What Women Do Right

What women do right

Posted Dec 11, 2009

My research shows that women's strengths fall into four categories. Women have mental strengths, a flexibility that allows them to be creative and nimble in finding solutions to problems. They focus on getting things done, not just on doing things their way. Women have identity strengths that allow them to maintain a strong sense of themselves and their values in whatever situations they find themselves. They can deal with change and uncertainty, because their sense of themselves isn't dependent on what they do or have, but who they are. Women have emotional strengths-the ability to understand their own feelings and those of others, and to use this understanding to cope in life. These emotional strengths also allow women to anticipate the emotional consequences of life situations, which makes them particularly skilled at making major decisions. Women have tremendous relational strengths in connecting with other people. They create strong social networks that support them during stressful times and inspire others to give their very best and to work toward a common good.

These strengths are leading to measurable increases in women's success in many areas of life. For example, in business, women's strengths make them what Bernard Bass of Binghamton University has labeled transformational leaders. Transformational leaders establish themselves as role models by gaining the trust and confidence of followers. They focus on attaining future goals, rather than maintaining the status quo. They motivate others to come up with innovative ways to solve problems and create new products.

Psychologist Alice Eagly of Northwestern University recently compiled 45 studies comparing the leadership styles of men and women and found that women were significantly more likely to have the transformational leadership style. They communicate the values, purpose, and importance of the organization. They are optimistic and excited about their organization's goals and inspire others to be just as enthusiastic. They focus on the development and mentoring of others and on their individual needs. They gain the respect and loyalty of others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly 40 studies now show that transformational leaders are more effective leaders—they make more money, produce more successful products, and accomplish more of the organization's goals.

Women also use their strengths to rise above adversity in their lives. Take for example, Jody, a lovely brown-eyed woman whose son played goalie on my son's soccer team. Ten years ago, Jody had what many of us would think was the perfect life-two healthy, beautiful children, an attractive, successful husband, and a thriving career. Then, at the age of 29, Jody's dream turned into a nightmare. Her husband, Len, dropped dead of a heart attack at the age of 33. Although Jody was initially devastated and overwhelmed, within months she mobilized her strengths to rise above her grief and reshape her life and her children's lives. Within a couple of years, Jody was leading support groups for young widows, helping them claim their identities as strong women, use the social networks they had available, and be creative about how to overcome the obstacles they faced. Jody says, "Women are so much more resilient than they are given credit for. A tragedy like losing your husband can force women to recognize their power and learn how to use it."

Every woman was born with the capacity to be strong. No matter how beaten down or weak a woman feels, she can her build her mental, identity, emotional, and relational strengths so that she has the power to exercise her talents, pursue her interests, and express her opinions, at home, in her community, and in her workplace. In upcoming blogs, I will provide specific exercises that can be used to build these strengths. These exercises, which I detail in my new book The Power of Women, are based on psychotherapy techniques that have been shown effective in controlled studies. But they don't take a trained therapist to learn: any woman can use these exercises to build her own strengths. Recognizing and harnessing women's strengths will not only enhance individual women's lives but also revolutionize our society and our world.