4 C’s of leadership for women-owned businesses

According to the 2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses report by Womenable, a women’s enterprise development company, the number of women-owned firms is now estimated at 30% of all U.S. businesses. They generate nearly $1.5 trillion in annual revenue — an increase of 79% since 1997.

On top of that, one in three of these businesses are led by a minority woman, including African American, Asian American, Latina, Native American/Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. This trend will continue to gain momentum, positioning even more women business leaders in bigger roles on the stage of economic success in America.

Over my more than 20-year financial services career, I have witnessed this sea change of women leaders in the American economy and have identified key traits of the most successful. Regardless of economic cycle or the nature of their business, I find these habits consistently help women leaders navigate challenges and position their companies for success:

Connection: Strong professional and personal relationships are key. Women leaders are great at making connections and building their networks, personally, and professionally. They are confident in asking for advice and counsel — after all, it was Sheryl Sandberg who coined the phrase “Lean in.” Women are well equipped to navigate changing markets and global competition, forces that require leaders to listen in order to fully understand the dynamics.

Tip: During a challenging economy, women can leverage their relationship-building skills to expand their networks further and develop stronger roots for their business.

Capacity: Women often take the primary role of managing both work and family. While society has come a long way in supporting more balance in shared responsibilities of family and home with partners, women develop a capacity early on to tackle both. Women also have a big capacity to take on many additional responsibilities in their professional and personal lives, including community organizations and involvement with their children’s schools. Women can accomplish feats of balance. While not without sacrifice, women leaders bring a combination of creativity, compassion, and well-defined solutions, which are critical, especially during times of economic change.

Tip: Develop your team, build trust, and delegate during tough times. Don’t try to do it all yourself.

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Collaboration: Women leaders tend to collaborate and build a culture of partnership. This approach of working together builds an all-inclusive culture, allowing different perspectives to be heard and creating a valued, high-performing team. This environment nurtures development of new ideas and approaches to issues and challenges.

Tip: Find a voice outside your circle to challenge your thought process — you might discover a new perspective or better approach.

Communication: Communicating effectively and sharing vision and strategy are among the most-critical paths to success of any organization — and often overlooked. Successful women business leaders exhibit skill in adapting their communication style to situation and audience, leading to more-effective conversations.

Tip: Communication during critical business times is key. Reach out to your stakeholders and share your voice directly.

While the economic landscape continues to evolve, women business leaders need to demonstrate confidence, enlisting trusted allies as they build their businesses. Challenging and dynamic times alike require leadership that builds and shapes a successful team. These four C’s of leadership are integral to success.

Julia Voss is group head for Wells Fargo Middle Market Banking in southern Wisconsin. Email her at Julia.d.voss@wellsfargo.com.

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