” Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”
~ Kofi Annan
Client Julia asks: I’ve tried to find a mentor in my company, but most of the higher-level managers are men, and the way they lead groups doesn’t come naturally to me. Am I just not leadership material?
Coach Joel answers: Julia, you just need to tap into your own strengths as a leader. Empirical research shows that women tend to have a range of strengths that make for a great leader. Women aren’t yet getting equal rewards for these strengths—according to Harvard Business Review, only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and just over 5% of executives in Fortune 500 companies are women. However, many qualities women leaders tend to possess are aspects of transformational leadership, which is fast becoming recognized as the most effective leadership style. Transformational leadership motivates employees by helping them find self-worth through the work they do.
That being said, many qualities associated more strongly with men can make for an effective leader as well. The best skills for the job always depend on the context. Both men and women should look at the range of qualities that can make for a great leader, and decide which ones to nurture in themselves, depending on their career goals and personal strengths.
1. Communication Styles
Women tend to have a more cooperative, participatory style of leading. Men tend to have a more “command and control style,” according to the American Psychological Association. They’re more task-oriented and directive, while women are more democratic. That’s often the starkest leadership difference between male and female bosses: Men provide direction for their employees, while women encourage employees to find their own direction. The cooperative style involves more conversation and listening, which often takes more time but leads employees to feel more valued. Both styles are valuable in different contexts. Being highly task-oriented can be highly beneficial where safety is concerned, for example.
2. Reward Systems
Women often motivate their employees by helping them find self-worth and satisfaction in their work, which serves as its own reward. This is a core part of the philosophy of transformational leadership: Help employees find their identity in the work that they do, so it’s more than just a job. Men are more likely to use the transactional leadership approach of providing incentives for succeeding and penalties for failing. Of course, either gender can learn to succeed in either of these leadership styles. Differences in leadership between male and female managers can work in tandem, too, as transactional leaders can ensure accountability while transformational leaders motivate and inspire.
Men tend to be good at branding themselves, meaning they let others know about their successes and strengths. Women are more likely to be modest or silent about their own accomplishments. To succeed as a leader, women should learn to brand themselves by sharing their achievements and skills with others. After all, it’s hard for a person to advance as a leader if people don’t notice what she’s capable of. Branding also brings a leader more respect in her current position. Volunteering for high-profile projects and finding a respected advocate are other great branding strategies that men are often more likely to use than women.
Again, it’s not that people of either gender make better leaders. The reality is that differences between male and female leadership styles can broaden a company’s pool of creativity and innovation. This enhances the success of any company when both men and women are promoted to high-level positions. Whichever gender you are, identify the distinct skills you bring and how to use them to get noticed by potential or current employers. The business of placing women in leadership needs to become a top priority.
Next time you’re in a meeting or talking one-on-one with someone you supervise, take note of which communication, reward systems, and branding styles you use. What comes naturally, and where could you improve? Email Joel for tips on which skills to hone for your career path, and read women leadership articles that share tips on being proactive about career advancement.