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The Leadership Qualities of Women

Frances suggests that perhaps women are becoming the "edge walkers" toward a type of leadership that is gender-free.

The saying, “It’s a man’s world”, hardly seems relevant in contemporary society. Even twenty years ago, the possibility of a female running for the presidency of a large developed nation would have seemed near implausible, but Hillary Clinton’s recent attempt to be nominated as the Democrat candidate in the 2008 US opportunities and dispelling gender stereotypes. Certainly, when it comes to positions of leadership, more and more often we see women acting as crucial driving forces across a variety of industries and sectors.

But does leading the way as a woman necessarily mean rejecting your natural female instincts? Should women, who want to lead, be embracing traits and acting in a manner which is perhaps more traditionally envisaged as “male” or masculine? And what unique abilities might women bring to leadership that are less known and not yet researched? Times are certainly changing and these are some of the questions that are being asked and answered as women become more visible on the leadership landscape.

Numerous studies have shown specifically how men and women act and react differently to situations in a corporate setting. There are common themes and findings across the research that is helpful to both women and men as leaders and followers. One of the most comprehensive studies of gender differences in leadership behaviour was completed in 1998 by The Management Research Group based in Germany and the USA*

The results of the research showed that while men and women were ranked equally effective overall (by bosses, peers and direct reports), the following differences were clear:


  • Were more task and results focused - organised work in a structured way, followed-up to ensure that objectives were met and pushed for results.

  • Developed closer working relationships - demonstrated more concern for others; were more candid and sincere.


  • Took a strategic approach to the leadership role - planning, visioning, and risk-taking, and giving thoughtful consideration to past lessons and viability of opportunities for change in the future.

Even though these results reflect a familiar pattern, we are certainly witnessing a shift in thinking when it comes to methods of working within organisations. Wecan see a trend in management literature developing where aspects such as interpersonal and communicating skills are being given more value and precedence within companies. Obviously men and women can learn from each other’s natural instincts in order to be the most well-rounded and reliably effective leaders. Therefore women can augment their task and people skills with some of the more recognised business and strategic skills and men can enhance their tendency toward business skills with better people skills – including such things as sensitivity and listening.

In addition to these well-studied areas, women harbour an array of unique qualities and instincts which can be seen in the fresh approaches that they are bringing to some of the more complex and enduring problems of corporate and societal leadership. Women tend not to recognise their own unique abilities, and in our zeal to meet and exceed performance expectations in high pressured, fast paced and results-driven business settings, these more subtle gems of wisdom can be dismissed and lost.

I have worked closely with leaders of both genders for over thirty years and have observed that the most effective women seem to tap into a different source of wisdom that leads them to unique behaviours such as:

Presence and attentiveness

Beyond communicating freely and including their employees in decisions, these women are deep listeners. The quality of attention that they give to individuals, their ideas and their needs on a daily and routine basis engenders a type of trust and loyalty that is invaluable for teams and partnerships when they face tough challenges and the need for innovation and change.


Women who can consistently shift their focus from one task or situation to another across time and situational boundaries are much more effective and resilient. This ability to compartmentalise may be connected to the experience of multi-tasking that is essential to the traditional demands of balancing personal and work life.

Willingness to ask and act upon penetrating questions

When situations seem stuck in age-old dilemmas, women who trust their own wisdom know that they must step back and ask dismantling questions in order to open up new options – questions that begin with “What if?”, “What else?” and “What would it take?” This requires stepping into what is not known in order to create something new. The results can be seen in unique organisational designs and stronger cross-functional relationships that serve real purpose. Women, who are willing to “not know”, tap into the collective intelligence and creative solutions to be found in the workforce.

In order to begin to comprehend the value of their best qualities, women must also get in touch with their inner wisdom. By this term we refer to concepts and habits that have been repeatedly tested and evaluated for their usefulness and reliability and then translated into life principles that work for you. It is personal knowledge that becomes embodied behaviour. Once you develop wisdom, it allows you to assess and discern situations with greater confidence. Wisdom, by this definition, helps women make the best judgment and choices in a wide range of both positive and challenging situations. The source of this wisdom may be a combination of concepts learned in a university, observation over time and your own thoughts that began with a quiet voice that simply spoke from somewhere in your mind. The challenge is to develop and learn how to tap into this wisdom.

A leadership challenge for women is to ensure that their styles and behaviours include the more strategic business skills that research attributes to men, the task and people skills attributed to women, as well as their own unique qualities and inner wisdom. Understanding how this broader repertoire of leader options can be used appropriately and drawn upon instinctively is a learning edge. Once these natural and instinctive qualities become part of your behaviour, this can help you to differentiate yourself as a leader within your organisation.

#organizationdevelopment #men #women #gender #leadership #management #relationships #heirarchies #skills #business #careers #research

During my 38 year career as a consultant to organizations I have had the privilege of working with a few

extraordinary leaders. The question that invariably comes to mind is “What presence, of consequence,

can I bring to this party?” The world, the times, demand a new level of thinking and leading. The bright

lights in organizations around the world will step up to this call. The question is whether or not we as

practitioners are positioned to partner, significantly, in this next game.

The Next Game, in the world of business, seems to be more of the same but at an accelerated pace of uncertainty: global interdependence; complex economies, organizational forms and collaborative models that transcend traditional boundaries; and the dynamic interplay between business, culture, politics, governance and the concerns for a sustainable environment. The challenges are great and the natural leaders will seek out reliable ways of thinking; anticipating the future; optimizing the capacity to connect people, resources, technology and systems, around clearer purpose and intent.

In a 2001 issue of The Journal of Knowledge Management Otto Scharmer writes:

“Leaders need a new type of knowledge that allows them to sense, tune into and actualize emerging business opportunities - that is, to tap into the sources of not-yet embodied knowledge. Bill Gates is not so much a wizard of technology”, says Brian Arthur, “but a wizard of precognition, of discerning the shape of the next game.”

A February 2010 entry on the Oxford Leadership Academy Face Book Blog reads:

“In today's fast speed environment, motion makes observation difficult. Leaders must get above the dance floor and get on the balcony. Great leaders never react. They observe, consider the options and then act decisively with full determination.”

Chris Matthews the television news journalist has a byline that says: “Tell me something that I don’t already know.” That just about sums up the challenge that I feel as a consultant in today’s environment. But fortunately I have learned that my job is not to tell them. Neither my clients, nor I, am content to problem-solve complex issues based in past experience; rather we must learn generative ways of addressing issues. Maybe up on the balcony we discover and engage the organization’s most important questions and opportunities in ways that lead to fresh ideas and lasting intelligence. My job is to help them to build the capacity to craft their own inquiry within their teams and employee populations.

My views on leadership and management are influenced by specific clients who made lasting impressions on me over my 38 years in this field. I refer to them as the “bright lights.” They are a very diverse group in a range of roles and titles such as Chief of Naval Operations of the U.S. Navy, superintendent of schools in a large district, vice president for refining in a major oil company, internationally renowned pastor and religious teacher, regional vice president in a chemical company, a research scientist, and a middle manager who didn’t want to grow up to be president. I met the first member of this pool in 1973 and the most recent in 2009; some during periods of significant social change or prolonged down cycles in institutions with strong and historically stable cultures. There have also been pivotal situations that were great lessons, in retrospect, like rich and complex case studies that just keep on giving.

The meaning that I make from these situations gets reenacted over and over again by new people and situations. I believe that this is the “stuff” of wisdom, as defined by Russell Ackoff (systems theorist and professor of organizational change, quoted by Bellinger, Castro and Mills, The Way of Systems, 2004) as evaluated understanding. He identified five categories of the mind: data, information, knowledge, understanding and wisdom.

“Ackoff indicates that the first four categories relate to the past; they deal with what has been or what is known. Only the fifth category, wisdom, deals with the future because it incorporates vision and design. Wisdom, he states is an extrapolative process. It beckons to give us understanding about which there has previously been no understanding, and in doing so, goes far beyond under- standing itself. It is the essence of philosophical probing.”

My experience over the past 10 years has provided comprehension and language for phenomena that I previously only intuited.


In our numerous professional communities we could learn from the business world the wisdom of consortia and mergers. For instance, there are scholars who research and create management and behavioral science theory and models; there are business schools that prepare scholars and consultants, and then there are practitioner schools such as NTL and Gestalt OSD that integrate knowledge and theory into distinct competencies and models of consulting and coaching. The overlap is tremendous: many of the theorists and scholars are field workers; consultants are also theorists and model builders, etc., and none of us belongs to any one group exclusively. The opportunity for complementary cross learning however goes unnoticed. When I watch some of our thought leaders host a conversation or facilitate a learning event my facilitator hat goes on. Facilitating and hosting are like teaching in a purely adult model. Some thought leaders are naturals or trained facilitators, and others miss the potential for more effect by sharing the essentials of their concepts, because they don’t incorporate well the logic and value that process design and facilitation contributes to learning and change. And many practitioners are too content to stick to what we know, when the world around us is changing at lightning speed.

Those of us who have aligned ourselves with Organization Development for many years value what we know and do so well. We have grown in our field and now it is time to ask what organization development might also become? My story is not unique; we need to grow together through our stories if we are to be players in the next game.

#organizationdevelopment #game #change #professional #career #industry #leadership #management #community #facilitator #business #collaboration #future

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How to Collaborate in Congregational Ministry

The World Café is a practice that bridges the teachings of the Scripture and the need for more collaborative models in congregational ministry. Frances Baldwin shares how engagement leads to positive feelings of ownership in congregations.

The art and science of leading any organization includes planning and marshaling resources for their most efficient and effective use. As Christians we look, discerningly, for collaborative approaches that speak to our values as we attempt to lead congregations and communities through this season of challenge and opportunities.

Thirteen years ago I was introduced to The World Café, a simple but powerful method for engaging any number of people in meaningful conversation. I had used The World Café as a business tool internationally, at interdenominational forums, and in many organizational settings for years before considering how well the underlying principles resonate with my own spiritual grounding in the belief that God is love.

Eugene Peterson, longtime Professor of Theology and author of The Message states in the epilogue to his book A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, the convictions of his pastoral work: “Everything in the gospel is livable and my pastoral task was to get it lived.” What an incredible vocational quest for each of us!

Juanita Brown, co-creator of The World Café, in citing the foundational underpinnings of The World Café quotes Humberto Maturana (the Chilean biologist, who summarizes the findings of his scientific explorations of knowledge and humanness) with these words: “We have only the world that we bring forth with others, and only love helps us bring it forth.”

This combination of a vocational quest to help others live the gospel by way of loving them into it (Matthew 22:36-40) is foundational to this understanding of collaboration in congregational ministry. The cohering quality is love. One must first love others to practice the type of inclusion, respect, openness, heart and will that demonstrates true collaboration in the church as an organization.

Thirteen years ago I was introduced to The World Café, a simple but powerful method for engaging any number of people in meaningful conversation. I had used The World Café as a business tool internationally, at interdenominational forums, and in many organizational settings for years before considering how well the underlying principles resonate with my own spiritual grounding in the belief that God is love.

What is the World Café and how does it work?

The World Café is a conversational process, based on a set of integrated principles from the behavioral sciences. The process and principles create dynamic networks of conversation and knowledge sharing that is related to real needs, real work and critical questions. As the network of new connections increases collective and shared wisdom become more accessible and innovative possibilities for action emerge.

The World Café is conducted in a hospitable space that mimics the informality and intimacy of a welcoming café with small tables and tablecloths. The design accommodates small and very large groups equally. Participants are given questions related to an issue that is important to the organization. They move from table to table discussing the same question with new groups in a series of movements called rounds.

After several rounds on several questions the essence of what emerges, fresh insights, the fruits of thinking together in these multiple rounds, is captured. Hidden assumptions are brought into question while deeper understandings and possibilities often surface. These themes and ideas are the product that is then translated into more informed actions going forward. This information may feed into a strategic planning process; a new project or any type of change initiative.

Since its discovery The World Café has become a global phenomenon. Unique to the popularity of this process is its simplicity, the spirit of discovery, the connection between people thinking together on questions and topics that are important to them. It is a dynamic, enjoyable and beneficial process that breaks through some of the entrenched challenges for change and problem solving that are often accepted as just a part of the culture. Ideally the practice of true inquiry and the crafting of better questions transcend the café experience as people recognize these practices as reliable methods of creativity.

I find the most sustainable results when the leader intentionally engages the thinking of as many people and diverse perspectives as possible early in the process. This creates within a congregation a sense of ownership and deeper resonance with where the organization is headed; which may also facilitate alignment within specific ministries and specializations in the church.


For specific information see Click on Tools to see “Café-to-Go,” a simple and detailed guide to creating and facilitating Café Conversations and learn more about the principles and applications (free download). Or pick up the the book from our store.

Have fun as you access the untapped and often transforming wisdom of your congregation for strategic planning or any project that requires fresh ideas.

#organizationdevelopment #worldcafe #culture #culturalexchange #international #conversation #creativity #methodology #discussion #roundtable

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