Women make better leaders: An Interview with Wali Zahid
Muhammad Ayub, Editor, The Vigilant
Wali Zahid, CEO of Skill City, a learning and coaching firm, was in Lahore late last month to conduct training sessions at different places including one on ‘Women in Leadership’ at LCW University for their deans and HODs and senior faculty.
The Vigilant spoke to him about the role of a leader and manger and how both genders fare in these roles. Wali first briefly explained the difference between a leader and a manager in these words:
“There are dozens of differences. The key difference is that a manger accomplishes what is assigned to them from above. A leader on the other hand decides where they want to go.”
On who does better, Wali did not take a judgmental line whether one did better than the other because successful organisations needed both leaders and managers.
When the discussion moved to who makes better leaders – men or women, Wali said: gender-wise, both genders produce good leaders and good managers. He however said he could quote at least five recent studies that stated that women made better leaders.
Explaining the possible reason behind this, Wali said, “As you go higher your success is not measured by your task orientation, because the tasks are bound to get done in one way or the other.
In a higher-management or a leadership role, you need more of a relationship orientation. It is generally agreed that women are better at managing work relationships.
“Task-orientation has an element of brutality in it because here you are only concerned about the numbers and results. While in a relationship-orientation, you keep in mind the sensitivities and feelings of others too.”
Who’s more successful here in Pakistani culture?
Wali said: “A leader’s role usually comes with a risk associated because decisions could also go wrong. I don’t have any study to quote but it is a perception that in Pakistani culture, women are more ‘risk-averse’ than their counterparts in the West. Perhaps past has taught them that to avoid blame, decision should come from someone else.
This is perhaps the reason that they involve seniors to guide them about tasks or projects. On the other hand, a typical Pakistani male manager would rush to grab the task, particularly if it’s perky and gives them visibility, regardless of the future blame or consequences.”
Wali has been conducting two programmes: Women in Leadership (WIL) and Young Women in Leadership (Y-WIL). The WIL is for those women leaders who have already achieved a C-Level position while Y-WIL is for young and new managers.
He says he started this programme back in 2006 when the Ministry of Women Development asked him to design and deliver a management foundation programme with gender dimension for the Grade 17 to 21 officers from different line ministries.
“We agreed to have nine professional competencies to train them in but the challenge was to create capabilities with gender dimension. The purpose was to train these officers in gender sensitivity in addition to professional competence development. We took different competencies such as decision making and explored how male and female leaders take decisions differently. Similarly, we also examined how both the genders communicate and negotiate in different ways.”
Generally, these programmes are done for women leaders who are working in a mixed-gender environment. But Wali has also been conducting programmes for ‘all-women’ environment – where the leader and followers are all women.
“In an ‘all-women’ environment we may not have issues related to men, e.g sexual harassment. But there are other issues. In a funny way, we can say that here ‘the oppressor’ and ‘the oppressed’ belong to the same gender.”
Wali spoke about the concept of ‘working for the queen bee’. He said research shows that women will prefer working with a male boss as opposed to a female boss because the female boss may oppress a female subordinate more (as we see in movie, The Devil Wears Prada).
Wali then explained the issue of ‘leader derailment’ where a leader’s performance starts to deteriorate. He says this happens to both the genders. If a male leader becomes too arrogant he may fall and the same will happen to a female leader if she becomes too cautious or too risk-averse. All the new research into leadership behaviour suggests doing away with arrogance and developing humility, he said.
The ‘behaviour derailments’ for a leader include ‘perfectionism’ and ‘pleasing others’. Wali mentioned David Dotlich’s 2003 book ‘Why CEOs Fail’ which gives us 11 derailers including mood swings, volatility, excessive caution, distrusting others, etc.
All this is true for both genders. But some of them are more likely to affect women, e.g. excessive caution and mistrust, Wali added.
“Then we have career derailments, i.e. your career breaks. Its impact on women is more as opposed to men. Men’s career doesn’t stop but women’s does when they get married or when they become pregnant or babies are in the early age or when women want to take time off for their families during some crisis, etc.
This break may act as a career derailer. ‘Relocation’ is another big derailer. If a need arises, men usually move or relocate easily as opposed to women and this may become a derailer for their careers.
Wali believes that both male and female leaders tend to create ‘in-goups’ and ‘out-groups’ – people whom they trust or choose not to. “That’s how they block others and will not listen to their opinions. This holds for both the genders but because women are more emotion-led as opposed to data-led so they can sometimes block someone merely due to their liking or disliking. They may acknowledge that a person is delivering results but because of their personal preferences they don’t seek opinions from them.”
Towards the end of discussion, Wali spoke about ‘masculinization of women’s role’.
He said that as women go higher in the leadership role, they tend to adopt behaviours associated with men, i.e. more arrogance, more talking, more interrupting and not listening, more resistant to other people’s opinions, more controlling. He said on way up, they adopt typical male behaviours and become louder.
Wali advised women leaders that they do not need this behavioural shift. They can still achieve their objectives while keeping their unique gifts of listening, empathy, being open to others and keeping long-term relationships over short- or medium-term results.
“Be who you are, and the world will be a better place!”
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