Relational Skills: The Secret Sauce for Business Leadership

Relational Skills: The Secret Sauce for Business Leadership

The definition of business leadership has changed, a lot, since the 1950s. The fact that there are many more women in leadership positions these days is rightly getting plenty of coverage now. But, beyond celebrating that women are bringing “it” to the table, what “it” is has yet to be been given its full due.

What I’m talking about are relational skills and traits. Things like practicing empathy and understanding communications nuances are the secret sauce for business leadership success. But, while these have long been typed as “women’s ways” or “soft” skills, women are not the only ones who can tap or learn to better use them.

So, why does the traditional business world continue to mainly cite and reward the “hard” and more linear leadership approaches? As it stands, men have not been asked or given the tools to develop skills that are absolutely necessary for leading in today’s business world. Alternatively, women in business have long developed their linear skills in the traditional leadership frame, because the so-called “soft” side was considered the lesser.

Stop Gendering Leadership Conversations

But again, we can say that things have changed, or at least on the surface. There are women’s leadership conferences galore, with smart women talking about deep subjects. And, top tier business magazines host those conferences and promote them like crazy. They must know what they are doing, right?

Those events gather rooms full of incredibly capable, astoundingly accomplished women, with men noticeably absent. That’s a loss for the future of business. The goal has got to be to help more men realize that relational skills are not “feminine” but instead “human,” and that leveraging them is a business requirement. By not participating in the very so-named “women’s” conferences, even as they actually cover gender neutral leadership skills, men lose out in learning how to use and improve their own relational strengths.

So, how do we get more men into those rooms? By not calling them women’s conferences or women’s leadership sessions, for one thing.

I recently spoke with a young, male CEO of a sustainability-focused startup, who told me about his experience attending a highly regarded business conference session on women and leadership. He was one of maybe three men in the room, yet the insights and perspective being shared by the all-women panel offered wisdom that, he felt, would be a huge competitive advantage for any company building their leadership pipeline.

What he mentioned boiled down to exactly what I’d seen years ago while promoting my book, Don’t Think Pink. Inevitably, the conferences where I spoke wanted my sessions to be entitled some form of “Marketing to Women 101.” Not surprisingly, I ended up speaking to rooms of smart women. This was fine, but defeated the goal for more leaders in those industries to come to understand the women’s market as a huge business opportunity, and not a side bet.

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