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Leadership styles – Do women lead better than men?

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Recently we have all been hearing and reading different speculations, theories and claims about differences between the leadership styles of men and women. One thing that we have gathered so far from all these theories is the fact that men and women lead differently. Consequently, this is the base from which we can look at the distinctions between the leadership styles of the two genders. Once we have a better understanding of the variations, only then will we be able to form a conclusion on who leads better, men or women?

Before we start the comparison, let me share the findings of a couple of studies. One of them argues that ‘organizations that most aggressively promote women to executive positions have 1/4 to 1/3 higher profits than their industry average’. (Pepperdine University 2007, Catalyst 2009)

Another study concludes that ‘working groups with more women in them demonstrate higher collective intelligence, problem-solving capability. Because women listen better and encourage more participation’.(Harvard Business Review, June 2011)

Notably, gender stereotyping is normally avoided, and we try not to generalize people into groups according to their genders. Still, in practical terms, gender differences stand true, and the distinctions between the leadership styles also originate here. Some leadership styles may be associated more with men.

Command and Control Leadership Style

According to the social norms established in the world, men usually belong to the ‘dominant group’. Throughout history, the male population dominated all kinds of businesses. For this reason, we see them in positions of authority everywhere; they are the managers, bosses, CEOs, chancellors, directors, etc. This has been going on for a very long time. As a result, it has given a false perception that women are the non-dominant group and are less fit for leadership.

This leadership style assumes that leaders practice very tight control of the ship. Consequently, they get used to issuing instructions and expect workers to follow those without hesitation. As a result of this leadership style, depending on the environment, the outcomes may not be very fruitful. The working environment remains tense with no or little room for creativity, compassion or even mistakes. As a result, this makes employees restless, resentful and generally unhappy. We are all aware of the fact that unhappy or unsatisfied workers never give the best results.

The disadvantages of this leadership style are:

  • it leaves little room for empathy, and workers are less engaged in a professional, but in-depth, communication with the ‘boss’,
  • the leader rarely gives employees a chance to explain their points at lengths and from their point of view,
  • creative and effective employee engagement may also decrease,
  • leading like this tends to reduce the effectiveness of the leader, as they consider themselves not having to answer to anyone.

The factors described here originate from a couple of leadership styles. Usually, leaders practising these styles lack interaction with some levels of the organisation.

Women, in our social standard, assumed to belong to the non-dominant group of society. They are often said to be too sensitive, compassionate and involved to be good leaders. But guess what: these are the traits of good leaders. So, let’s talk about what does it mean to be a transformational leader!

Transformational or Interactive Leadership Style

This type of leadership style is perhaps a better fit for female leaders, and it’s characterized by the following:

  1. Generally, women, due to their social roles, tend to be more patient, imaginative, creative and brim-full of ideas.
  2. Their ability to get involved with the situation, circumstances and people is what helps this style to flourish. They are not used to the high-chair of authority. This translates to having the ability to bring themselves down to the level of each employee and think from their perspective. It gives them a unique insight. Therefore, they can interact well with everyone, and come up with ideas and solutions that everyone is agreeable to.
  3. Another couple of traits are patience and perseverance. We often believe that women do not give up easily. They tend to dig down to the root of the problem and keep looking for solutions until they succeed.
  4. Another factor here is compassion and sensitivity. These characteristics allow them to forgive mistakes and pave the way for sensitive communication. In turn, this treatment of workers does wonders for employee morale, and satisfied and happy people are more efficient.
  5. Other reasons that can make females successful leaders are: 
    • their nurturing nature;
    • competence to maintain a work-life balance;
    • their empathy and skill to listen keenly;
    • challenge motivation;
    • creative analysis of ideas.

Women and men leadership styles in practice

To back up the theories, let me share some evidence. The data underlines the effectiveness of leadership styles and promote that female leaders are also the way forward to success.

In 2011, a survey took place involving 7280 leaders. The data was collected by bosses, peers, and directly from the leaders in the form of self-evaluation reports. In order to gauge effectiveness, the scientists selected 16 competencies from 30 years of research work. These competencies paint a picture of a leader’s highest effectiveness based on several business models. The results indicate that the majority of leaders employed in different sectors are still men. Still, in terms of leadership effectiveness, women take the lead (overall leadership effectiveness for males: 51.3% and for females: 55.1%). This study included leaders from all sectors and walks of life including commercial, domestic, government, private and international. Zenger Folkman Inc. conducted the survey. Its outcome was that Folkman, a psychometrician, has designed a tool to measure leadership effectiveness. In short, he described leadership effectiveness as follows:

‘A great leader can connect with people. And we find that as leaders progress in an organization, their ability to empathize and understand people is absolutely critical for a senior executive…If a leader doesn’t do that, they don’t get the kind of engagement and commitment from employees.’

Overall Leadership Effectiveness by Gender by Position (Percentile Scores)

 

Male

Female

Top Management, Executive, Senior Team Members

57.7

67.7

Reports to Top Management, Supervises Middle Managers

48.9

56.2

Middle Manager

49.9

52.7

Supervisor, Front Line Manager, Foreman

52.5

52.6

Individual Contributor

52.7

53.9

Other

50.7

52.0

Total

51.3

55.1

Source: Zenger Folkman Inc., 2011

How far have we come?

Let’s see if we have learnt from and implemented these findings over the past decade. Earlier this month, Catalyst has published their results in the area. They revealed that last year the proportion of women in senior management roles globally grew to 29%, the highest ever recorded. That means there is a movement towards gender diversity, although the proportion of women in senior leadership differs by role. Women are over-represented in administration-related positions, while men are likely to be more concentrated in operations-related roles.

There is also a variation by region: Africa has the highest score at 38% in the proportion of women in senior leadership positions, followed by Eastern Europe (35%) and North America (29%). Looking at the USA, we can see startling figures. There is a record-high number of Fortune 500 Women CEOs in 2020. Nevertheless, there are still nearly 13 Companies run by a man for every company run by a woman.

Based on a Mercer analysis looking at over a thousand organizations, the following was found concerning women in leadership roles:

  • Executives: 23%,
  • Senior Managers: 29%
  • Managers: 37%.

Clearly, there has been some progress made in the right direction in the past years. However, there is still a wide gap in the representation of genders in higher positions.

The transformational and interactive leadership traits that we discussed earlier fall in line with Folkman’s words. We have also seen the results of interactive, empathetic and compassionate leadership. It wins leaders the commitment and happiness of employees. And a leader is successful when they have the faith and commitment of their employees. 

So, why are women so underrepresented in leadership roles? Perhaps it is due to the biased society standards. Women still face several issues at the workplace. They also spend a lot more time and mental ability to find solutions to problems that come their way. This could lead to anxiety, tension and other mental health issues.

In this changing world, you need not fear problems and looking for solutions. Buckle up women, it won’t be a smooth ride! Still, many are standing behind you to find ways to manage the challenges so that you can take the opportunity to step up to lead.

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Ariana Mara

Ariana Mara

Ariana founded unleashr with the aim to help people not only understand but benefit from the changes in their professional environment.

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