I recently read an article summarizing research about men, women and leadership. The article concludes that women are perceived as just as good or even better leaders than men, particularly in some areas including business. (The article reviews research in the U.K. led by Samantha C. Paustian-Underdahl involving “tens of thousands of leaders in studies that have been conducted over almost fifty years.”) Paustian-Underdahl explained,
“Women are typically described and expected to be more communal, relations-oriented and nurturing than men, whereas men are believed and expected to be more agentic, assertive and independent than women.”
In response to an article praising women as leaders, I once saw an angry (defensive?) response (from a man), saying he was “tired of” hearing about women’s superior leadership style. I thought, “We have for centuries heard, or just accepted, that men were superior leaders — and you are ‘tired of’ a few recent studies showing that women, as a whole, have strengths associated with effective leadership?”
The issue is not whether men or women are better leaders. All women do not lead the same; not all use the “feminine style” referred to in this research. Some women lead like men, or in a more masculine style. Some women, and some men, leverage feminine strengths (like being collaborative, empathetic and inclusive). The best leaders have access to both masculine and feminine strengths and apply whichever is most effective in the circumstance.
John Gerzema (author of The Athena Doctrine and Ted Talk speaker) says that leaders today need both masculine and feminine strengths. He notes the effective leaders have both:
“. . . traditionally feminine leadership and values are now more popular than the macho paradigm of the past. The most innovative among us are breaking away from traditional structures to be more flexible, collaborative and nurturing.”
So let us reframe the subject from whether women or men are better leaders. We know that all women and all men are not alike and do not lead alike. Let us open to the proposition that the best leaders have both masculine and feminine styles. The point is to elevate feminine leadership style (whether in a man or woman) to its deserved position, equal to masculine leadership style. Let us make room for and value both.
Do you have examples of leaders who demonstrate both masculine and feminine strengths? How does this increase their effectiveness?