Stereotypes: Gender and Leadership

I recently read about a theory called “stereotype incongruity.” It means that stereotypes of leaders “match” stereotypes of men more closely than they do stereotypes of women. This kind of thinking is real; it is behind the gendered view of leadership. The thinking is flawed, first, because stereotypes are not true; many women fit masculine stereotypes. Second, it is flawed because the stereotype of leadership fails to recognize the value of feminine leadership strengths. I agree with John Gerzema that leaders today need to have both masculine and feminine strengths!

Men Leveraging Their “Feminine”

Men in my workshops used to hesitate to claim feminine strengths, perhaps concerned they would be called a “sissy.” In my book and workshops, I use prototypes for masculine and feminine – Max and Fran. Men in our workshops seem comfortable acknowledging their “Fran” strengths. Maybe it is because more of them understand the value of gender diversity. Some may be convinced, e.g., by the work of McKinsey & Co. and John Gerzema, that leadership must include feminine as well as masculine perspectives. Valuing feminine strengths personally enables authenticity, effectiveness and health. Valuing feminine strengths in others contributes to inclusivity, which drives engagement and results.

Does “Leaning In” Mean Being More “Masculine”?

In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg points to internal barriers that hold women back. Many are just “feminine” ways. Women are wired and acculturated to value relationships more than status and to avoid bragging. This looks like lower ambition. Women tend to speak more humbly; this looks like lower confidence. I agree that, to make it to the top, women must demonstrate ambition and confidence. But my hope is that one day leaders will understand and appreciate feminine as well as masculine style and see leadership in both.

Balanced Leadership: Masculine and Feminine Leadership Strengths

Fritjof Capra wrote in 1975 about the importance of valuing and balancing masculine and feminine ways. This year John Gerzema published The Athena Doctrine, demonstrating that business today needs leaders who balance both feminine and masculine forms of leadership. Gender diversity is good for the bottom line because it enables businesses to have a balance of both masculine and feminine strengths.