What’s behind a successful women leader?

May 27, 2019 | 10:27
Women nowadays play an important role in many sectors, including business, education, healthcare, and others, especially when they are leaders of big groups, and their stories and advice are an inspiration to every other woman.
whats behind a successful women leader
Cindy Hook, CEO of Deloitte Asia Pacific sharing her inspirational story to become a successful women leader

As a CEO of Deloitte Asia-Pacific, can you share about your experiences and the most important points on becoming succesful women leaders?

One of the biggest challenges to achieving success in any organisation is to balance the need to deliver results today, while at the same time transforming to be future-ready.

Leaders must deliver outstanding service and outcomes for their stakeholders on a consistent basis. For both business and government, expectations have become increasingly high and scrutiny is broad and visible. No longer is a status quo attitude appropriate. We cannot say “we’ll just keep doing what we have been doing and everything will be fine”. The pace of technological change through Industry 4.0 is rapidly driving the need for organisational transformation to ensure sustainability. This rapid change creates both opportunity and risk for women. I believe organisations that can create an environment where women leaders can thrive will outperform. This will require strong and inclusive leadership.

With that as context, I am going to structure my comments around five things that I believe women leaders must do to succeed and highlight the six traits of an inclusive leader, including being purpose-led, having bold strategies, empowering the team, open-mindedness, and having an inspiring culture.

I believe these factors are relevant for all leaders, whether you’re a long-time CEO or an emerging entrepreneur leading your own business.

You have mentioned being purpose-led, do you mean that only the leaders should have this in mind?

Not only must the leader be purpose-led, they must make sure that each individual within their team feels a deep sense of purpose, a commitment to the cause, and a belief that what they are doing matters not just for the organisation, but for the broader society. This is important in business and arguably more so in government.

I used to think a “purpose statement” was something the CEO and the leadership team just declared and everyone followed. However, I have learned that purpose is much more bottom-up than top-down. Purpose comes from an individual’s heart.

The good news is that millennials, who make up the majority of my workforce today, and certainly in Vietnam this younger generation would represent a very large section of your workforce, are more purpose-led than any generation before them. According to a recent Deloitte “Millennial Survey” which polled 8,000 millennials across 30 countries, 76 per cent of millennials believe “business can be a force for positive social impact”. 74 per cent of millennials believe that "business has the potential to solve the challenges that concern them most”.

Not only do millennials believe this, but they also want to be part of it. Millennials said that as individuals, they often feel unable to exert influence on some of society’s biggest challenges – but in the workforce, they feel a greater sense of control. They can be an active participant, not just a passive by-stander.

So, number one for me is being purpose-led – individually and collectively.

As we know, women leaders not only have to perform at the business but also have to take care of the whole family. Do you think women have enough time to learn new things?

Across the world today, we are seeing a rising sense of nationalism, populism, and an inward focus in many countries. I do not believe this is the way to a prosperous future.

The world is becoming increasingly global. Capital flows – whether financial or human – are not constrained by geographic borders. As a leader, it is hard to understand how an inward, isolationist attitude can be the best approach in today’s world. Our workforce is going to become increasingly culturally diverse and those workers expect their leaders to be open-minded and to understand and value their unique cultural backgrounds and perspectives. I believe women can be better at this than men – as they often have higher levels of empathy and a genuine curiosity to learn more about others. A great example for me was preparing to come to Vietnam today, giving a great opportunity to read and learn more about Vietnam from a business, political, economic, and entrepreneurship perspective.

So for these reasons and more, being open-minded is a leadership imperative for me. I encourage you to stay curious and open to learning!

And what are the six traits of an inclusive leader that you mentioned before?

Inclusive leaders create an environment where people can thrive and achieve their personal ambitions – where they can be their best selves.

Deloitte’s research shows that the behaviour of leaders can drive up to 70 per cent difference between the employees who feel highly included, and those who don’t. When people feel included, it directly translates to a 17 per cent increase in team performance, a 20 per cent increase in decisionmaking quality, and a 29 per cent increase in team collaboration. This phenomenal difference reflects the power of inclusive leadership. And in all honesty, I think women in general make for more inclusive leaders.

So what distinguishes highly inclusive leaders from others? Our research across over 10,000 employees identified leaders who were consistently called out for being inclusive by their people. Then we studied those leaders and identified six signature traits these leaders had that less inclusive leaders did not.

Inclusive leaders show visible commitment. They articulate an authentic commitment to diversity, challenge the status quo, hold others accountable, and make diversity and inclusion a personal priority.

They show courage and humility by being modest about their capabilities, admit mistakes, and create the space for others to contribute.

They are also cognizant of personal biases. We all have biases, but these leaders show high levels of awareness of their personal blind spots as well as flaws in the system and they work hard to ensure fairness.

They are curious about others: inclusive leaders demonstrate an open mindset and deep curiosity about others. They listen without judgment and seek empathy to understand those around them.

They possess cultural intelligence by being attentive to others’ cultures and are highly adaptable.

And finally, they are effective collaborators. They empower others and create the conditions, such as team cohesion, where diversity of thinking can flourish.

What the stars mean:

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