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Centered Leadership: Women’s Approach to Leadership

It is a known fact that women have a harder time reaching top positions. According to a recent BBC research in the UK, women hold fewer than third of all top jobs in business, politics, and policing. In 2004, consulting firm McKinsey decided to try and change this, understanding that the world is approaching a talent shortage.

In the article “Centered Leadership: How Talented Women Thrive” (published in the McKinsey Quarterly on November 4th, 2008), writers Barsh, Cranston, and Craske set out to learn why women have a harder time rising up to positions of power and becoming leaders. Starting in 2004, the writers interviewed many female leaders from many walks of life, and based on their findings they devised a model of leadership called “centered leadership.” Centered leadership is a form of leadership that allows people to have physical, intellectual, and emotional strength that will drive them to achieve and inspire others to follow. The model is based on the five dimensions of leadership, which will be briefly introduced in the following paragraphs.

Meaning allows people to discover what interests them and enables them to push themselves to the limits. Studies have shown that meaning translates into greater satisfaction, higher productivity, lower turnover, and increased loyalty. In order to obtain a sense of meaning, you must be honest with yourself about what you are good at and what you enjoy doing. You must be aware of what has and hasn’t worked for you in the past and adapt yourself accordingly. The work must be put in the context of achieving greater professional and personal goals.

Managing Energy is important. According to the writers, work-life balance is a myth, and since executives spend a great deal of time and energy at work—and in addition women run their households after work as well—they must balance their energy flow. Failing to do so can cause exhaustion and lead to burnout. People who engage in work that gives them the sense of “flow” (makes them lose track of the passing of time) are more productive and derive greater satisfaction from their work than those who don’t. In order to achieve flow, you can identify what replenishes your energy and what drains it. Self-awareness will help you incorporate restorative elements into your daily routine.

Positive framing. The frames through which people view the world and process their experiences can make an impact on professional outcomes. Research shows that optimists are not afraid to frame the world as it is; they are confident that they can manage its challenges and move their teams into action. Pessimists tend to feel helpless and stuck.

Connecting. People with strong networks and good mentors enjoy more promotions, higher pay, and greater career satisfaction. Connections provide a sense of belonging that makes life meaningful. Connections of senior colleagues who serve as “sponsors” is very important. In order to advance and become leaders, women must promote their own interests; however, women who do so are seen an aggressive and uncooperative. Therefore they need a senior colleague to assume the role of “sponsor,” believe in them, and help them advance and develop.

Engaging. Hard work is oftentimes not noticed and therefore not rewarded. In order to overcome this, people must create their own luck. They can do so by letting their opinions be heard and taking ownership of their professional development. Engagement is also about risk taking; you must acknowledge risk taking as part of an opportunity. Studies show that people who try to overcome risks rather than avoiding them report greater happiness.

A 2009 survey McKinsey conducted among over 1,000 financial-service executives showed that a centered-leadership approach is associated with higher levels of personal and professional satisfaction, even during the financial crisis. For small-business owners, a centered-leadership approach means better utilizing their energy in a productive and balanced way to continue building their business and empower their employees.

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