3 things corporate executives can learn from female entrepreneurs

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Corporate executives can learn a lot from studying female entrepreneurs, including taking risks, coping with change and becoming better leaders.

A survey conducted by Korn Ferry Institute and Springboard Enterprises analysed the leadership qualities of 183 female entrepreneurs from industry sectors such as healthcare, technology, media and entertainment. The results were then compared with those of 306 male and female C-level and VP executives.

In particular, the survey focused on “agile learning” abilities: tolerance of ambiguity, intellectual curiosity and emotional intelligence.

The report found that these qualities were strong indicators of leadership success and could determine one’s “ability and willingness to learn from experience, and to subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions”.

“Highly learning agile leaders are in great demand by companies interested in innovation and staying ahead of the curve. In fact, the qualities agile leaders share such as curiosity, ambiguity tolerance, and emotional intelligence are predictors of leadership success,” says Guangrong Dai, senior director of research at the Korn Ferry Institute.

Photo: kornferryinstitute.com

Of the three categories, female entrepreneurs were twice as likely to be top scorers (above the 80th percentile) in intellectual curiosity.

The report describes intellectual curiosity as being “the extent to which a person is likely to tackle problems in a novel way, see patterns in complex information, and pursue deep understanding”.

This skill is often useful during periods of uncertainty as one remains flexible even when confronted with unpredictable markets.

“Leaders who are agile learners thrive in ambiguous situations and excel at working through complex problems,” the report says.

Female entrepreneurs were also top-scorers in terms of tolerance of ambiguity which identifies one’s ability to handle the pressures of change. They also see risk-taking as learning opportunities.

Chairman of Springboard Enterprises and founder of USA Networks, Kay Koplovitz, says female entrepreneurs who scored high in this category were seen to be “key influencers in corporate settings where facing highly disruptive business challenges has become the norm”.

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