Capacity to Connect with Others Often Gives Women an Advantage as Leaders

The photos illustrating this article are by LUZ photographer Diana Bagnoli, who used a webcam to photograph people that she wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. These four women represent just a tiny fraction of the diversity of what it means to be a woman today. (Photo © Diana Bagnoli / LUZ)

I just finished reading a great book, The Connector Managers, based on findings of a Gartner study of 9,000 managers and employees from which the authors were able to define four main manager coaching types:

  • Teacher managers develop employees’ skills on the basis of their own expertise and direct their development along a similar track to their own.
  • Cheerleader managers give positive feedback while taking a general hands-off approach to employee development.
  • Always-on managers provide constant, frequent feedback and coaching on all aspects of the employee’s performance.
  • Connector managers provide feedback in their respective area of expertise while connecting employees to others on the team or in the organization who are better suited at addressing specific needs.

Apologies in advance for the spoiler, but I’ll get right to the point: There is a lot of evidence suggesting that the winning approach is the fourth, connector managers. Just to name one example:

Connector managers are three times more likely to have higher-performing employees.

While I highly recommend this brilliant book to further understand all of the different types, I would like to expand on why the connector manager is it the most effective approach and, more specifically, how it relates to the female leadership model.

(Photo © Diana Bagnoli / LUZ)

This type of leadership perfectly fits today’s momentum and job market, pervaded by the skill-obsolescence issue. Just as technology is changing jobs, organizations, and the way we collaborate, it is changing the skills we need.

The most important skills for company growth are those needed to run the organization; a good manager is the guiding voice of the entire team. However, it doesn’t mean that she is the only voice: She may bring in other experts to further develop skills within her team.

You may have noticed that I said “she.” This is my point:

Women are connector managers by nature.

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Let’s take a step back. If we consider today’s professional and social landscape, stress is a pain point. And while findings suggest that women are more likely to report physical symptoms associated with stress, they also do a better job connecting with others in their lives — a skill crucial to stress management.

As I wrote in my contribution to Women & Digital Jobs in Europe, edited by Gianna Martinengo and Patrizia Toia, women appreciate exceptions: They have a natural tendency to seek diversity and layers within an individual, identifying their micro-skills and talents. This allows them to better understand and relate to employees.

This skill can be contributed in part to social context; unfortunately, women are typically forced to work two to 10 times more than men on unpaid tasks such as housework and caregiving. It is also due in part to natural inclination: Thanks to a stronger connection between the two brain hemispheres, women tend to think in terms of inclusion and variety instead of putting people into predetermined categories.

Aside from the bitterness of statistical data on gender inequality, the above means that women’s capacity to connect with people is a crucial skill in the management field.

(Photo © Diana Bagnoli / LUZ)

Here are three sources on how women connect with others and how this contributes to a better management model:

  • Despite the strong belief in the superiority of male-to-male workplace relations, research generally tends to negate this idea and instead suggests that men tend to have lower motivation, weaker values, and less affiliation needs than women. → This undoubtedly makes it difficult when searching for the intrinsic motivation needed to lead employees, which is more important for performance than extrinsic motivation. This is even more relevant during COVID-19.
(Photo © Diana Bagnoli / LUZ)
  • Women tend to disclose more about themselves than men do (Dindia & Allen, 1992; Hargie, Tourism, & Curtis, 2001), and are more likely to be the recipients of self-disclosure (Hargie et al., 2001) → People are more likely to be open about their needs, desires, and vulnerabilities when they feel like they are being listened to. By listening to their collaborators, women managers are able to use that insight to draw the right career/skill path for them to follow.
  • Women are more likely to admit when they need encouragement from friends or family to improve their own willpower (42% vs. 28% of men) and are more likely to ask for support when they need it (Rubin, 1986, APA 2019). → Like the connector manager, women know how to outsource help while remaining deeply involved in the matter. This applies also to their approach toward employees: They can identify experts to help train members of their team, especially in fields outside of their expertise, making sure to facilitate introductions and monitor progress along the way.

This is proof that we as women do not have to abandon our femininity while driving an organization. Instead we should recognise and nurture the qualities we have, like social inclusivity, that are crucial to running a business today.

B The Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.

Why Connector Managers Can Build the Strongest Work Teams was originally published in B The Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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