Leadership Expert Esther Wachs Book
Although some people think it's still a man's world, more women are taking charge every year and building their own businesses. Here's a look at why women are taking the lead in the male-dominated business world.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
As far back as anyone can remember, women have never beenthought of as born business leaders. Even with the women'smovement in the '60s, they still had to prove they were capableof doing the same things a man could in order to receive the sameamount of pay. Today, women no longer have to replicate their malecounterparts to succeed. The skills they already possess and theirnatural-born qualities are what make women the business leaders ofthe future.
In her book, Why the Best Man for the Job is a Woman(HarperBusiness, $24), former Forbes writer Esther WachsBook takes a look at some of the most successful female businessleaders and examines the qualities they possess that have helpedthem triumph in the business world. Although this book takes a lookat leaders in the area of big business, many of the examplesprovided and skills highlighted are essential to starting andgrowing a successful small business. Here's a closer look atsome of the key characteristics that make a woman the best man forthe job:
Entrepreneur.com: In yourbook, you talk about a new paradigm of leadership. Could you tellme what this is and how it came about?
Esther WachsBook: The reason I say there's a new paradigm ofleadership for women is because women who are successful todayshare a number of skills that are different from those women andmen who have been successful in the past. They have some uniqueleadership qualities, which I define in my book. There are sevenfeatures that I point to. One is the ability to reinvent the rules.For example, Meg Whitman, CEO of online auctioneer eBay, is aleader in the technology field yet she lacks a background intechnology. She has a blue-chip background in a number ofcorporations like Procter & Gamble, Disney and Hasbro Toys. Shewas able to make eBay one of the top Internet businesses simply bystriking a chord with consumers and building its brand power. Nowshe's a billionaire and the company is a household name.
Another quality is using high touch in an era of high tech. Lookat Shelly Lazarus, CEO of Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide, theworld's eighth-largest advertising firm. She attracts clientslike IBM, American Express and Maxwell House Coffee by buildingpersonal relationships with [their top managers] and taking thetime to understand their businesses. She sends them personal notesto 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 usesa human touch to strike a connection with them.
A third skill these women possess is a passion for understandingcustomer preferences. For instance, Patricia Fili-Krushel, formerpresident of ABC Television Network, went beyond standard focusgroup findings to look at what was not on the TV schedule. She sawa need and filled it with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, theshow that brought ABC to profitability and made it the number-onenetwork.
Entrepreneur.com: What arethe main differences between women leaders today vs. women in thepast and between the way women and men run their businessesnow?
Book: In thepast, there were so few women in leadership posts that they feltthey really needed to emulate the men around them and adopt many oftheir qualities. A lot of women, with their bulging shoulder padsand neckties in the eighties, even looked a lot like men.Fortunately for women today, those trailblazers made it possiblefor women to be more natural now and more comfortable with theirfeminine side and with the role of leader.
[Women today] differ from the men around them in that they viewpower differently. Many of them aren't interested in usingtheir authority over others or issuing directives. They look atleadership as a more collaborative skill where they cooperate withtheir employees and elicit the best ideas from those around them totake the company forward and really be innovative. They're alsoagile in taking tough stances, and they're decisive andaggressive, combining some classic masculine traits with someclassic feminine traits.
Entrepreneur.com: What wouldyou say is responsible for this change in the role of women inleadership?
Book: Themain thing is that women today are sort of the first generation offemale leaders that have passed that era of having to be just likethe guy next to you, because the information age requiresmanagement skills that differ from those that were needed in thepast. Rapid advances in technology demand new skills from businessleaders today, like partnering and cooperation as well as beingdecisive and moving quickly and aggressively. Our tight labormarket also means they must work to keep top talent, so they mustbe able to make tough choices but also drive growth in anincreasingly competitive global marketplace. The skills that womennaturally have, like listening and cooperating with those aroundthem, are assets for them today.
Entrepreneur.com: What wouldyou say is the key characteristic that women entrepreneurshave?
Book: Onething that really defines the women entrepreneurs in my book isthey basically turn lemons into lemonade. They look at an areawhere people would see a dead end, and they're able to turn itinto not just an opportunity, but a launch pad for success.
Entrepreneur.com: How cansmall-business owners take the examples in your book and apply themto their own businesses?
Book: Thereare a lot of lessons for both male and female [small-businessowners] in my book because the skills these women have apply toentrepreneurial businesses as well as large companies. That passionfor the customers and the ability to connect with customers andcolleagues as well as looking at change and being able to stay onthe cusp of it are what make a small business really grow.
Ann Winblad of Hummer Winbald Venture Partners was anentrepreneur who joined a venture capital firm and decided to goagainst the grain in her field of offering money to computerhardware makers and looked into the software industry instead.Today, a lot of her companies are really successful and softwareis, of course, huge. She had the ability to see the technologicalchanges and advances that were happening and was able to leveragethose changes to become successful. There are lots of excitingentrepreneurial companies out there.
I just think these women are inspiring because they can reallybe role models. They're unconventional, so I thinkentrepreneurs will naturally connect with them as iconoclasts andso will people who don't feel they need to be in thetraditional corporation. These women all stand out in theirabilities in much the same way entrepreneurs do. They have theskills that entrepreneurs need to excel as well.