Partnership Leadership Works for Women (and Modern Men Are Shifting Too)
While partnership leadership is emerging as an effective leadership style for women and men, command and control leadership has a long history in modern business.
It is by far the most common style of leadership we see in the workplace. Command and control leadership assumes that employees are naturally unmotivated and dislike working and that the only way to get people to work is using an authoritarian style of management. In this view, managers must constantly ride employees and intervene to get things done. It assumes that employees avoid responsibility and need to be told what to do each step of the way. They have to be “watched” to make sure they don’t take advantage of company rules. And, they need to be enticed with rewards, or they will have no incentive to work.
Women who have broken through the glass ceilings in companies prove that there are other ways to lead. From my many coaching conversations with women leaders, there are several leadership patterns that I have observed. The women leaders made frequent reference to their efforts to encourage participation, interaction, engagement, and collaboration. There are several ways that we might describe this leadership style: partnership, participative, and interactive. For this article, we’ll call this style of leadership: Partnership Leadership.
Two things that are often associated with partnership leadership are enhancing the self-worth of employees and energizing teams. But these women’s self-descriptions go even beyond the usual definitions of traditional participative leadership. They described much of what they described as their personal commitments to enhance other people’s sense of value, whether they were working up, down, or across their organizations. They want to energize their teams. They believe that people perform their best when they feel good about themselves and their work.
They are naturally inclusive and want to include the perspectives of others in their decision-making. They use a conversational style and language that invites others to get involved. They draw others into their conversations. They ask for suggestions, ideas, and possibilities before making decisions.
They recognize that information is dispersed and that this information is needed to make high-quality decisions.
But partnership leadership has its own downsides. It takes more time for the leaders and takes time from others to gather ideas and information. It exposes conflict and power issues. And, particularly, by the command and control leaders who these women lead alongside, it may be viewed as weak and not having “all the answers.”
However, as the consistency of this leadership style emerges in the workplace, employees come to realize that their views are valued and would be well-received if offered before they were asked. This style of leadership sets an example of other ways of leading that can be effective.
Many of the women I coach often select me because of my Wall Street career and background. There is an underlying assumption that in the very command and control, male-dominated world of Wall Street, that my 25-year career suggests I learned how to have this command and control style too. They often come into coaching wanting me to teach them how to “lead like men.”
The irony is that in the early part of my career, I modeled “command and control,” and it was a total train wreck. This style discounted for me, as it does for many women, the natural abilities that I wanted to bring to work, such as showing how much I care for people, being genuinely interested in their success, empathy, not caring who got the credit, and wanting to have a great team. I was “coached” by managers to be tougher on my team.
I tried this for awhile, the results were disastrous. It created an animosity and backlash from both men and women in a way that men who use command and control rarely experience.
I quickly learned and shed this approach and decided to be the kind of leader who came naturally. Even on Wall Street, I learned that I could be collaborative and, when I was, I found that turf battles subsided. I shared information that helped command and control leaders look good, and they responded with respect. That is not to say I wouldn’t stand my ground if I needed to. I also learned that command and control leadership does not respect those they can steamroll, and I learned to stand my ground with integrity (vs. ego).
Women have lived outside of the formal power structures for so long that they have learned how to make things happen through positive communication, sharing, and caring as a kind of survival tactic.
Importantly, linking partnership leadership directly to being female is a mistake. Many women make their careers by adhering to the traditional command and control leadership, and they can wield power in ways similar to men. I talk about this in my article “Why Aren’t More Women Supporting Other Women at Work?“. We also know from the leading research that more and more men prefer the partnership leadership style.
Partnership leadership has proved to be effective, perhaps even advantageous, in organizations where the women I coach have succeeded. As the workforce increasingly demands participation and the economic environment increasingly requires rapid change, partnership leadership emerges.
Growth and established organizations can expand their definition of effective leadership. If they were to do that, several things might happen, including the disappearance of the glass ceiling and the creation of a wider path for all sorts of executives—men and women—to attain positions of leadership. Widening the path will free potential leaders to lead in ways that play to their individual strengths. Then partnership leadership styles can be valued and rewarded as highly as the command-and-control style has been for decades. By valuing a diversity of leadership styles, organizations will find the strength and flexibility to survive in a highly competitive, increasingly diverse economic environment.
What kind of leader are you? Who have been your leadership role models, and how has that influenced the way you believe you need to lead?