Article – Diversity Inc.

LEAD™ Executive Coaching
Womens’ Leadership Styles: Learn to Form Connections
By Ruth Zeilberger, Diversity Inc.

October 20, 2003

Brigid Moynahan started her consulting company 19 years ago to remedy a gap in women’s leadership. Today, there are far more women in leadership positions, she says, but women’s unique leadership skills remain undervalued. Women still are excluded from powerful employee networks and lack access to informal mentorship.

Moynahan’s company, The Next Level, a Montclair, N.J.-based consulting firm, is actively sought after by Fortune 500 corporations that see diversity as a route to expansion and understand they can grow their companies by understanding and appreciating differences.

She is particularly passionate about empowering women for success. Rutgers University’s Institute for Women’s Leadership and The Center for Women and Work have partnered with Moynahan, in creating the Senior Leadership Program for Professional Women (SLP).

“If we define leadership, not by position, but by impact in affecting change with other people then women have demonstrated extraordinary leadership, not only in the corporation but in the world,” says Moynahan. “Even while the press has been filled with news about failures of leadership at the top of corporations, women leaders have been emerging lower down in the pyramid as a powerful voice for ethics, quality, and humane management practices. One of the most significant, wide-reaching social changes of my lifetime is the women’s movement. Women who come to our program leave recognizing the power of their own leadership in the larger context of the power of women’s leadership.” Moynahan points to the impact women leaders have had recently on corporations’ ethics: Women exposed the massive corruption at Enron and WorldCom.

Womens’ leadership styles tend to be about connecting and doing things for the good of the whole, while mens’ leadership styles tend to be about hierarchy. The problem in this for women, says Moynahan, is that it’s easier to be recognized from the top of a pyramid than from the middle of a web of connections, so women have to learn to occasionally disconnect to be recognized.

“It can be much harder to recognize leadership from the center of a web than it is from the top of the pyramid. In the program we help women make sure they get seen, heard, and recognized,” she says. “We teach women how to create a powerful leadership presence by communicating their leadership purpose and the value they bring. We also help them learn when it’s important to disconnect—or rather individuate to take an independent stand.”

Moynahan does not believe that women should adapt mens’ leadership styles to become more powerful in corporate America. Instead, she advocates teaching women to optimize their unique style and the “impact they have on their companies and those surrounding them.” Among the best qualities that characterize womens’ styles, she says, are forming connections.

“Men don’t find anything out about each other,” she says. “Women make all the connections.”

Particularly useful in inspiring future female leadership is a program Moynahan’s firm offers called “Leadership Futures,” a mentoring initiative that sprung out of female employees who came to Moynahan telling her that exclusion from informal networks and lack of mentoring were the two major barriers preventing career advancement. It’s unique in that the mentees can select their mentors.

“It enables women … to gain access to the ‘old boys’ network’ in terms of jobs, mentoring and connections,” says Moynahan. “And it helps the corporations because there is a lot of anxiety in top organizations about retaining diverse leaders. Well, the best way to retain them is to create positive relationships.”