How Women Lead: It’s All About Creating a Culture of Collaboration

By Sharon Hadary and Laura Henderson

When it comes to team building, women have a terrific advantage.

Women’s leadership styles are collaborative, inclusive, and consultative. They gain commitment by enrolling their team members in achieving a common vision, actively soliciting and listening to employees’ ideas, and creating a culture focused on ethical behavior, quality, and concern for the individual.

Women leaders recognize that people want to be intellectually stimulated and energized by their environment, to know they are making a valuable contribution, and to be recognized for their performance.

Not command, but collaboration

The leader’s job is to get everyone enrolled in her vision so that it becomes a shared driving force. Every team member has to be committed to the overall organizational goals rather than to departmental or individual group goals.

Choose team members who bring purpose, passion, and commitment to the team’s endeavors. Team members who can easily grasp and take ownership of the team’s purpose, desired measurable outcomes, urgency, and relevance to the com- pany’s strategic goals will contribute at a higher level.

You have to communicate the vision and shared goals time and time again, in multiple ways. Use every communications channel available — meetings, written communications, and voice and video messages. Open up channels of communication using social media techniques to interact with groups within your organization, with individuals, and with the entire team.

Command has given way to collaboration in every modern organization. Judy Robinson says outsiders have the perception that since there is a clear chain of command in the Army, you can just give orders and people will obey you.

Explaining why your goals are important

While you may get action by giving orders, you are getting obedience, not a sense of achieving goals that make a difference. “If that’s how you try to lead, you don’t get anybody anywhere,” says Judy Robinson. “You need to explain to your team why the goal is important. You have to make it a team effort and value what everyone does.”

Shared values are a high priority for a team working under time and resource constraints on important issues. Make sure your team members share the values inherent in the project’s purpose. As the leader, it is your job to tie together the purpose, values, and importance to the company and the client. Shared values add to the team’s cohesion.

Instilling passion to achieve the organization’s mission in your team members generates energy and commitment. “Having shared vision and goals really helps create a culture of success,” says Maria Coyne. “Part of a culture of success is that you all want to achieve the mission, and working together, you have fun in the process. It doesn’t imply that you are just working insane hours — although that happens sometimes — but that you are balanced and having fun and focusing on the right things. Success creates success.”

Inspire and demand results

As the leader, you provide both inspiration and structure. The Committee of 200 women characterized their leadership styles as energetic, inspiring, and results-oriented. “I have a preference for creating teams that want to grow together and have fun building value for all of our constituents,” comments one woman.

One of the most important ways to engage people in their work is to make the work meaningful to them. Take the time to ensure that your team members understand the importance of the work they are doing, how it will be used, and how it will contribute to the success of the company and the client. Teams that believe their work will make a difference are more enthusiastic about their work and work harder to achieve the goal.

Set high standards and ambitious goals, and expect results. Establish a structure of performance evaluations and program reviews as a means of both communicating expectations and recognizing accomplishments. Demand the best from your team, and when people are successful, recognize and reward them.

“While building the business, I focused on creating a winning culture and a passion for success in the people who worked with me. It was important we were all on the same page, and all prepared and ever ready as a team to accomplish our shared objective,” says Beverly Holmes.

Recognizing – and rewarding – success

“The first year’s success generated enthusiasm for the next year’s success. Everyone took pleasure in and enjoyed the energy that being part of a winning team provided. I made every effort to ensure that those who contributed the most to the team’s success were recognized and compensated for their contributions. Making sure they knew they were appreciated was a necessary and rewarding business strategy.”

Recognize and reward success. When your team has done a good job, let them know. Take the time to celebrate the team’s progress and success and to recognize individual performance.

In addition to performance evaluations and salary increases when appropriate, take advantage of the company’s options for recognition. People love unexpected recognition, even if it is small. A gift certificate to a restaurant or tickets to a ball game or a theater performance let employees know you recognize and appreciate their contributions.

Anne Stevens, Chairman, CEO, and Principal at SA IT Services, characterizes her leadership style as “push, push, hug.” She says that you have to set goals that stretch people and be explicit about your expectations. But “you can’t push without a hug,” says Anne. There has to be a balance. If you do either one without the other, you will be ineffective. “It’s setting objectives, and then at the end of the day, recognizing the humanity in all of us.”

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Show individuals they are valued

In addition to believing that the organizational vision is worth pursuing, employees must perceive that in achieving the organization’s goals, they also will be successful in achieving their own personal and professional goals. Take the time to understand what success means to your team members and how you can help them achieve it.

Professionally, they may want to gain experience, develop new competencies, and advance in the business. Personally, they may want to have a strong family life and have the resources to fulfill a lifelong dream of organizing a group bicycle tour across Europe.

Sometimes learning about employees’ personal passions and experience may open up new ways they can contribute to the organization. The same organizational skills that the employee needs to organize a tour may be skills she can apply to a business project. Her knowledge of the countries to be included in her dream tour may be valuable when doing busi- ness internationally. Find ways to offer employees experiences and opportunities that contribute to their achieving their professional and personal goals as well as to the organization’s success.

The most successful leaders help people recognize their indi- vidual strengths. They give them opportunities to use those strengths and build new ones. Employees want to feel they are making progress doing work that is meaningful both to them and to the organization.

Reinforce employees’ confidence in their skills by putting them in situations where they can perform successfully and then recognizing

Excerpted with permission from How Women Lead – The 8 Successful Strategies Successful Women Know, copyright 2013 by Sharon Hadary and Laura Henderson. Published by McGraw-Hill, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY.

  • John A Bushfield

    Sharon/Laura – Excellent post!  You have identified most of the pieces of the puzzle, although I’d align them slightly differently.  Vision and shared goals understanding are certainly critical components of the culture you are advocating, but it’s the values which tie it all together.  Rather than leading with the Vision/Goals in the communications strategy, I believe that emphasizing the company value system as the context through which the organization goes about achieving its goals and moving closer to realizing the vision is a much more powerful message.  The idea is to have something greater than the company around which the business executes its strategy, and which can be applied to all aspects of organizational interaction with it’s constituencies:  customers, employees, investor/shareholder, and community.  

    My experience has been that values driven organizations can more effectively communicate business objectives, align its workforce to achieve those objectives, and navigate the inevitable roadblocks that are encountered along the way.  Moreover, values can be systemically integrated into the various processess and procedures followed, and apply regardless of business conditions.  

  • http://twitter.com/sparkhire Spark Hire

    Interesting article! Creating a collaborative environment is really essential to the success of any workplace or project. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your company is hiring the right people. Whether you’re interviewing a candidate in person or through online video, make sure they’re looking for an environment in which they can work as part of the team and give support. These workers will help your company move forward and accomplish goals.

    • Joanne Borgesi

      Spark HIre,  Of all the elements listed in the article, I think that the most important for women to embrace is collaboration.  Sometimes we tend to have such strong work conviction that we plow forward alone, when we could be relying on the interactive process to ease the decisions.