Author: Elaine Attard – Accounts Executive

The concept of female leadership is undergoing a defining moment, where old leadership archetypes are being replaced with more pragmatic, inspirational models. Corporate research findings show how competent women are as leaders, especially in times of crises. During the pandemic, female leaders, including Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel and Tsai Ing-wen, demonstrated the competence and humanity of women in power. These leaders showcased common characteristics in leading their countries; they spoke the truth, showed decisiveness, embraced technology, and all the while executed their tasks with empathy, kindness, and compassion.

Just as technology, sustainability and globalisation pose new challenges to today’s businesses, so too does the massive arrival of women into the workforce. Research shows a link between bottom-line performance and gender-balance, proving that women have a real impact in organisations in which they lead and work. A new overarching narrative of what a strong leader looks like is emerging. Female leaders are setting new standards, and organisations are prioritising a new set of leadership qualities such as honesty, humility, and emotional intelligence.

Having visible female leaders serving as role models is essential for women who want to advance and become tomorrow’s leaders. At Fenech & Fenech and Fenlex, over 70% of employees are female. Women hold 50% of managerial positions, while 37% of the directors and 42% of the partners are female.

The accounting department at Fenlex is entirely female, with Nadine Farrugia at the helm as Manager and Head of Department. Nadine’s effective leadership is often displayed through visible interactions with her team and the involvement of her team’s ongoing development.

Her leadership style is realised in a number of ways, for instance through establishing real connections and forging a working relationship with the team. Nadine’s aim is for team members to feel comfortable discussing issues, be they client or personal in nature. This creates an opportunity to help, and where hardships are shared, productivity increases. Taking care of people first allows them to play to their strengths and being there for them beyond work-related issues lets them achieve fulfillment in both their work and personal life. Nadine has made it a habit to touch base with everyone in the team, if not daily then at least twice to three times a week. In this way, team members know that they are valued and equal, irrespective of their grade or role.

There is a shift away from the traditional authoritative ways of leading. Nadine adopts the idea of transformational leadership, through effective coaching to motivate and inspire people to engage with Fenlex’s vision and allow them to be more self-aware when carrying out their roles. This forward approach when combined with compassion and understanding can make all the difference. Prioritising work-life balance allows those with demanding commitments outside their jobs to progress at a fair rate in their careers. The myth of the “ideal worker” who is wholly committed to work has truly been shattered and replaced by the notion that the “ideal worker” is human. With the right degree of trust and appreciation between management and employee, flexibility may no longer be considered a privilege but a requirement for effective performance.

Having an open discussion with the team is imperative. For instance, before introducing new policies, it is recommended to elicit team members’ views and suggestions and incorporate such into the final decision.  However, often in business, difficult decisions must be taken which may not always be welcomed by people in the organisation. When Nadine implements changes to procedures, her approach is to explain the objective and reason behind the decisions. People often resist change, and it is the leader’s job to establish trust and ensure that members understand the results to be collectively achieved.

It is necessary to manage stress effectively, especially when faced with approaching deadlines. When problem-solving, the ability of a leader to descend to “ground level” within an organisation is crucial to gain an understanding of what goes on and determine what can be improved. Being personable in daily interactions is no longer seen as a weakness, but as essential to collaborate with others for the best possible outcome. While decisions need to be made, they can also be unmade and changed as a result of new information. People appreciate honesty and transparency in difficult times as it helps them to relate to and aspire to be like their leaders.

Progression and growth do not look the same for everyone; employees are individuals with different strengths and weaknesses. Identifying and capitalising on strengths for the benefit of the department is at the forefront when assigning tasks or clients to the team. Management style can be tailored, and different approaches can be taken when dealing with self-motivated, highly competent individuals, versus when managing a person who is aware of their weaknesses and seeks improvement.

Nadine confesses that coaching and managing her team takes a significant amount of her time and energy in her role. It can easily be compared to a vocation which she owes to her team and to their development. Contrary to being mutually exclusive, this shows beyond doubt, that effective leadership is demonstrated not only through commitment to business growth but also towards employee wellbeing.

These facts and real-life examples affirm that the idea of female representation and gender balance at the workplace is shifting from a focus on discrimination, to an approach driven by economic opportunity. Today, women are viewed as individuals that offer sought-after talent and drive performance. Rather than being gender-blind, the challenge is to be gender bilingual to connect effectively with all people within the organisation.

Ultimately, the conversation on female leadership is not just by women and for women but it also involves everyone in an organisation. In this way, the focus effectively shifts from “female” leadership to simply “better leadership” for all.