Whether you think it’s a result of nature or nurture, most of us realize there are significant differences between the ways in which women and men work. While I’m not old enough to have worked in a Mad Men-era office, with female assistants whose job was to fetch coffee and mix mid-day cocktails, I've still seen a significant evolution in the modern workplace. I’ve always worked with powerful, effective women, and I’ve discovered there’s a lot that powerful men can learn from their female counterparts.
We men can adopt these eight qualities to become stronger leaders and better entrepreneurs:
1. Self-worth that derives from community service. Women typically value themselves based on the degree to which they’re needed by members of their company, family and community. Conversely, men tend to value themselves more on what they collect, viewing accomplishments, awards and position as the markers of success. This male perspective is outdated given the current business climate and particularly given the importance of collaborative work. While a trophy collector might profit from keeping knowledge and ideas secret, collaborative workers share ideas in the interest of benefiting the entire company. Skills like navigating the sometimes tricky waters of collaborative relationships and of networking favor those leaders who work for the good of their community.
2. Work/home balance. Women typically strive to find a balance between the frequently competing demands of work and home. They may not do it perfectly, the balance may shift from time to time, and they may sacrifice sleep to try to be a good worker/partner/mother, but the important lesson here is that it’s important to try—to recognize that both work and home are important and deserve our attention. Men can miss out on important events and demands at home in favor of a single-minded focus on business tasks. But in focusing primarily on work, men can lose out on the valuable support and fulfillment derived from spending time and effort nurturing life outside of work.
3. Pain tolerance. Let’s face it: If men had to give birth, we wouldn’t ever have to worry about overpopulation. In general, women have a higher pain tolerance than men, and today’s business climate makes that a very valuable trait. Given that we see splashy stories of success every day, it’s that much harder to get attention and attract customers, investors and supporters. Businesses require a gestation period—a time when you have to grit your teeth, buckle down and labor hard to bring your business into the world. The upside: You can tell horror stories about the struggles you faced as you went through the painful process of getting your business up and running. Starting and running a successful business isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires dedication, a vision of the big picture and pain tolerance.
4. Efficient multitasking. In a study that compared 10 women and 10 men in an office setting, women tasked with handling five tasks simultaneously—with interruptions—were one-and-a-half times more productive than men. (I’m not playing favorites here, so it’s worth noting that men with a single task were more efficient than women with a single task.) In any case, we may operate differently, but most guys I know—myself included—could learn a few things by watching our female colleagues and analyzing how they manage so many tasks at once.
5. Making presentation matter. Women know this because, whether or not it's fair, for generations they’ve been evaluated based on their appearance more than men have. While it’s always been true that appearances matter, given that the average attention span is getting increasingly shorter, first impressions are more important than ever. You have one shot to look pulled together, organized and capable at first glance. Don’t waste that opportunity—look your best.
6. Willingness to ask for help. We joke about men who are unwilling to ask for directions, but there’s no shame in finding the expert on a topic and asking for a tutorial. Take your smartphone as one example. Chances are good that you’ve installed an app in the past month or two, but how well do you really know how to use it? There’s something to be said for taking a few minutes to watch a tutorial or ask tech support for help. Use your resources!
7. Use of social skills. Women excel at networking and using social media to support their connections, both personal and business. Take a lesson from their willingness to share and communicate freely. More connections = more clients and collaborators.
8. Collaboration. Business moves quicker than it ever has before, and it’s increasingly specialized. No man is an island, and while I may have to remind myself of that every now and then, women embrace that concept more readily. So work with your team by seeking out the experts among your staff to complete tasks that you may struggle with. Your company will function better as a team than as adversaries.
There’s far more to business relationships than gender, and I'm not recommending that men try to become something they’re not. What I am suggesting is that you step back and take a critical look at the areas in which you could improve and then incorporate some behaviors that have proven to be successful.
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