Women as leaders: The Latvian Connection

Posted by jlubans on May 06, 2010

Gloria Moss’ latest book includes an intriguing and engaging discussion about women managers in my native country of Latvia (1). She and her co-authors (David Farnham and Caryn Cook) point out that in 2006 about 41% of managers in Latvia were female: “the highest proportion of women managers anywhere in the European Union.” Latvia’s numbers exceeded those for Sweden, Ireland and Germany by 9, 11, and 14 percent, respectively.

Professor Moss and her co-authors ask several questions: How did this high percentage of women leaders come to be? Are there differences between male and female leaders? Do female leaders get better results? What cultural obstacles still exist in Latvia for women leaders?

The authors make a persuasive case, through 27 interviews with Latvian managers, that women differ from men in their transformational style of leadership, one possibly native to women. Latvian men lead differently: theirs is more a transactional leadership. Roughly, I would equate transformational to Theory Y (participatory) and transactional (directorial) to Theory X. Getting the job done is more important to women than a title on the door, a carpet on the floor and a corner office. A manager quoted by Moss concluded: “… women are always thinking about results not power.”

While I tend to believe the way we lead is based more on our conditioning than on our gender, I find their argument fascinating.

Reading the Moss’ research I was reminded of a column I wrote about a three day workshop in 2006 for Latvian library directors, all women (2). Here is an excerpt:

What did I learn:

Several things stand out from those three days at the University of Latvia:
Helping others. Perhaps unique and predictive of this young leadership culture, was how participants helped each other, even when competing.

20100506-riga lubans.jpg

Photo: Some observers were so engaged by the team effort, they helped the team they were observing build, even though they would shortly be building their own “pyramid.” This picture has my non participant student assistant (in jeans) helping! I saw enough of this collaborating spirit to conclude these library directors help each other out whenever and however they can.

Spontaneous collaboration is something I encourage, but rarely observe. More often, a clever participant tries to trick me with some lawyerly worded interpretation of the rules in hopes of short circuiting an activity. In my experience, American groups do not collaborate to gain maximum success. I recall an exercise at one university where the point of the activity was for four teams to cooperate in order to achieve the greatest customer satisfaction. Even after I made several overt suggestions, nods, winks, and other blatant hints, the teams did not cooperate. Each team studiously ignored the other three and went on to post miserable levels of customer satisfaction. At least they were consistent!
What happened in Riga was a first for spontaneous collaboration. It also represented a first for participants not abiding by the printed instructions. Like the New York Times observed: “Rules? What rules? Riga, cultured, energetic and young, is making them up as it goes along.” Just like they did when it came time for the one-on-one feedback from observers to builders, at least one group of observers chose to give feedback to the entire team instead of individuals.
While not excelling in all activities, the Latvians achieved some remarkable successes. Not only did they have strong enthusiasm for engaging and enjoying the planned activities they also expressed an advanced understanding of the underlying meanings. The Mirage exercise was not just leaders verbally sharing their “vision” of a geometric drawing so teams could replicate in a drawing what they heard. Their analysis focused precisely on the challenges in any leader’s communicating their true vision, of being heard, and on how they individually could be better communicators.

One activity did result in a best ever effort. A team produced, in ten minutes, the tallest (over 3 meters) freestanding structure in my using this exercise in dozens of venues over several years!

1. Gloria Moss, David Farnham and Caryn Cook, (2010) “Women Managers in Latvia: A Universal Footprint for the Future?” in Profiting from Diversity: The Business Advantages and the Obstacles to Achieving Diversity, edited by Gloria Moss. Basingstoke (England); New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 91-116.

2. John Lubans Jr. (2007) “On Managing: Learning to Lead: A Trans-Atlantic Perspective.” Library Administration & Management 21:145-147.)

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