A recent article in the Financial Times reported that the European Commission has drafted a proposal to introduce regulation which requires Europe’s listed companies to reserve at least 40 per cent of their non-executive director board seats for women by 2020 or face fines and other sanctions. So if we are to have more women at the top what will that mean in terms of the quality of leadership?
Zenger and Folkman, authors of the Extraordinary Leader have recently completed extensive research based on data from 360 leadership evaluations, which capture feedback from a leader’s peers, bosses, and direct reports. They asked individuals to rate each leader’s effectiveness overall and also to judge how strong he or she is on the 16 competencies which Zenger Folkman developed based on more than 30 years of research on the competencies which are most important to overall leadership effectiveness for instance; how good is their leader at taking the initiative, developing others, inspiring and motivating, and pursuing their own personal development.
Zenger Folkman’s latest survey of 7,280 leaders confirms some seemingly eternal truths about men and women leaders in the workplace but also produced some surprises. Their data was generated from leaders in some of the most successful and progressive organisations in the world both public and private, government and commercial, US and international.
So what did their survey show?
Perhaps not surprisingly they found that the majority of leaders (64%) are still men. And the higher the level, the more men there are: In this group, 78% of top managers were men, 67% at the next level down (that is, senior executives reporting directly to the top managers), 60% at the manager level below that.
Similarly, most stereotypes would have us believe that female leaders excel at “nurturing” competencies such as developing others and building relationships and many might put exhibiting integrity and engaging in self-development in that category as well. And in all four cases Zenger Folkman’s data confirmed that indeed women did score higher than men.
But the women’s advantages were not at all confined to traditionally women’s strengths. In fact at every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows.
Specifically, at all levels, women are rated higher in fully 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership. And two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree – taking initiative and driving for results – may have traditionally been considered as particularly male strengths. Yet as it happened, men outscored women significantly on only one management competence in this survey – the ability to develop a strategic perspective.
So, what can we conclude from this data and importantly what can organisations, talent management professionals and leaders do with these findings?
Zenger Folkman’s research shows a strong correlation between leadership skills and organisational success factors such as retaining talent, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and profitability.
The search for and development of exceptional leadership talent is key for any organisation that wants to achieve exceptional results. The pool of leadership talent needs constant feeding and nurturing to provide the number of high quality leaders – to differentiate organisations from their competitors.
This research demonstrates that many women have the impressive leadership skills so much in demand – yet women are still under represented at the top levels in organisations.
The challenge is how to ensure that this talent is recognised both by the organisation and by women themselves. How can we identify the barriers that may limit the ambitions and rise of women into senior management positions and use this knowledge to accelerate and capture exceptional leadership talent whether the individual is male or female?
Lots of organisations are already working hard to do this. Perhaps this research will provide additional encouragement and impetus for their work- and encourage others to look at their own talent management processes so that in the future we see more women at the top of our organisations because their leadership skills are exceptional rather than because it has been imposed by external regulations.