When Gale Mote landed her first management job as a production supervisor at Square D in Cedar Rapids in the 1980s, she struggled.
The lifelong Eastern Iowa resident wasn’t in touch with her personal leadership style, and it showed, she said.
“I didn’t know anything about being a manager or supervisor,” she said. “I thought you had to go out there and flex your muscles … I had three grievances with the Teamsters union, and they told me different, which was good, so I had to start [the learning process] all over.”
After spending a few more years in manufacturing and learning a lot more about how to lead and motivate others, Mote launched her own Cedar Rapids company, Gale Mote Associates, in 1990. As a professional trainer and organizational development consultant, one of Mote’s strategies to build better managers is helping her clients identify their fundamental beliefs. She says this practice was critical in her own journey to becoming an effective leader.
“What do you think it takes for people to come into work every day and give their best effort? What do you think is necessary for great work to be done in challenging times? I have [the managers] write that all out,” she said. “You have to be authentic … You have to lead from within and find out what your leadership style is.”
Mote went to several leadership training sessions while she worked in manufacturing that introduced her to the idea of servant leadership, which is how she characterizes her own style. This means leading in a more democratic way along with flipping traditional company organizational charts that put the CEO and COO at the top of the hierarchy and instead focusing on middle and front line managers, Mote said.
“It’s not about status. It’s not about ego. It’s not about how many titles or acronyms I have after my name, or what my salary is,” she said about being an effective leader. “It’s really about making a meaningful difference in the lives of other people.”
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Though Mote enjoyed her leadership positions in manufacturing, she said it could be lonely. There weren’t many women in supervisory roles, and the further up the company hierarchies she looked, the fewer women she saw, she said. Unfortunately, it seems to her that the proportions of women in management positions haven’t grown quickly over the last few decades.
Men and women generally have different strengths in terms of emotional intelligence, which Mote describes as a set of emotional and behavioral skills that allow people to build solid relationships. For example, men tend to score higher in areas like self-regard and assertiveness while women score higher in areas like empathy and interpersonal relationship, she said. This can mean that some women may have a harder time making their voices heard within their organizations.
“[Some women] are afraid if they’re assertive, they’re going to be seen as aggressive divas,” she said.
However, Mote explained, leaders who are empathetic and build strong relationships with their colleagues — which many women excel at — may not have to work as hard to promote their ideas. She encourages women to use their existing strengths to make a difference in their organizations at whatever position they have, whether they are individual contributors, top-level executives or somewhere in between.
“I certainly believe in the capacity and capability of women to be able to do great things for their organizations,” she said. “I think they have a richness in their perspectives and in their talents that we certainly need to tap into more, and I think that’s true at all levels of the organization, not just at the C-Suite.”
Gale Mote will be the keynote speaker at the HER Magazine Luncheon: Leadership Doesn’t Just Happen in the C-Suite on Oct. 25 in Cedar Rapids.
*This article was originally published in the fall 2017 issue of The Gazette’s HER: Women in Business magazine.*