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The 11 things aspiring female CEOs are taught, and the 9 things they really need to know

September 9, 2014
Diversity & Inclusion

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Fix the women, they say. Give women leadership training, teach them how to lead and they’ll lean in and achieve great things. All the while closing that pesky gender leadership gap so we can all finally stop banging on about it.
 
The fact is that women already know how to lead. And we’ve been doing it well before the concept of a ‘corporate Australia’ ever existed.
 
We may lead differently to men, but that doesn’t make female leaders any less competent. If anything, given what we’ve seen on how some of our largest corporate and political institutions have been run in recent years, it suggests that a difference in leadership style may bring some welcome results to organisations that have been built and run on the male-based approach alone.
So why then don’t we see a diverse range of leadership styles at the top end of town?
 
According to new research out of the UK by global talent development agency Leading Women, it could come down to ‘the missing 33%’. These are the skills that come up as criteria for key leadership positions they claim a lot of women don’t actually have yet and are not being addressed in traditional leadership development programs. They’re the skills that are being ignored while women are being told to keep ‘fixing’ the 66% of skills they are already confident in.
 
The group has identified the 11 most common items that come up in leadership programs aimed at women as including variations of the following:
 
1. Be assertive
2. Speak up
3. Develop your personal brand
4. Engage your teams
5. Set career goals
6. Get a mentor
7. Network
8. Hone people skills
9. Be confident
10. Negotiate and ask
11. Self promote
 
These sorts of tips, Leading Women argue, are great for moving women into middle management, but not enough for them to climb to leadership positions at large corporates – like the CEO, chair and director posts at ASX, Fortune and FTSE companies. They make up 66% of what aspiring female CEOs and senior leaders really need.
 
They believe the remaining 33% of the executive success equation includes items like:
 
1. Mentoring that earns sponsorship
2. Strategic acumen and track record
3. Actions based on financial acumen
4. External strategic relationships
5. Executive presence
6. Proven business acumen
7. Ability to align teams to business strategy
8. Experience holding line, international and strategic jobs
9. Executive board and media communication skills
 
Essentially, this thinking claims that if more leadership programs addressed the “missing 33%” when supporting women during the middle management stages, we’d see more women in executive leadership.
 
So are we all just wasting our time in leadership programs, and/or when attending events and conferences in which leading women often cite pieces of advice that fall within the former group of items rather than the latter?
 
One thing to note is that the missing ‘33%’ appears to be specifically relevant to those seeking the top leadership positions at our largest corporate institutions. They are fundamentally the skills and items that are required for progressing within a system that already exists, rather than attempting to turn the existing system on its head.
 
And while advice like ‘get a mentor’ can be overstated and lead to many women being ‘over mentored’, we can’t underestimate the importance of the majority of the items in the ‘66%’ that Leading Women has identified. However, whether or not one needs to attend ‘leadership training’ to know these things is another matter.
 
And anyway, to get to CEO you have to break into the middle management ranks first. And to get the career you really want, you have to think outside the existing system to pursue aspirations and ambitions that work for you.
 
What do you think?
 
By Angela Priestley
 

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