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What Female Leaders Can Teach Us About Communication

Men and women communicate differently. We all know this. Both genders have been known to be frustrated by these differences. We do though share one true objective when we speak, and that is to be heard.
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By: Cindy Wahler

Men and women communicate differently. We all know this. Both genders have been known to be frustrated by these differences. We do though share one true objective when we speak, and that is to be heard.

All of us have something of import to convey. You have a recommendation or an item you want to action. As the speaker you are hoping that you can influence and shift your peers.

So let's start with what women do. Here's the premise. Female leaders have a perspective that they want to share. They are crystal clear on the outcome they want to achieve. The choice is to either start with the bottom line or alternatively, build towards achieving the bottom line.

So how do women lead? Women frequently build rapport first and then follow with a keen sense of the bottom line. The art of building rapport achieves two primary things. First off bonding with your peers creates a sense of camaraderie. This provides a platform for building trust. Trust is crucial if your colleagues are going to consider partnering with you.

Secondly and equally important, vetting your ideas allows for a robust discussion. From here you discover alternate views. This is an inclusive style of communication. There is a significant difference in telling others what should be done versus establishing a platform for collaborative input.

Men and women need to appreciate that both genders are neurologically wired in distinct ways. From a business perspective this difference is an important strategic device. Both styles of communication when understood and respected increase the likelihood of driving towards profitable outcomes. Determining a course of action involves a SWAT analysis and ensuring you have everybody on board. Extensive data supports the notion that companies that encourage diversity of thought outperform those that don't.

Here's what's critical. Being told to follow the leader doesn't necessarily translate into genuine followership. Troops may move along, but they may be doing so in a blind fashion. Leaders may appear to agree on the surface, but in reality proceed with their own course of action.

Creating a platform for diversity of thought involves much more than having diverse thinkers at the table. That's the easy part. Leaders need to do more than just understand how vital this is for their organization. They need to take a proactive stand and serve as a lightning rod for disruptive thinking.

It is about extracting key lessons from female leaders playbooks. Based upon neurological wiring women naturally start with fostering an environment that encourages other views. Women ask for input, women ask great questions, and women encourage being challenged not for the art of debate but rather to advance thinking.

Women in the short term appear as though they are meandering or take the long route to get to where they hope to land. Contrary to popular belief this approach is more expedient. This style increases the likelihood of teams working collectively with shared goals rather than acting as siloed contributors.

Lessons learned from female leaders you ask? First determine your ask. Do you have a concise and cogent business case? Once that's well articulated you then require strong influencing skills.

A common refrain from a number of my executive clients is "I have done this before". The assumption is that they have the exact template for how to enact a change management initiative. There is an error in this assumption. No doubt there will be overlap of key elements. There also will be different variables. What does need to be taken into account is human capital.

Female leaders take time to understand the motivation of each of their peers and team members. They do this by "suggesting" an approach. This paves the way for open and transparent dialogue. The premise is that everybody at the table should have a point of view and many of these perspectives have merit. Together and collectively the approach is then shaped.

The net result is each member has contributed and now owns substantial piece. This ensures greater accountability and investment.

The choice is yours. You can impose your views or you can facilitate dialogue. Women generally excel at this. Ensuring that a results driven approach is balanced with true partnering enables both male and female leaders to present with a highly competitive advantage.

Cindy Wahler, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a leadership consultant specializing in executive coaching and talent management. She can be contacted at

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