Women understand leadership better

Published 8:39 am Monday, April 9, 2018

If you asked business leaders about the most important leadership skill, no doubt you would receive as many answers as the number of leaders you asked. Some might say it is setting rules and insisting they be kept. That’s authoritative leadership. Others might say it’s learning to build an influential model where your employees feel respected and are subsequently more committed to the job at hand.
As Dollar General’s former CEO, I lean more toward the latter observation. Real leadership is your ability to relate to others. Women have a greater handle on this than men — it seems to be in the feminine DNA to be naturals at building relationships. Women get it. Men are competitive, but women broaden competition, adding to it consideration for the needs of others and how to fulfill them — a very big key to success in business.`
Critical to building strong relationships is moving beyond the use of guilt or blame. Today’s society is bogged down with defamation labels, which pretend to describe who a person is. Folks, a true leader never uses labels to do that.
My mother taught me one of my life’s most important lessons. She would say to me after one of my childhood misdeeds, “Son, for a good boy, you get into a lot of trouble!” Looking back, I realize the lesson she taught me was to separate the person from the problem, which allows genuine learning from the problem; yet the learning opportunity is gone once everyone lapses into finger pointing and blame.
My mother wasn’t the only woman I learned from. I learned directly on the job, mainly from my stark realization that I needed other people. There were many necessary tasks that I couldn’t do well when I first began in the business world. I realized I would position myself better if I admitted those gaps of skill and acknowledged that I needed other people. I needed the relationship-building that women seem to do naturally. I needed to have a genuine interest in others — not merely in winning alone. Competition can harm leadership. If you consider leadership to be nothing but refereeing who wins and loses, then you’re no leader.
Learning to relate well to others helped me become more successful in the business world. I would visit Dollar General’s direct competitors, introduce myself and tell them I would like to learn more about their store. After they got over their initial shock, we would mutually share our company problems. My competition taught me some of my best lessons. There were certainly occasions when the competing store’s manager was offended that I’d offer my ideas, but I found that throwing out my best ideas encouraged my competitor to make a comment or observation that I hadn’t considered. Learning to overcome my natural competitive drive and be more relational definitely helped our success.
Don’t get me wrong. I learned important business skills from men, including my father. But I learned my leadership principles from women. If men would take time to learn some of women’s natural relational skills, they would be more effective leaders.
Today, many women try to adapt to the male playbook in business. I do not recommend that because it limits everyone’s potential effectiveness. If anything, men should be more like women when it comes to leadership! The legendary performer and philanthropist Dolly Parton is a perfect example. Her ability to relate to others in both an entrepreneurial and artistic setting is second to none. Not surprisingly, she has profound thoughts about leadership. One that has resounded the loudest to me is this: “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you are an excellent leader.” No male on earth could have said it better!
(Cal Turner Jr. is the son of Dollar General Co-Founder Cal Turner Sr. Cal Turner Jr. was second in command at Dollar General from 1965 to 1977 and CEO from 1977 through 2002. Under his leadership, the company went public in 1969 and grew to more than 6,000 stores and $6 billion in sales. Today, Mr. Turner is Chairman of the Cal Turner Family Foundation and author of the forthcoming book, “My Father’s Business.” The book is available for pre-order at multiple online retailers.)

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