Concepts of good leadership are often associated with how men tend to lead (masculine forms of leadership). The feminine form of leadership is different but equally effective. Sometimes the results achieved by women who exhibit feminine leadership styles are overlooked. The focus is on how they operate and how it is different from the norm. Getting gender diversity at the top requires that we expand our definitions of leadership.
By “gendered” definitions of leadership, I mean definitions of leadership that are based on masculine vs. feminine ways of leading. We may associate the term “decisive,” with masculine ways of making decisions and solving problems. A feminine decision includes involving others, gathering ideas and processing input. This gets great results, but may be mistaken for indecisiveness. I want people to appreciate both masculine and feminine ways of working and free concepts of leadership from notions of gender.
More and more studies link gender diversity and higher returns. Some suggest this is because of unique ways women lead. I disagree. All women do not lead alike. Both men and women lead in masculine ways; both have “feminine” elements to their leadership. The best leaders value and leverage both masculine and feminine strengths. When they do, more people feel valued — and engaged. Having more women at the top makes it more likely a group will have a balance of masculine and feminine strengths; more likely more people are engaged; more likely decisions will be better.
In the past, I found women more willing to describe their approach to working as masculine than men to describe their approach as feminine. I see signs of greater value for feminine ways of leading. I find men in my workshops talk about when a feminine approach is most effective. I have friends who proudly claim their feminine strengths. I see articles praising the positive aspects of feminine leadership — and increased interest in feminine forms of leading. Descriptors of leadership are becoming more gender neutral. Hurrah!
A 2011 study by Stanford School of Business says that the most promotions in their study went to women who can demonstrate certain masculine strengths (assertiveness, dominance, confidence, aggressiveness) BUT who can “self-monitor” and balance such behaviors with feminine behaviors. Successful women must be assertive and confident to make it into management — but not “too” assertive or confident. That’s the double bind. Women must also leverage feminine strengths — building community, collaborating, synthesizing multiple ideas, creating inclusive teams, etc. Both men and women are better leaders if they can model and leverage both masculine and feminine ways of leading. Leaders must appreciate both and create inclusive cultures where both are valued.