Corporations across the globe are working to solve their gender leadership gaps. Study after study reveals the financial and competitive advantages to greater gender balance in executive and board leadership ranks. Leadership development programs for women proliferate. But there’s just one problem: Many of them don’t seem to be moving the needle. When this topic comes up with companies that I work with, a comment that I hear all too often is, “We’ve dedicated substantial resources to developing women leaders, but we’re just not seeing the results.”
In my coaching practice, one area of focus is the acceleration of high-potential women into the upper ranks of leadership. Here are six essential elements that I incorporate into my group work with high potential women leaders that, when used collectively, have proven to deliver significant results.
1. Stay small and go deep.
Bringing women together as a collective can be powerful, but too often the groups are too large for there to be a meaningful exchange. Smaller groups — consisting of no more than 20 individuals, at most — are optimal. This allows each person to fully participate: to find their voice and, in turn, to know that they’ve been heard. Smaller groups result in greater trust, which fosters deeper dialogue and relationships that stick — all of which advances individual development.
2. Tackle leadership themes specific to women.
Leadership is leadership is leadership, right? On the contrary, while it is well proven that while there are many common areas of leadership opportunities for all leaders, regardless of gender, there are also shared challenges mostly unique to women, such as developing confidence, communicating with power and authority or negotiating to get what you want. Tackling leadership topics through a female lens is essential to achieving breakthrough progress for women.
3. Leverage the power of peer support.
Women can be notoriously reticent to seek out support, yet networking and sponsorship are known to accelerate careers. Once women open themselves up to the wisdom and insight that comes from the experience of others, particularly women just like them, their professional growth can be exponential.
4. Execute over time to allow for practice, reflection and learning.
Shorter “one-and-done” programs for women abound and certainly can be motivational, but rarely do they result in substantive progress. Change and learning take time. In order for leaders to create new behaviors that are sustainable, they must engage in trial-and-error, repetition, feedback and deliberation. The result will be a process of continuous improvement and progress.
5. Engage accomplished women to model and share.
Giving visibility to role models allows other women to see themselves in someone else’s success. That’s the power of the mirror, and it works. Hearing the stories and learning from the experiences of accomplished women who have succeeded before them provides enduring benefit. Enlisting successful women pays dividends for everyone involved.
6. Create opportunities for one-on-one coaching.
Nothing drives leadership growth more than individual attention and coaching. One-on-one coaching is personalized to the leader to help them maximize their potential and take their leadership to the next level. Coaching fuels performance and creates lasting change.
I encourage you to take a hard look at your women’s leadership program. Is it producing the results you’re looking for? For companies that are truly committed to the advancement of women into leadership, these six key elements are a winning combination.