Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The differences between male and female leaders

A survey of American workers suggested that more than a third of all workers would prefer a male boss, over a female. Factors, such as the gender of their current manager and the age of those surveyed, play a part in the decision, but what are the differences between male and female leaders? Is there any foundation in our preference?

Another American study found that women tended to be rated higher in achieving results, getting work done, being transparent and clear, and building rapport with others. Men scored higher in strategic planning ability, persuasion, delegation, and being more reserved in expression.

The study highlights the areas in which male and female leaderships styles differ, which would explain why people may be drawn towards stating a preference. It also suggests that the natural leadership styles of men and women are complementary. It is by creating a balance of both types of leadership, through Board-level diversity, that organisations can bring about peak performance.

Culture matters


Unsurprisingly, these differing leadership styles are more suited to the different cultures. In traditionally ‘male’ environments, such as the armed forces, male leaders – or at least their leadership style – might be favoured. While environments which employ larger numbers of women, such as education and retail, appear to favour female managers/styles.

Gender stereotypes


These gender-biased leadership skills are historical and often reinforced by stereotypes. As this article shows even after all these years, humans are surprisingly good at assessing a person’s physical formidability in terms of strength and fighting skills – tending to prefer dominant leaders when threat is greater. If women are perceived as too assertive or direct, they are often criticised; not assertive enough, they are labeled as weak leaders. The same goes that male leaders can be regarded as being weak, once they have show their nurturing and empathic sides.

Interestingly, most of the skills identified as being necessary for being a great leader – honesty, delegation, communication, confidence and positivity – are common to both male and female leaders.

Breaking free from being a stereotypical leader


We can all do our bit to break away from being the stereotypical leader we are expected to be:

  • By being conscious of your own biases about gender roles, we can first change our own thinking and behaviour, as well as that of our team members.
  • By having an appreciation of our own leadership style. This means we can purposefully learn to adapt it to fit different situations. Sometimes leaders need to be direct and firm. At other times, empathy and compassion are most needed.

Being an effective leader is about what you do, rather than what you know. Most leadership skills are learned from others, so it stands to reason that the more women leaders we have, the more they will share their skills with their teams.

Organisations are only ever successful thanks to the sum of all parts, rather than the achievements of individuals. All businesses flourish thanks to their diverse, gender balanced workforces, despite what leadership style we prefer – or display.

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