As far back as anyone can remember, women have never been thought of as born business leaders. Even with the women's movement in the '60s, they still had to prove they were capable of doing the same things a man could in order to receive the same amount of pay. Today, women no longer have to replicate their male counterparts to succeed. The skills they already possess and their natural-born qualities are what make women the business leaders of the future.
In her book, Why the Best Man for the Job is a Woman (HarperBusiness, $24), former Forbes writer Esther Wachs Book takes a look at some of the most successful female business leaders and examines the qualities they possess that have helped them triumph in the business world. Although this book takes a look at leaders in the area of big business, many of the examples provided and skills highlighted are essential to starting and growing a successful small business. Here's a closer look at some of the key characteristics that make a woman the best man for the job:
Entrepreneur.com: In your book, you talk about a new paradigm of leadership. Could you tell me what this is and how it came about?
Esther Wachs Book: The reason I say there's a new paradigm of leadership for women is because women who are successful today share a number of skills that are different from those women and men who have been successful in the past. They have some unique leadership qualities, which I define in my book. There are seven features that I point to. One is the ability to reinvent the rules. For example, Meg Whitman, CEO of online auctioneer eBay, is a leader in the technology field yet she lacks a background in technology. She has a blue-chip background in a number of corporations like Procter & Gamble, Disney and Hasbro Toys. She was able to make eBay one of the top Internet businesses simply by striking a chord with consumers and building its brand power. Now she's a billionaire and the company is a household name.
Another quality is using high touch in an era of high tech. Look at Shelly Lazarus, CEO of Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide, the world's eighth-largest advertising firm. She attracts clients like IBM, American Express and Maxwell House Coffee by building personal relationships with [their top managers] and taking the time to understand their businesses. She sends them personal notes to let them know she's interested in them and their companies. She takes the time to get to know them on a personal level and uses a human touch to strike a connection with them.
A third skill these women possess is a passion for understanding customer preferences. For instance, Patricia Fili-Krushel, former president of ABC Television Network, went beyond standard focus group findings to look at what was not on the TV schedule. She saw a need and filled it with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the show that brought ABC to profitability and made it the number-one network.
Entrepreneur.com: What are the main differences between women leaders today vs. women in the past and between the way women and men run their businesses now?
Book: In the past, there were so few women in leadership posts that they felt they really needed to emulate the men around them and adopt many of their qualities. A lot of women, with their bulging shoulder pads and neckties in the eighties, even looked a lot like men. Fortunately for women today, those trailblazers made it possible for women to be more natural now and more comfortable with their feminine side and with the role of leader.
[Women today] differ from the men around them in that they view power differently. Many of them aren't interested in using their authority over others or issuing directives. They look at leadership as a more collaborative skill where they cooperate with their employees and elicit the best ideas from those around them to take the company forward and really be innovative. They're also agile in taking tough stances, and they're decisive and aggressive, combining some classic masculine traits with some classic feminine traits.
Entrepreneur.com: What would you say is responsible for this change in the role of women in leadership?
Book: The main thing is that women today are sort of the first generation of female leaders that have passed that era of having to be just like the guy next to you, because the information age requires management skills that differ from those that were needed in the past. Rapid advances in technology demand new skills from business leaders today, like partnering and cooperation as well as being decisive and moving quickly and aggressively. Our tight labor market also means they must work to keep top talent, so they must be able to make tough choices but also drive growth in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. The skills that women naturally have, like listening and cooperating with those around them, are assets for them today.
Entrepreneur.com: What would you say is the key characteristic that women entrepreneurs have?
Book: One thing that really defines the women entrepreneurs in my book is they basically turn lemons into lemonade. They look at an area where people would see a dead end, and they're able to turn it into not just an opportunity, but a launch pad for success.
Entrepreneur.com: How can small-business owners take the examples in your book and apply them to their own businesses?
Book: There are a lot of lessons for both male and female [small-business owners] in my book because the skills these women have apply to entrepreneurial businesses as well as large companies. That passion for the customers and the ability to connect with customers and colleagues as well as looking at change and being able to stay on the cusp of it are what make a small business really grow.
Ann Winblad of Hummer Winbald Venture Partners was an entrepreneur who joined a venture capital firm and decided to go against the grain in her field of offering money to computer hardware makers and looked into the software industry instead. Today, a lot of her companies are really successful and software is, of course, huge. She had the ability to see the technological changes and advances that were happening and was able to leverage those changes to become successful. There are lots of exciting entrepreneurial companies out there.
I just think these women are inspiring because they can really be role models. They're unconventional, so I think entrepreneurs will naturally connect with them as iconoclasts and so will people who don't feel they need to be in the traditional corporation. These women all stand out in their abilities in much the same way entrepreneurs do. They have the skills that entrepreneurs need to excel as well.