Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Review of Book, Enlightened Power: How Women are Transforming the Practice of Leadership by C. Hedge, CRS 625, Current Issues class, Summer 2008

Below is a book review of Enlightened Power: How Women are Transforming the Practice of Leadership. It was written as part of CRS 625, Current Issues class, Summer of 2008. By Cynthia A. Hedge

Enlightened Power: How Women are Transforming the Practice of Leadership was like an oyster (Coughlin, Wingard, & Hollihan, 2005). Each of its 30 chapters contained pearls of wisdom about women and leadership. The authors, some men but mostly women, shared lessons about leadership through experiences of their own as well as those of other women leaders. They talked about every day leadership whether it be in the context of the economy, business, family, relationships, work, or non-profit organizations. Everywhere, they reported, women leaders face barriers, incorporate their strengths into leadership and create strategies to become better leaders.

Generally speaking, women are natural born leaders. Their strengths are documented: they build and sustain trusting relationships; they use intuition; they integrate details quickly and rearrange them into complex patterns; they listen, collaborate and optimize resources. Women leaders tend to be "caring, inclusive, open, transparent" (Coughlin, et al., 2005, p. xxi).

These female qualities are greatly needed in the 21st Century. Until the last 25 years, leadership was based on hierarchy and control. Then, people were expected to perform tasks– not to think. Technology and globalization changed that paradigm. "This economy requires people able to learn, relate, work in teams, and solve problems flexibly and creatively" (Coughlin, et al., 2005, p. 34).

Though times have changed, women still face barriers in their leadership. "Continued institutional barriers– formal and informal, overt and subtle– create an unequal playing field that over time leads to physical, emotional, and psychological fatigue" (Coughlin, et al., 2005, p. 9). For starters, people’s perceptions about leadership hinder women: a notion that a traditional, masculine style of leadership is effective; an assumption that women do not want to lead; a belief that certain leadership characteristics are acceptable for men but not women; and an impression that women leaders are tokens who are incompetent (Coughlin, et al., p. 11). In the business world, women encounter other barriers. They receive only 5% of venture financing for various reasons: a lack of mentors and role models to guide them in raising capital; the strength of the "old-boys" network; a dearth of women as venture capitalists; perceptions of women-own businesses as unprofitable; and women’s discomfort with self-promotion and criticism (Coughlin, et al., p. 222).

The good news comes from women who have transformed the practice of leadership. They have created strategies that help women use their strengths to become effective leaders. Their powerful strategies include finding a mentor and networking.. "In the final analysis, merit matters, but only when networks are nurtured" (Coughlin, et al., 2005, p. 244). Moreover, women can enhance their influence by finding, rekindling and sustaining their passions. They can also improve their communication styles. Specifically, women must manage their conversations by understanding different perspectives; refraining from blame; exploring the intentions of others; valuing feelings; and developing a strong identity (Coughlin, et al., pp. 280-284). In addition, women can project a strong image by using practical tips such as standing tall; maintaining eye contact; stopping self-deprecating remarks; getting rid of the tilted head; and stepping into the lime light (Coughlin, et al., pp. 334-335).

Though many barriers remain, creative women will continue to transform the traditional practice of leadership. Because of the transformation, women enhance creative climate, appeal to people’s intrinsic motivation and build organizations that prosper. Women’s leadership styles also translate into a more just and caring society. In other words, everyone wins!

Coughlin, L., Wingard, E., & Hollihan, K., Eds. (2005). Enlightened Power: How Women are Transforming the Practice of Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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