I was reading ‘Time To Think’ by Nancy Kline a few weeks ago and she discussed the idea that women have moved into positions of leadership by adopting men’s conditioning, seeing it as the best way to lead and have influence.
“This is not progress. Women have been encouraged to be like men when actually the best thing for men in society would be to encourage men to be more like women.” – Nancy Kline, Time To Think
Are women better leaders than men?
It got me wondering, is this true? Are women better leaders than men? The research shows that the gender difference in leadership is almost non-existent and if anything, slightly favours women. Men tend to be thought of as decisive, direct, strong and logical in terms of their leadership. Conversely, women tend to be thought of as community-driven, compassionate, patient and trustworthy leaders.
Do I believe that women are ‘better’ than men at leadership? No. Nor do I believe the reverse is true. Do I believe that there are traits that we nurture in women but not in men and vice versa? Yes, and I think it starts at a young age.
Nurturing feminine leadership traits
In my own experiences in speaking to women in leadership positions, part of their feelings of incongruence come from them not feeling able to show their true traits. They believe that they need to hide their emotional intelligence for example. I believe as a society we have valued the traits we instil in boys (being strong, not showing emotion etc) in our leaders and discouraged those more feminine traits. But now, as we realise this is harmful to our children, so too we might realise that it is harmful to our leaders. In fact, if we discourage toxic masculinity and encourage the traits we instil in girls (nurturing, emotional intelligence) in all children we will have even greater leaders in the future.
. “I’m absolutely confident that for two years if every nation on earth was run by women, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything… living standards and outcomes.” – Barack Obama
So here are 5 feminine traits that I believe that men and women could nurture to become better leaders:
Women are often told they are too kind/caring/nurturing to be leaders but the idea that not leading with empathy is at odds with reality. Would we, as a society, consider a parent to be doing their best if they were not bringing up their kids in an empathetic environment? How would the kids turn out? Would they develop to the best of the potential? Maybe, but my experience tells me that empathy is key for developing my own kids. So why would we encourage our leaders not to develop their empathy so they can develop themselves (by being kinder to themselves) and their employees?
All human beings crave validation, recognition and appreciation and we can only provide these things in an empathetic environment. Being an empathetic leader leads to more cooperation and collaboration in the workplace. It offers an opportunity for people to feel heard.
The research shows that women are more likely to lead by empowering others. They might use coaching and/or mentoring to develop their teams; using feedback and direction to help others unlock their potential and grow. Often women are less transactional and more strategic in their working relationships. They are more focused on being open and dare I say it, more vulnerable. In my opinion, an excellent strategy for building trust and rapport within the team.
Women tend to be more attuned to situations (thanks to their empathy) and so take in information from all sides and come up with a more persuasive solution. This can mean they are more passionate about the project, making them much more compelling and inspiring.
As a general rule, women are more resilient by nature. This may be because women tend to be the primary caregivers at home (bringing us back to encouraging traits at a young age) and so are better able to juggle stresses as they are constantly negotiating work-life balance.
Being humble is considered to be a feminine trait because as a general rule women hide their light. It is also considered to be an essential trait for great leaders. When we are humble we are able to admit our mistakes and learn from them. We are able to take into account the perspective of others and to be open to change. This is inspiring to others.
A word of caution though: whilst humility is a great leadership trait, it does require some balance. Women could learn the more masculine trait of shining their light a little brighter – particularly learning to speak up if you are proud of something you have done or if you have a good idea.
I think that being self-aware is as important as self-belief. Although it is women who primarily suffer from a lack of self-belief, they are often aware of this. This allows them to understand how they are seen by others and to understand where they are now, compared to where they want to be (and I can help support them with the ‘how to get there’). When you have the self-awareness to see your strengths and your gaps then you can prepare – this leads to an increase in competence and performance.
Closing the leadership skills gap
Whilst there is still a big gap in the number of women who hold high-level leadership roles, it is becoming more balanced. More women are taking positions of power and leadership on both the world and corporate stages. This is a good thing as these traits become more visible.
Just because these leadership traits tend to be more prevalent in female leaders doesn’t mean that they can’t be cultivated by leaders of any gender. By honing your skills as a leader and generally good human, you can easily attain leadership success. Focusing on soft skills like empathy, humility, resilience, self-awareness and empowering others can help increase both the financial success of a company and the happiness of employees – a win, win situation.