Leading Lady

Devashish Chakravarty   Delhi     Print Edition: January 2012

Devashish Chakravarty
Woman drivers and woman bosses , both elicit an emotional response from most people-either fanatically critical or frantically defensive. However, are these reactions warranted?

Consider these facts: Auto insurance companies charge less for insurance from a woman driver just as they discount a teetotaller's bill. Similarly, studies rank women above men on leadership skills.

And yet, why are women not given their due? This question is, however, irrelevant here. What is relevant is to know, if you are a female boss, how to work best as a leader or, if your manager is a woman, how to work with her.

As a woman who has to lead a team, list the challenges that you face on account of being a 'female manager'. Throw this list away. Now, list the challenges that you face as a manager.

Work culture, perceptions of team members, family roles, targets, promotions, compensation, performance, mentoring, self-development, assignments and anything else you can think of. This list is common to all managers. Each role has its own challenges in varying intensities that are unique.

These may be based on your education, experience, background, social status and even gender. But, much like a car that functions optimally as long as it is driven well, a good workplace cares for performance over everything else.

Tips for a woman leader

Belief: You are a team leaders because the organisation believes that it serves its need best to place you in that role, at that time, in the given environment. Do understand that you deserve it.

Change: Read the standard mutual fund disclaimer-past performance is not an indicator or future performance. This is a new job profile. The skills you need to succeed are different. Understand what is expected and change to fit the new job profile.

Respect: Seek respect through your performance. Expect performance and professionalism from team members, including those who were your colleagues yesterday. Prepare to be polite yet firm in implementing deadlines, turning down poor quality work and expecting a positive attitude from the team.

Trust: A leader leverages faith to achieve results. But, your team members need to believe in your abilities and focus first. Build that trust through communication and delivering on what is expected from your role.

Accountability: A manager is expected to take decisions, stand by them and take responsibility for the outcome. To be effective, it is critical to stand by your commitments and then be ruthlessly honest to owning up and taking responsibility for mistakes and failures.

The primary focus should be on achieving targets and working around challenges. Use your unique strengths as a person to do so.

It matters little whether your EQ is higher than average or whether you are soft spoken, both common perceptions about women.

Second, focus on leading your team and reporting to your manager. Communication skills and competence work best for both. If there is a problem, go hard at a solution and soft on the person.

Finally, focus on yourself. List your USPs. Work at maintaining them instead of merging with the herd. These will keep you ahead of the game. Then, list your weaknesses. Rectify those that visibly hamper your performance.

Once you meet your targets, evaluate opportunities for advancement. Step back for a moment and rationally evaluate the pros and cons of your present situation.

Gender, just like family roles and experience, will open and shut windows of opportunities . Compare with other avenues that are open to you to make the best of the situation. As a professional you must choose the option that is most sustainable and works best for you.

Now, what should you do if you work for a female boss? Studies show that in some industries, employees prefer to work for a male team leader. More women than men express this opinion.

But, it is more useful to understand that in a meritocratic organisation, it is difficult to reward a professional whose team or manager is performing poorly.

So, focus on your work and how your performance affects that of the team and your manager. Work towards maximising the impact of your output. That will help align your goals with that of the team.

Next, understand your boss's managerial style. Each leader is unique. Since the organisation has recognised merit while selecting both the team leader and team members, it is important to respect their designation and help the team succeed.

Expect accountability and motivation from your manager. Use the organisation to make the team and your career work. All of this applies to both male and female managers.

Finally, are you responsible for a team lead by a woman? Most of us work in industries where our clients include a sizable percentage of both women and men now.

Having team leaders from both genders is far better than having leaders of a single gender. Most professional companies recognise this and actively pursue a policy where the people in the firm are representative of the clients.

Use this opportunity to experiment and learn how to groom your team leaders individually rather than as an aggregate. As a senior leader, mentoring middle and junior managers yields the maximum benefit in terms of aligning large teams to common goals. Focus on rewarding merit and improving performance and watch your teams thrive.

When the whistle blows, whether you are a woman or a man, a team leader or a team member, merit and performance counts the most. Your name, age, gender, background, education and past performance are relegated to being mere footnotes.

The writer is CEO, Quetzal Verify, an HR solutions company. Quetzal currently has equal number of team leaders and team members of both gender.

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