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 Does your gender impact your leadership approach?
 
 Laura's Book Received a Finalist Award!
 
 
 
Are you a Holistic Leader?
 
June, 2008
Are men more effective leaders than women?
   
     With Father's Day less than a week away, it reminds me of a question I get frequently.  "Can men relate to 'The Connected and Committed Leader' insights, or are they strictly for women?" 
     While I do work with a lot of women, my insights are not exclusively designed for women.  However, I find that the more I work with men, the more my research shows they rate lower on the insights on which women rate high, and vice versa.
      So, it does beg some questions:  Are men more effective leaders than women?  Does gender play a role in being an effective leader?

      The timeless debate of the sexes never seems to end.  There are many stereotypes that ensue: women have better verbal skills, men are better at math, men are physically stronger, but women have better endurance.  Some say men are more single-minded and focused, while women are natural multi-taskers.  The list goes on and on.
     Research has found that some of these beliefs are actually scientifically based.  When studying male and female brains, researchers discovered that women have more cross-brain activity and have more highly developed verbal areas.  Because a man's brain is less integrated, they tend to be focused on one thing at a time.  So, you can start to see how some of these stereotypes might have a grain of truth to them.
     But how do these differences translate into the workplace?  We often want to believe that these differences make one gender a more effective leader vs. the other.  The reality is that both men and women have traits of effective leaders.  Yes, men and woman both possess the characteristics for effective leadership, but both can benefit from each other for a more holistic approach to leadership.
     In truth, the male-centered approach to leadership, which has been the primary approach for many decades, will be less and less effective going forward.  We are at a point in time where the blending of both styles of leadership is required for the 21st century.
    What worked in the past, is showing signs of failure in today's world.  Our economy is straining and global competition is fierce.  People who have jobs will be asked to do more and more.  The nation's unemployment rate has jumped to 5.5 percent in May - the biggest monthly rise since 1986.  This economic reality, coupled with a more diverse workforce such as four generations in the workplace, a growing cultural makeup (Hispanic, African-American and Asian) and different lifestyle needs (changing families, size and composition) demand some of the more feminine leadership attributes to complement the male-centered approach.
     However, as we attempt to blend and learn from each other, there is such a thing as gender bias.  I believe that not only do men and women lead differently, people expect them to. In fact, when you don't lead with an understanding of gender bias, you can lose some credibility and effectiveness. 
     The gender differences demonstrated in leadership can be summed up by these two terms I use to generally describe men and women leaders.  Generally, men are hunting leaders and women are tribal leaders.
Hunting Leaders    
     The term hunting leaders is centered around the idea of competition and the act of "separating" friend and foe.  Men generally are "one-up-men" who believe there is always a ranking and importance of roles.  Think about animals in the wild and how there is a natural order of predator/prey.  Men are often quick to size up others and put them into categories.  At the most basic level it is either: "You are on my team" or "You are not on my team" (i.e. my enemy).   
     The implication of this is that men understand hierarchy because it is a male-derived system and is the reflection of their competitive mind set.  It is for this reason that men often have better horizontal and upward leadership skills, versus tending to the team below.  Tending to the team below is likened to the family/tribe, and this would be where women excel.  Men fundamentally know the importance of "leading up" and using effective management techniques that support and work well within the hierarchy.  
     The downside for men is that they are often criticized by the team as not having their best interest at heart.  They can be blamed as playing the political game and only caring about themselves and the interests of superiors.  They can be perceived as lacking in the collaboration and connectedness that most teams need, and more diverse teams require.  Their actions can often be counter-productive to motivating and inspiring followers.
     The double-edged sword is that when men try to collaborate and emotionally connect, they can seem to be doing "women's work" and can be criticized as "wimps" or simply not strong enough to lead.  
    So what's a guy to do when he wants to connect emotionally?  Even when it is about building bridges, or inspiring and collaborating, he needs to frame it as a way to "beat the competition." 
     Male leaders need to find their external nemesis, even if they don't have one.  They need to position everything as a way to "one-up the enemy."  For example, as they work to have better relationships and better teamwork, it must be in context of winning in the marketplace.  Using competitive language about winning and losing is critical even when it is about collaborating and striving for inclusiveness. 
 Tribal Leaders
     It used to infuriate me when I heard the word "bitch" being used to refer to a tough business woman and leader.  OK, I admit it, I have been referred to in that manner ... maybe once or twice in my career.
     If men showed the exact same behavior, they wouldn't be showered with the same kind of criticism.  So how do women get around it?  Business requires a certain kind of "toughness," but do you have to be a bitch to get it?  
     Effective toughness for women looks different than toughness for men.  Why?
     Women - traditionally the caretakers - take great pride in their tribe.  They are more focused on the team as family and tend to draw a circle around that group, while designating "outsiders" as dangerous.
     The quandary women find themselves in is that they over emphasize the team bonding below them and are perceived as non-team players horizontally or with their superiors.  The reason they appear as non-team players to those outside the team is because they have a protective mind set for their tribe.  These women's actions can be perceived as developing silos in companies. 
     Women don't naturally know how to function in a hierarchy because it is not a female derived system, so it is important for women to extend their concept of team to encompass colleagues and superiors, so they can be effectively leading at those levels..
     But the double-edged sword for women is when they have to make the tough decisions which on the surface can go against the tribe.  When they are perceived to not have the tribe in mind, they are often called the "B" word. 
     It is for this reason that women can get crucified for being perceived as selfish in business, so it is often a struggle for women to understand the difference between behaviors that support self-interest (tribal supporting) versus selfishness, both at work as in life.
         Women can be tough leaders, but you have to put it in the context of the team. Trade-offs and tough decisions need to be positioned to "be good for the team" with supporting rationale.  Women don't get away with the "it's just business" excuse.  This posture supports the perception that you are a cold, heartless bitch.
     The other side to this is that because women are also measured by our more male driven definition of leadership, they too can be classified as "wimps" when too much empathetic collaboration and connectivity are demonstrated without the balance of the toughness skills.  A bit of "you're damned if you do and damned if you don't."
     This has been evident in our recent political debates.  Whether you supported Hillary Clinton or not, you can see how on one side she was criticized as being too "manly," i.e.: The B-word.  Where is her compassion and regard for the tribe? Or she is too "wimpy," i.e.: What's all this crying about? Isn't she tough enough to lead?
     My seven insights for effective leadership are a blend of both male and female attributes.  My research with professional men and women has shown that our natural strengths compliment each other.  Click here to see how these differences vary by the seven insights: 
      As a general rule, we can see that men and women leaders' strengths and challenges can be complimentary, like the yin and yang.  We have strengths and challenges in different areas and this is why the most powerful teams and businesses take advantage of having both skill sets.  
     Organizations need to take the best of both genders and help the two groups cross-train and learn from each other.      
     The future leader will be a holistic leader, capable of embodying both feminine and masculine strengths in leadership without abandoning their unique edge and advantage.  We can learn to develop our challenge areas by observing the opposite gender, but we should also find our authentic way of expressing it.  Simply emulating characteristics of the opposite gender will look and feel fake and won't yield the results we are looking for.  
     In the end, both men and women can be more effective leaders when you take both gender's strengths into account and strive to apply a more holistic leadership approach. 
 
  
     Laura Lopez is a leadership specialist and branding expert with more than 20 years of corporate leadership experience.  Most recently, Laura Lopez was a vice president with The Coca-Cola Company.  Laura's book, The Connected and Committed Leader, is available via her Web site at www.laura-lopez.com, your local bookstore or on www.Amazon.com.  As the owner of her own business, Laura helps companies and business associations achieve more sustainable business results through the power of effective leadership and branding.  She is available for speeches, workshops and customized programs.  Laura can be contacted via her Web site at:
http://www.laura-lopez.com. 
         


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All the best,
 
Laura Lopez
 
Laura Lopez & Company
www.Laura-Lopez.com
(713) 864-4633
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