Jobs and the Future of Work

Here's what 120 interviews with women executives can teach us

The differences we see in women executives offer lessons in leadership for everyone. Image: Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

Anna Oakes
Editor, Quartz
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Future of Work

  • Do women bring different skills to leading companies - and if so, what can we learn from them?
  • Julia Boorstin interviewed over 60 female CEOs for her book, When Women Lead.
  • Here, Boorstin explains that the differences we see in women executives offer lessons in leadership for everyone.

Do women bring different skills to leading companies—and if so, what can we learn from them? It’s a question Julia Boorstin contends with in When Women Lead, a new book focused on the ways organizations are led when women are at the helm. Boorstin, CNBC’s senior media and tech correspondent, spoke with more than sixty female CEOs and leaders about their experiences managing from the top—and argues that the differences we see in women executives offer lessons in leadership for everyone, regardless of gender. Quartz talked to Boorstin about what those lessons can teach us about leveraging our own strengths at work.

Quartz at Work: How do we know what our natural strengths are?

Boorstin: Everyone has certain traits that we feel good about—whether it’s building teams, listening, negotiating compromises, or asking questions. In each of the over 120 interviews I conducted for When Women Lead, I would ask people what their key strength, their superpower, is. Some people answered it quickly before I could even finish the question, while others paused to reflect. But I’ve found that individuals know the one or two things that make them distinct and help them succeed.

How can we improve our awareness and leverage our strengths?

The more we can think about what we feel really good and confident doing, the more we can hone those strengths. I love conducting interviews and asking questions in part because I think I’m good at it. But I know I can always improve, so I watch journalists I admire and take notes on how they structure interviews and ask follow-up questions. When conducting an interview, I focus on listening to ensure I’m not missing an opportunity to ask a follow-up question or pursue an idea from a different angle. Then I watch my interviews after the fact to see what I can do better next time.

A key way to develop your strengths–and to push yourself to improve—is leveraging after-event reviews, a way we can methodically evaluate our own performance. Having a system for reviewing one’s performance takes the emotion out of it. It’s not about whether you failed or succeeded, but understanding what you did well, analyzing your mistakes, and understanding what went wrong that was out of your control. That all helps you figure out what you can do better next time.

Leveraging our strengths can be daunting for some. What’s a good place to start?

To figure out what your natural strengths are—or where you should focus on self-improvement—look to a recent situation where things didn’t go as planned. It can feel painful to review failures–but it’s the best way to figure out where to improve. And on the flip side, think of a time when you felt really proud of yourself–or even when you felt like you were in a flow state and lost track of time. What were you doing when you felt confident? So in the moment that you lost track of time? Those moments are the times that can reveal what you’re good at and want to do more of.

Are there tools we should use?

Low-tech options are my favorite way to build awareness of your strengths. Don’t underestimate the power of a simple lined notebook or journal: lay out your goals, and if you have specific benchmarks you want to hit, put them into your calendar. There are also some great books to read.

I love GRIT by Angela Duckworth, which explains the importance of building your resilience muscle. Another favorite is Atomic Habits by James Clear, which describes how to build the right habits into your every day. A classic for building self-esteem is Daring Greatly by Brené Brown.

If you are looking for something more involved, there is a wealth of classes and cohorts online. Platforms from MasterClass to Kajabi to General Assembly offer online courses. Other companies like MightyNetworks connect communities around shared interests.

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