Women and Men in Executive Positions — How do their perceived strengths differ?

The typical qualities and strengths we associate with senior executives are leadership, good communication skills, delegation, getting on with a broad cross-section of people and having the capacity for hard work. Many of them are great team players and have the ability to not only be enthusiastic but also instil that quality in others.

We asked 80 top executives and CEOs to rate their own abilities, in the hope of shedding some light not only on what they perceive to be their own strengths, but also what they consider to be important in an executive leader. We then divided up the results into woman and men to see how they perceived strengths differ. We named each of the top ten results The Top 10 Commandments. Here are the results.

Top 10 Commandments from Male Executives

  1. Ability to solve problems in a crisis.
  2. Choosing and keeping a good team.
  3. Having a drive to become successful.
  4. Being able to work with a wide variety of people.
  5. Needing to achieve results.
  6. Good family support — parents, spouse, children.
  7. Coping with stress better then others.
  8. Being able to deal and negotiate.
  9. Knowing your strengths and limitations.
  10. Skill at initiating change.

Top 10 Commandments from Female Executives

  1. Needing to achieve results.
  2. Ability to solve problems in a crisis.
  3. Having a drive to become successful.
  4. Skill at initiating change.
  5. Being able to work with a wide variety of people.
  6. Choosing and keeping a good team.
  7. More confidence than others around.
  8. Knowing your strengths and limitations.
  9. Coping with stress better than others.
  10. Willingness to take risks.

As you can see, the most striking differences between men and women are:

  • Women rated the need to achieve results as their number one priority, men as number five.
  • Men ranked the need for family support at number six. This was not rated by women at all in their top ten.
  • Women ranked having confidence as their number seven priority. This was not in the top ten for men.

To include the views of both males and females in our sample we combined the choice of having a happy home life and working with a wide variety of people as a single commandment — Relate. This allowed us to include Confidence, rated seven by the women, as our Commandment 10.

Our results are significantly different from those of the Cranfield study of American chief executives, where the top 10 were:

  1. A need to achieve results.
  2. An ability to work easily with a wide variety of people.
  3. Challenge.
  4. A willingness to take risks.
  5. Early overall responsibility for important tasks.
  6. A width of experience in many functions before the age of 35.
  7. A desire to seek new opportunities.
  8. Leadership experience early in my career.
  9. An ability to develop more ideas than my other colleagues.
  10. An ability to change my managerial style to suit the occasion.

This research was carried out some 10 years ago, and it is interesting to note that now the major skills for success are focused on problem solving, managing stress and skill in initiating change. A sign of the times!

Our combined top 10 provides the basis for our blog on The Top 10 Commandments for Aspiring Directors, which you can find here

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