Each year, Forbes Magazine ranks the World’s Greatest Leaders. The people who make this list include men and women who are transforming the world in their respective fields. Whether in business, government, philanthropy or arts, the women who make this list all exemplify a new model of leadership – one where leaders need to influence a wide range of groups over which they have no direct authority.

Many of the women who make this annual list aren’t in charge of a group of subordinates. These women include people promoting peaceful protests, human rights activists and even leadership apostle, Frances Hesselbein – none of them can be effective in their roles by delegating tasks. Even female CEO’s and executives who make the list typically do not have formal power over large numbers of people. So what is the character trait that led them to make Forbes’ World Greatest Leaders list? The answer is simple: their access to information and their ability to communicate with practically everyone.

Female leaders have “soft power” and “smart power”
From an early age, people notice how girls are more cooperative and collaborative than boys. Young girls also show more concern for fairness than boys do. Research has shown that women are more empathetic than men i.e. they are better at sensing the attitudes and feelings of a person and responding appropriately. They also value reciprocal relationships more highly than men do. Whether the differences between male and female leaders are based on genetics, environmental circumstances or learned behaviours, the world is starting to favour leadership that is based on skills of personal interaction as opposed to authority, which is giving women a clear head start.

A term coined by a female leader is “smart power”. In her confirmation hearings, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America. We must use what has been called ‘smart power’, the full range of tools at our disposal.”

Advancing change: men and women need to work together to break barriers
Many women and men experience the same challenges at home and at work. The way that each gender approaches leadership, however, can be used to create unbreakable teams. Many men, especially in the built environment, are inspirational leaders and pivotal to the success of their businesses. Forging networks that include men and women at all levels can provide greater leverage within teams and broaden perspectives to break barriers within a business and the industry as a whole.

“Feminine” values are giving tomorrow’s leaders an edge
A survey conducted by Michael D’Antonio and John Gerzema echoes the sentiment that “feminine” values are giving tomorrow’s leaders an edge. Data gathered by the duo from 64 000 nationally representative samples in 13 countries – from the Americas and Europe to Asia – showed growing appreciation for the traits, skills and competencies that are perceived as more feminine. The results were published in their book entitled The Athena Doctrine.

To understand how leaders could “think more like women”, 32 000 people from across the globe were asked to classify 125 different human characteristics as either feminine, masculine or without gender on their importance to happiness, morality, success and leadership. Characteristics that people felt were “feminine” strongly correlated with those that were deemed essential to leading an increasingly social, interdependent and transparent world. These characteristics include:
• Expressive
• Plans for future
• Reasonable
• Loyal
• Flexible
• Patient
• Intuitive
• Collaborative

Nurturing the female talent pool pays off
According to a research report by McKinsey entitled Unlocking the Full Potential of Women, nurturing women in the leadership talent pool definitely pays off. Through the evaluation of 60 Fortune 500 companies, McKinsey researchers found that the talent pipeline for women into senior management starts to diminish at the Director level, generating a shrinking talent pool for the C-suite jobs. In order to combat this challenge, companies need to manage their talent management pool from the bottom to the top to grow women into the top slots and reap the financial and productivity benefits that come along with women in leadership.

Across the built environment, we’re seeing an increasing number of ambitious women taking a good look at their career options and choosing their paths wisely, based on what makes them most happy and fulfilled. It is for this reason that we are highlighting important issues that women face in the industry, tips and advice from those who are succeeding and putting a spotlight on women who are innovating and contributing to transformation in our industry. Enjoy the interviews and articles from some inspiring women in the flooring market!

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to www.fortune.com, www.foreignaffairs.com, www.hbr.org and www.inpowercoaching.com for the information contained in this article.