Amanda Cullen: When it comes to optimising leadership, it’s not just about gender balance

Diverse people
Getting equality in the boardroom is not just about filling quotas and balancing out numbers, it’s about getting a diverse mix of leaders to optimise businesses, with both women and men playing a huge part in this.

The recent Female FTSE board report – which revealed that the proportion of UK board appointments going to women has slumped to its lowest level in five years – has led to a rally call for more women in the boardroom.
Whilst this of course is a pertinent topic, I think it’s even more important for corporates to get the right mix of different leadership styles, which are embodied in both men and women.

Leadership of the past was largely command and control – well suited to typical male styles.

Leadership of the future (and present) requires more collaboration. The modern workforce is more questioning, and less prepared to do what they are told simply because the person telling them is the boss.
As a coach and trainer running workshops on leadership style, I frequently brainstorm leadership attributes with my audience.

Qualities like vision, intellect, charisma, integrity and decision-making are always identified.

‘Traditional’ leader qualities like risk-taking, strength, determination and power often feature too.
But women-only – or predominantly female – groups give far more examples of qualities demonstrating emotional intelligence such as empathy, appreciation, empowerment, listening, authenticity, fairness.

These skills are better suited to leading the workforces we have now and in the future. Combining these qualities with some of the aforementioned traits would make for a successful team.

Boards should strive to have a good range of personalities as well as skills e.g. introverts as well as extroverts, peacemakers as well as challengers, deep thinkers as well as broad, big picture strategists.

By looking for these attributes, business will inevitably attract both men and women to the boardroom, which would in turn address the issue highlighted in the report.

So how can businesses attain this desired mix? Firstly, they need to stop recruiting in their own image, as this reinforces their existing culture. They must recognise the value of a more diverse workforce and ensure that the recruitment processes supports this. Senior and middle management need to be engaged to ensure that interviews are run with the same objective.

With existing staff, it’s important to grow a diverse range of talents. So ensure that the promotion process isn’t biased towards those who all think and behave exactly the same way. It’s also important that those who are more collaborative but less inclined to blow their own trumpet don’t get overlooked.

This method of development isn’t just the reserve of corporates. A more inclusive approach works for any organisation, large or small.

A sole trader taking the next step needs to think carefully about going into partnership or hiring their first employee and guard against linking up with someone with a very similar approach. As others are added to the management team, the focus on building a team with complementary skills should be front of mind.

Larger organisations with a significant existing management structure must take stock and check that their leadership team has a good cross-section of styles.

So to summarise, it’s important to get women into leadership roles, but it’s even more important to fill the boardroom with men and women who have a diverse mix of skills and characteristics to bring to the table.

Amanda is an executive coach who works with individuals and groups, supporting leaders and teams to step up to their full potential.  

As well as supporting large corporates, Amanda also works with small business to help them realise their full potential.   

Before training as a coach Amanda spent over 30 years in the pensions industry, including 10 years as a partner at Mercer. During that time she managed major accounts and led large teams, as well as specialising in providing governance advice to pension scheme trustees. 

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