“I am five feet tall and female and people do not take me seriously right off the bat. You need to be bigger and more masculine to intimidate people; they pay attention to you. It’s like an elephant. An elephant gets more attention than a mouse. But if the mouse is the president of the company and it needs to be run effectively, then the mouse needs to learn how to manage the elephant. And that is what we do. We manage at least one elephant every single day.”
– Linda Horn, L.R. Horn Concepts Inc., Women’s Business Advocate of the Year, 2009
Recent research suggests that women behave more democratically than men in leadership situations, use interactive skills more frequently, place greater emphasis on maintaining effective working relationships, value cooperation and being responsible to others and work to achieve outcomes that address the concerns of all parties involved. One researcher defines this female leadership style as an “ethic of care,” meaning that women manage with regard to the respect they wish for themselves. As a former Entrepreneur of the Year expressed it, “I want everybody to be treated like I want to be treated.”
These are also the skills of a transformational leader, one who articulates a vision to be shared by peers and subordinates, encourages and models effective behavior, respects individual differences, and empowers followers to become leaders. This approach is akin to “innovative realism,” the skill to be flexible, creative, action-oriented and inspirational and to integrate relationships.
The leadership and management approaches of women are being widely recognized today as extremely effective in dealing with the problems of economic downturn. In the top leadership seminars, both in the U.S. and worldwide, the focus is on a leadership style that incorporates effective communication, relationship building, quality values and commitment as the critical tools to successfully turn things around.
Where did all this come from? Slowly and methodically, the educational landscape of colleges and universities has been changing. Women now constitute 58 percent of the enrollment in two- and four-year colleges, are the majority of the total graduate and professional school population, and, in the field of business, earn more than two-thirds of the associate degrees, more than half the bachelor’s degrees, and over 40 percent of master’s degrees. Women entering the business world in recent years have been increasingly well-prepared.
Women are also changing the small-business landscape. Overall, the number of women-owned firms continues to increase at twice the rate of male-owned businesses. Women who own 50 percent or more of their firms now account for 40 percent of all privately held firms. One in five firms with revenues of $1 million or more are woman-owned. Many of these women entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the fact that more than 2,100 institutions of higher education offer at least one course in entrepreneurship. While programs geared to the specific needs of women entrepreneurs are still almost nonexistent, many women students understand that enrolling in an entrepreneurship course can lead to an understanding of the nuts and bolts of operating a business successfully. This is important because there is ample evidence that a good number of potentially creative entrepreneurs fail in their ventures because they cannot manage budgets, people and materials effectively.
Someone must do these tasks. But the requirement to be a good manager makes it easy for the entrepreneurial leader-turned-manager to get bogged down in day-to-day operational details. Faced with the choice of being the artistic leader or the business manager, Suzy Spafford, the creator of Suzy’s Zoo, elected “drawing and laughing and creating those characters … to make people happy, to share the joy you experience if you don’t forget what it is like to be a child.” Behind this premise is her labor of love for each of the 200-plus Suzy’s Zoo and Little Suzy’s Zoo characters she has brought to life. More than vibrant greeting and notecard illustrations, each character has a personality, history, and story. “I can create something that’s unique,” Spafford says, “therefore, I want to hire people who have the ability to expand my concept, to add to value, but not to redo the designs. It’s not as easy as I thought. I want to say to my artists, be graphic, have good composition, good words, but let me own the character. I am the little personality.”
Owning a business is a big job. As an enlightened woman leader and entrepreneur, the business owner is the vision-setter, information resource, motivator and analyzer.
As the firm manager, she is the ambassador, taskmaster, auditor and servant.
As the owner, the buck stops with her. But business owners cannot do everything themselves. By definition, the creator of the business must spend considerable time doing something other than working on the product or service. The most critical decision is where to invest one’s limited time.
Is there one key to dealing effectively with all the demands faced by a productive and smart leader? Dr. Suzanne Peterson, a professor at Arizona State University and managing director of CRA Inc., suggests keeping things on track may involve communicating in ways that focus attention, build credibility and motivate people. “Everything you do,” she says, “sends a message — not only about your work, but about who you are and how you relate to others.”
Studies of women executives and female entrepreneurs tend to show that they define effective power as deriving from mastery rather than control. Instead of focusing on the traditional perks and privileges that separate leaders from others in organizations, they constantly work to construct ties to individuals.
It’s not just a female leadership style, it’s good business.
Dorothy Perrin Moore, Ph.D., is professor emerita of business and entrepreneurship at The Citadel. Sources for the quotations in this article may be found online and in Moore, D.P., 2000. “Careerpreneurs: Lessons From Leading Women Entrepreneurs on Building a Career Without Boundaries,” Davies-Black Publishing and in Moore’s published works through 2009.
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First appeared in the Moxie section of The Post and Courier Friday, December 11, 2009.