, alongside developing their own careers. The ability to prioritise and multi-task is a natural evolution of a women’s everyday life. When applied in the workplace, this enables women to move swiftly between tasks, ultimately helping to manage diverse workloads and deliver more effectively.
  •  Analytical decision-making: Women have a natural tendency towards methodical rather the impulsive decision-making.  Taking time to stop, analyse broader factors, and then challenge assumptions, helps to make more thoughtful and grounded business decisions.
  •  Goal-setting: The female biological lifecycle means that many women must, to some extent, plan and execute personal and professional goals against specific timeframes. This goal-setting mentality, along with the need to outperform peers, means that women are often primed to successfully define milestones and deliver timebound strategies.

What can we address to feel more empowered?
While these natural talents lay the foundations for leadership competence, I’ve also both seen and experienced some female characteristics that could potentially the expectations of what a leader typically looks like. Addressing self-limiting traits and honing a leadership mentality can help prepare women to unlock their full potential as leaders. It’s important to…

  • Eliminate imposter syndrome: For some women, self-doubt can be the biggest barrier. Women can often be their own saboteurs, believing that they are not skilled, experienced or assertive enough to succeed in a leadership role. Disowning limiting beliefs and recognising the value that their differences bring is a vital step in empowering women to lead.
  • Be prepared to make mistakes: The life-preserving responsibility that comes with womanhood is perhaps what makes risk-taking counter-intuitive for some female professionals. However, in business, we learn the most valuable lessons by making mistakes. This means trying new things, taking risks, dreaming big, getting out of your comfort zone, and being willing to fail in order to learn those lessons.
  • Walk the talk: Authenticity is one critical trait that can make or break a leader. It is the key to engaging and inspiring a team, but equally something we might lose sight of under the pressure to deliver. To treat people how you would want to be treated, and to guide rather than chastise, is the essence of humanity and should be the cornerstone of good leadership.
  •  Share your vision: Knowing where you are going and how you will get there is an obvious necessity for leaders, but what’s just as important is sharing that vision with your team. Engaging in daily communications to check off milestones and plan the next stage of the strategy ensures that everyone is on board and focused on achieving that shared vision.
  •  Remember, there is no ‘I’ in ‘leader’: Like many women, I didn’t know I could be a leader until I had to lead, something necessary in my journey as an entrepreneur. Even as a business owner managing 60 full-time employees and 200 consultants, there are the occasional moments of doubt. That’s why one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to build the right team.

It will never be lonely at the top if you can inspire and engage the people around you to travel with you on the journey to your shared goals – and so remove the “I” in leadership. The good news is that, as women, fully utilising our innate characteristics can help create a workplace culture that will attract the best people, to build the teams that we need to enable us to thrive as leaders.

Hanan Nagi is founder and CEO of HNI, a global learning consultancy headquartered in Dubai.

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