The playing field for many women leaders is far from level. As businesses seek to rebuild and achieve more gender parity by encouraging more women to take up leadership positions, Chuen Chuen shares her insights after speaking with Ms Kiran Mann, Founder of M2M Business Solutions in an interview on ‘8 Paradoxes of Leadership Agility.’
Kiran Mann founded M2M Business Solutions in 2017 with a vision to grow businesses by growing people. Since its inception, this company has worked with over 100 businesses across Canada, helping them transform their operations and optimise returns on investments in people, processes and technology. To listen to the full interview, visit here.
Women can demonstrate strong leadership even in male-dominated workplaces
How does a woman gain recognition and respect from men in a male-dominated industry? The representation of women in industries of science, engineering, mathematics and technology is low. It’s hardly surprising to learn that women in leadership positions at senior level is far and few in between.
As I spoke with Kiran, it became apparent that it is possible to level the gender scales in these companies – as long as one possess the right abilities and a good mindset. Often, the limiting beliefs about a woman’s abilities or gender suitability for certain roles impedes a woman’s growth.
Based in Canada, Kiran demonstrated in her rich career in the automotive manufacturing industry that robust insights could turn gaps into opportunities. Over the years, Kiran has developed programs to enable businesses to transform, establish strong foundations, and get ready for growth.
When I asked how did she become successful and thrive as a woman executive leader in a predominantly male environment, her answer was disarmingly personal, “My dad was in the army, so I grew up in army campuses, a predominantly male and highly regulated environment. So going from that to the automotive industry was a natural transition for me, though female leaders in this industry are quite rare.”
This, to me, showed me that the impression on what career a woman can embark on, the roles in which she can demonstrate leadership ability, begins with families and the community a woman is surrounded by in her growing years. That’s the power of the mindset because it will influence how a woman navigates the world in adulthood.
Women in Leadership Can Drive Essential Transformation in Organizations with Balance
The need to prepare for and adapt to changing circumstances is going to be a constant leadership challenge. The global pandemic was not the first nor will it be the last time all companies are so radically challenged. Leaders need to constantly learn and develop themselves. They need to understand their teams and employees, to be prepared for the current challenges both now and in the future. While the COVID-19 pandemic has been tumultuous, Kiran sees the positive side of it: “Challenges do allow leaders to reflect, reconsider how organizations are being run, and to ditch traditional ways and prepare for the future.”
From Kiran’s sharing on leadership agility and how to excel in it, I distill 5 skills that will help women leaders achieve success.
1. Communicate a Clear, Focused Vision
“One of the finest qualities needed in an agile leader is clear, focused but flexible vision,” said Kiran. In order to empower employees, and allow individuals and teams to be more productive, open and creative, to cultivate a culture of excellence, it’s essential for a leader to have clear communication of the long-term goal, and a steady sight of the end. Women leaders, being good listeners, can easily build a community around the vision and then focus on achieving it.
2. Bring About Unity & Diversity with Strategic Conversations
The clearer a leader’s vision, the more focused the team, the sharper the implementation of strategies will be. While the leader sets the destination, companies will be empowered to derive the means to get there. To encourage team learning and participation, leaders need to be open-minded about the approach to arrive at the destination. In other words, it’s critical that leaders play a facilitative role to enable team conversations and connect team members’ ideas. Women, naturally having more nurturing traits, are well-suited to promote such strategic conversations.
3. Adjust the Vision Flexibly with Feedback
A leader needs to understand and consider if the vision is current and relevant. A successful leader sets up an effective feedback loop so as to ensure that the vision is still relevant to the organization and teams. A study by Zenger Folkman showed that women leaders ‘Improves based on feedback from others‘ significantly more than male leaders, indicating that women leaders generally take feedback well – another critical key to success for women in the workplace.
4. Ensure Right Team Composition
So once the clarity and relevance are established, the agile leader will work to bring the right people together. A person who is “right” for one job may not be “right” for another. One may be a smart or right fit for one company but not for another.
A key role of an agile leader is to hire the right people, and set them up to thrive. To Kiran, the ability to bring leaders together play a key role in the dynamics of the business world.
And because the vision and milestones are clear, they can be empowered to bring appropriate ideas and solutions in interactive teams full of creative diversity to achieve.
Another guest on my Agile Leadership Conversations has also said, “ensure that you have the right people on the right bus, and in the right seat,” and indeed it’s important.
5. Tap into the Power of Intuition in People Management
A helpful insight from my interview with Kiran was to think of the home as a smaller version of the organization. Whatever skills are honed at home managing the children or managing the home environment — women leaders can apply in the workplace.
Kiran encourages women to not underestimate the learning and training that the home environment affords them. Instead, take advantage of the unique experience as a female, polish and apply the transferable skills with confidence.
Defining the Ideals of Female Leaders is an Ongoing Process
As a parting advice Kiran shared that professional development is paramount to leaders (both men and women) of organizations. COVID-19 was just one of the threats we faced, and other leadership challenges will come to take its place. Pointing to the many trials still facing leaders in this decade, Kiran highlights the 65% millennials in the workforce and the generation gap, the communication gap, the talent crunch, the changes brought on by the digital transformation (Industry 4.0). Leaders must learn to gain new competencies beyond the traditional understanding of leadership and engagement. As we continue this conversation, I note that women around the world sorely need more role models and mentors to light their way. As leadership archetypes predominantly still overlap more with male archetypes, the best of women leadership is yet to be – and the world is waiting for more women to step up to the call to lead.
Let that be you.
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