Women Executive Leadership

Today, it is no longer about the lack of a level playing field for women to successfully compete with men in the executive suite.

Today, it is no longer about the lack of a level playing field for women to successfully compete with men in the executive suite.


It’s really about women executives not shooting themselves in the foot due to a lack of leadership capability.  By developing effective leadership skills, from becoming more self-intelligent and emotional-intelligent to understanding how their behavior is perceived by their direct reports and peers, female executives can achieve success in the executive suite.

If leaders don’t make smart judgment calls about people on their teams, or they manage them poorly, then there is no way they can set a sound direction and strategy for their department, business unit or enterprise, nor can they deal effectively with crises. 

The most critical knowledge a woman executive needs is self-intelligence or an awareness of her personal beliefs/assumptions, values, guiding principles and vision.  And being emotionally intelligent about knowing how the people in the organization will respond, adapt and execute matters.  Women executives can also fail when they lack contextual knowledge due to not knowing the territory; commonly referred to as the corporate culture.  This knowledge gap can lead to difficult problems from direct reports to the board of directors. 

Every department, business unit, division and enterprise has a culture that the leader must respect or the culture will push the leader out. 

Carly Fiorina’s short stay as CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP) is an example of not really getting the HP culture.  According to Warren G. Bennis of the University of Southern
California, “She leaned too heavily on change and failed to celebrate the tradition of HP.” 

Julie Roehm, a high-flying marketing executive at Wal-Mart who was fired in December 2006, acknowledged mistakes, among them moving too quickly and not adapting to her new workplace.  Her perceptions painted a picture of warring fiefdoms and a passive-aggressive culture that was hostile to outsiders.  Wal-Mart, she says, “would rather have had
a painkiller [than] taken the vitamin of change.”  What has she learned?  “The importance of culture.  It can’t be underestimated.”


Most women promoted to general management roles don’t have a mentor or coach to help their perceptions to evolve and become a leader. Learning how to build relationships with peers, C-level superiors, key customers and major suppliers matters.  Their behavior on-
the-job can come off more like a shop floor supervisor than a polished executive...and….the problem is they don’t understand that’s the way they are being perceived by their peers and direct reports.

In My Fair Lady, Henry Higgins laments, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” 

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historically fair.
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.
Why can’t a woman be like that?
Why does every one do what the others do?
Can’t a woman learn to use her head?
Why do they do everything their mothers do?
Why don’t they grow up, well, like their father instead?

Why can’t a woman take after a man?
Men are so pleasant, so easy to please.
Whenever you’re with them, you’re always at ease.

Since the culture at most companies has been shaped over time by male executives, women are at a disadvantage when it comes to gender-based differences in communication styles.  However, these cultural disadvantages can be reversed when women executives learn how to think and act in concert with the existing corporate culture by seeking the help of a mentor or executive coach (

If you know women executives in your organization who need to become better leaders, suggest you point them toward: