Courage, Risk-taking, Resilience, and Managing Ambiguity

How do you rate on these traits?

Image from The Corporate Dominatrix by Lisa Robyn

Image from The Corporate Dominatrix by Lisa Robyn

A recent Harvard Business Review Article (We Interviewed 57 Female CEOs to Find Out How More Women Can Get to the Top) investigated the behavioral traits and career paths of Fortune 1000 and other large company female CEOs. Their goal was to figure out what characteristics were shared by successful female CEOs to help bridge the perceived “gap” in the percentage of women in CEO roles.

There were a number of interesting findings:

    1. Female CEOs worked in more roles, functions, companies, and industries than men leading companies of a comparable size.
    2. Two-thirds didn’t realize they could be CEO until someone else told them.
    3. Backgrounds in STEM, business, finance, or economics are prevalent for both male and female CEOs.
    4. Critical behavioral traits include: courage, risk-taking, resilience, and managing ambiguity.
    5. Women are more likely to be selected for senior leadership roles when the position is associated with a state of crisis or high risk of failure.
    6. Women are driven by a sense of purpose and a desire to contribute value and shape culture.

I’ve been given a remarkable number of professional opportunities due to #5. And even when you might realize that the opportunity is fraught with hazards, the desire to make a difference (#6) kicks in. But some of these, like #2, just boggle my mind. One of my biggest frustrations with professional women, and I’ve certainly been guilty of this, is our tendency to wait for permission. From whom? For what? Could we just agree to stop getting on our own ways?

Perhaps my favorite part of this article was the list of necessary traits: courage, risk-taking, resilience, and managing ambiguity. How many people do you know who have all four? I’ve known a lot of entrepreneurs and business leaders over the years, and the most successful ones definitely had all four.

Personally I’m a bouncy ball of resilience (The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure, and Bounce Back from Setbacks – great book) and am fairly good with managing ambiguity. I’m definitely lower on the risk-taking scale.