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Leadership traits, once considered as close preserve of people

Leadership traits, once considered as close preserve of people, particularly men at the helm of affairs in any sphere of country life, has undergone a conceptual change during the last three decades.

The concept of leadership now has a widened scope and it recognises that women and other economically and socially disadvantaged segments of population, if provided opportunity and conducive environment, can be effective leader in the area of their responsibilities. No doubt it presupposes that they are possessed of requisite academic and professional expertise to draw potentials of others to perform effectively on the jobs assigned to them and also that they can bring a positive change in line of their profession / work by influencing the course of events through their vision and power of perception.

Decision making is considered as the most important attribute of leadership. In Pakistan and even in India despite women emancipation experienced during the last thirty years and their earning entry in a big way in all lines of professions including politics, leadership responsibilities are assigned to them very sparingly.

In Pakistan, no doubt women representation in assemblies, Senate and local government has increased manifold in recent years, yet decisions taken through legislative process relating to issues pertaining to women and children exclusively are flouted by male legislators and thus women’s sense of responsibility for creating change in social and political environment is arrested.

This may be due to the fact that majority of the women legislators have been elected on reserved seats of all the houses and selection / election of women on these seats solely depends on whims of male members of that political party. In this regard women representatives in assemblies need to show candor and assert for their right to mobilise the opinion of the entire parliament for all the gender related issues and policies irrespective of general policy / views of the political party they belong to on that particular issue.

In academic field although almost 50% of total students strength in universities and campuses comprises women, yet representation of women as heads of departments or vice chancellors of universities and principals of professional colleges is very low.

There are only six women vice chancellors among more than 100 recognised universities and professional education academies. Same percentage can be assigned to women principals of the colleges other than exclusive women colleges. It is purely culture norms and values, which associate leadership primarily to men despite the fact that women are found well placed with regard to all attributes of leadership if compared to their counterparts.

In the field of finance quite a headway has been made. Appointment of a woman as Governor State Bank of Pakistan, establishment of First Women Bank headed by a woman and run by women are no doubt few affirmative steps taken by consecutive governments from 1989 onward, which helped recognise the capability of women as leaders in financial sector and thereafter all the financial institutions and banks started providing level playing field to female employees with regard to their career progression and now women can reach top ladder of the hierarchy on merit through open competition. Resultantly now quite a number of women have risen to senior management level in both indigenous and foreign banks. It happens when women enter and succeed acquiring diverse skills, new technologies in their line of profession, which are increasingly valued.

Globally, on average, women in managerial position are found more effective leader than man of the same hierarchal status. Women by nature are pruned to participative style of management. They have equal concern for the welfare and growth of employees and organisation itself. Her interaction with staff is always friendly and like a teacher rather than a boss.

Through her transformational role she develops confidence and competency among her team members, hence she is taken by her employees as role model and source of strength in the sense that she is always available to redress their grievances and problems, which is the characteristic of transactional leadership style, which implies to rewarding employees for good performance and penalising for poor performance. Experience has shown that women leaders’ transactional role confines only to rewarding and very few resort to punishing workers come what may be the circumstances. Transactional role of punishment is generally associated with male leaders /executives.

Besides personal traits need to be embodied in a leader like job competence, emotional intelligence, empathy towards others, integrity and commitment are found more with women than men.

Emotional intelligence presupposes one’s power of perception of her / his intellect, academic ability and capability to adjust in all social environments, which enables the person to understand and perceive the said qualities in her / his entire team, which she / he is leading. Accordingly her transactional role as a leader is facilitated. Women leaders are generally found to have strong power of perception particularly due to the fact that on taking their position of responsibility they feel highly motivated, hence they communicate effectively with all stake holders in the project / organisation including clients, thus achieve long term or everlasting relationship and network.

The consistency in the area of their responsibility is also the result of their power of perception, which helps them to understand others point of view (of all stake holders in the business) and take appropriate steps to satisfy all, thus their aptitude to work in total harmony with others, results in success of the organisation / project.

Women who cherish to reach a hierarchial position where they can lead, they need to strive for competency to the extent that they excel in leadership qualities. At that stage, for them there is no other motivational factor, but their determination to excel and more importantly the socio economic wellbeing of their family to which they belong.

Further, cultural norms and values of a society also have predetermined gender based leadership traits. Authoritative style of management and pre-decisive approach to all matters are still recognised as leadership traits confined to men. Same traits if found with a woman in commanding position in any organisation are discarded by every one.

Empathy, cooperation, supportive approach, emotional intelligence, natural instincts common with women are now considered desired traits of a good leader / manager. Proponents of concept of team work, participative style of management and Management by Objective (MBO) had based their theories on these very human characteristics.

The global experience with regard to women leaders and managers is associated with the fact that they promote congenial working environment in the organisation through their understanding of the need of ethnic and racial diversity in hiring, equal opportunity based on merit and all policies promoting harmony in the organisation.

For effective leadership, it is essential to understand emotions / feelings of people in the organisation. A visionary leader must have quality of building relationship by putting in place effective communication mechanism, which reduces the chances of conflict and uneasiness in the organisation. Edna Mitchell – a behavioural scientist vehemently supports women leadership saying “we encourage women’s leadership as a connection between values and actions. Women leaders understand that they have the responsibility and ability to improve quality of life on the planet”

Since all over the globe there is shift towards people oriented management style, women have proved themselves good leaders as CEOs, business executives, and chairpersons of NGOs because of greater consistency of their ideas and capability to communicate with candor and clarity with all persons working under their jurisdiction and also listen to their problems on one to one basis irrespective of status of the workers. Besides that, women leaders / managers generate career progression opportunities for all employees by providing level playing field to perform with full commitment and creativity. Accordingly a pool of competence is developed in the organisation and growth culture of the entity continues to sustain despite change in leadership.
Source: Business Recorder
Date:1/28/2008

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