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 Birkman Looks at Leadership

By WPO Member Sharon Birkman Fink, CEO of Birkman International, Inc

As a sponsor at our 2015 Conference in Phoenix, Birkman International offered attendees a chance to experience the Birkman assessment. This article is based on findings from the WPO members who chose to participate or were already in our database. The Birkman Method® is an occupational and relational tool that offers an objective look at both career and interpersonal strengths. In a thirty minute online questionnaire, we measure social perceptions in three ways:

1. What jobs we would select
2. How we view ourselves
3. How we view others

Birkman is frequently asked:

Pic 15What does a good CEO look like on their Birkman?
It would be convenient if we had a formula or a valid profile for successful leaders, but the answer is that good leadership is a dynamic and ongoing challenge that depends on multiple styles and many factors.

Pic 14Do you see more diversity within cultures or between cultures?
When we measure human beings at this deeper level, we find that people in different cultures look more similar than different. In fact, our researchers will tell you there is more diversity within each culture than between different cultures across the globe. Currently, we have international data from 22 translations of the Birkman questionnaire.

Pic 13Are there significant differences between male and female leaders when it comes to their innate personalities? As we see more and more women step into leadership roles, we do not see significant gender differences in terms of what we measure. We believe most perceived differences, while important, are learned behaviors, i.e. the things we learn as appropriate from our parents, peers and society. We all share a primal need to fit in with our tribe, so outward behavior is strongly influenced by societal or cultural expectations — what we learn from others and what we see around us.

Pic 12Does age or generations affect the results of The Birkman?
Despite all the talk about generational differences, our research shows no statistically different responses between age and generations. Characteristics that appear to be dramatic generational differences are mostly shaped by what we see, hear and outwardly model from the world around us, yet with human behavior and interests there is still more that unites us than divides us.

Do WPO members lead differently and how do their results appear on
The Birkman?

With the cooperation of WPO Founder and CEO, Marsha Firestone and Susan Diamond, we reviewed the responses of 147 women leaders who completed a Birkman questionnaire. While these are overall WPO trends and averages, there is no single correct formula even from within this particular group; therefore, there will be highly successful women who do not conform to the specific trends we saw in this study. In our years of Birkman research, we have found there will always be many ways to show up as a successful president. Bearing this in mind, here are some noteworthy trends in our group.

Pic 11How do we as WPO leaders like to contribute and re-charge?
Birkman explores ten Areas of Interests. While parents will see these from early childhood, interests can be measured by the time a child is in middle school and tend to remain consistent throughout our lives. Our interests impact career choices, college majors, jobs and hobbies. The world we live in requires all ten of these areas and each area is equally important. Birkman ranks the ten areas from favorite to least favorite for each individual. The highest interests re-charge us and provide positive energy while the lowest interests drain energy and are best delegated when possible.

Our WPO members scored notably higher overall than most people in the Birkman database of several million with the interests listed below:

Pic 10Higher Literary: We love to read and we love to learn by reading. As a group, WPO leaders scored a significant 22% higher than average in our preference for literature and language. We want words that are well-spoken, well-crafted and we appreciate the importance of written and verbal communication.

Pic 9Higher Artistic: We value and appreciate aesthetic beauty. Whether it is attention to the design of our offices, our company’s graphics, our website, or our clothing and accessories, we embrace visual beauty at a 24% higher rate than most people. Some of us may be able to paint or like to decorate, but as a group we definitely score higher than the overall population in our artistic interests.

Pic 8Higher Musical: As a WPO group, we also reported that we tend to appreciate and enjoy music 18% higher than the general population. We are leaders who have expressed a higher than average love of music and of musical pursuits. For some, this may be expressed by actually playing an instrument or singing, or it might be we re-charge by listening to music and attending musical events. While this is not a scientific observation, our interest in music may also indicate an audio sensitivity. This could extend to paying more attention to the tone of voice in communication and to greater sensitivity to sound in the environment, or to a preference for sound versus quiet in our environment.

Pic 7Lower Mechanical: As a group, our sample of WPO members scored 17% lower in our mechanical interests. The majority of us prefer to delegate to others when it comes to technical or mechanical demands. Intuitively, this seems like it could be a gender stereotype, however, Birkman can identify plenty of females who do score higher with their interests in gadgets, machines, or other technical challenges.

Pic 6.jpg  People Focused: It is worth noting, that as a group WPO leaders who took the Birkman reported they are far more focused on the people side of running their companies than on the task and technical side. In comparison to the general population, we WPO leaders scored 23.4% higher than the population average in people-focused interests, and in addition, we clearly reported that we do like to hire and rely heavily on others who enjoy the more task-oriented side of work and who prefer to focus on the technical and detailed objectives of our companies.

Pic 5Leadership Style/Assertiveness: We are moderate in our style of exerting our verbal dominance but we definitely don’t want to be told what to do. When it comes to being balanced between a verbally assertive, directly confrontational style, and someone who leads with a lower key, more suggesting style, we averaged out in a way that resembles the general population. However, where our WPO group departed from the overall norms, was that more of us showed up as comfortable being in charge, but much less inclined to take orders from others – a fact that will surprise few of us!

Pic 4  Personal Leadership Style: As a WPO group, we are leaders who tend toward being more flexible than most, with a preference for spontaneity in our approach. This may reflect our overall entrepreneurial spirit since, more than the general population, we like to invent along the way. We prefer a more free-wheeling environment where we are not overly constrained by systems, processes and procedures. This said, we do know that systems are very important, so if we do not wish to do it ourselves, we recognize the need to hire for this talent in order to create a strong team and a successful company environment.

Pic 3  Self-Confidence: When it comes to relating to others, WPO leaders as a group showed up with a higher degree of comfort than most people with projecting and maintaining a positive, successful self-image. More than many others, we have learned to project a healthy degree of assurance and self-confidence in our public persona. This positive self-image assists WPO leaders to better promote their companies and themselves as they advance through the ranks and persuade others to follow in their pursuit.

Pic 2  Leadership defined as Growing by Learning and Strategic Design: Our Birkman composite data affirms that, more so than most, WPO leaders especially value their people and we are more focused than most executives on the strategic design that improves products, services and teams.

Pic 1 Organizational Focus: WPO leaders are clearly more focused on thoughts, ideas and strategies than most people. This finding will not surprise those of us who choose to keep growing by joining an organization of women leaders who continually seek to learn from one another and to improve themselves, their companies, and the world they inhabit. What this study does provide is scientifically validated evidence to affirm how we as WPO members tend to lead when the Birkman light of social science shines on our particular blend of leadership qualities.

For more than six decades, Birkman has measured and interacted with male and female business leaders at all levels in a wide variety of industries. Please visit http://www.birkman.com or contact me at sfink@birkman.com for more information.

Originally posted on Women Presidents' Organization by Women Presidents' Organization.

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