Question: What characteristics do senior executive women have that up-and-coming women can emulate in order to be more effective?
Answer: Dr. Patricia Fletcher is a technology executive at SAP who has studied the common factors and competencies associated with women who are directors on corporate boards. Dr. Fletcher and I compared notes to identify characteristics that are common among the senior-level women leaders she interviewed for her dissertation. These are characteristics that the rest of us can learn from in order to be more effective and successful in our careers. They relate to alignment, barriers, networking, pragmatism, and execution.
Do you know what your most important goals are?
Dr. Fletcher says that senior-level women executives do and ensure that everything they do each day is aligned with what they want to achieve.
“The overall principle is alignment. Align your energy and focus with how you spend your day,” she advised. “Don’t say ‘yes’ to everything. You cannot succeed if you have too many number one priorities. You do not want to put yourself in a position to over-commit and under-deliver. Nor do you want to constantly have an imbalance in your life created by signing on for too much. Sure, that happens sometimes; that should be the exception and not the rule. Don’t always take on the hard project—unless it aligns with what you want to achieve.”
How do you react when you face a barrier to achieving your goals?
According to Dr. Fletcher, we can learn a lot from successful women leaders and how they view barriers differently. “Adjust your attitude to focus on what you want to achieve and to understand that there will be barriers between you and what you want to do. You can choose to let a barrier stand in your way or stall you, or instead you could consider it to simply be a data point. Be flexible and be resourceful. Most of all, adjust your attitude. The only person stopping you is you.”
An important way that these women maintain alignment with their goals is cultivating a network of relationships with collaborators: people who help them stay focused and achieve what they set out to do.
“These women define their networks and networking differently,” says Dr Fletcher, referring to how women on corporate boards don’t buy into the superficial concept of networking that is schmoozing. “They don’t like cocktail parties as a means for building a network,” she added. “They establish very deep, meaningful relationships that are mutually beneficial and are based on common bonds and shared experiences.”
They also create their own board of directors. Dr Fletcher found it remarkable that many of the women she interviewed had established a personal board of directors, without realizing it, for every stage of their life. She noted, “They create a strong foundation of support, taking an ad-hoc but deliberate approach to achieving their goals, and not taking on the journey alone. They have people there to support them.”
Pragmatism and Execution
Dr Fletcher describes how senior women leaders have the ability to execute their plans.
“The most important piece is they do it. Senior level women ‘just do it;’ over, and over, and over again. When it comes to execution, they take a pragmatic approach.”
To any woman wishing to become better at execution, Dr. Fletcher recommends: “Create a business plan in your head, then work backwards. Understand how to get from there to here. Then be purpose-driven.”
Jo Miller is CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching Inc, and she spoke to Dr. Patricia Fletcher, PhD, technology executive with SAP.
Hear Dr. Fletcher discuss the career path to the corporate boardroom in the Executive Women Leaders Webinar Series which begins February 15.