Guest Post by Mary Key, Ph.D.
The time has come to promote women in leadership (and more traditionally feminine traits in all leaders).
Studies conducted by Gerzema and D’Antonio, authors of the 2013 book The Athena Doctrine, reveal that “traditionally feminine values and traits are gaining in value and respect” around the world. 57% of those studied were dissatisfied with the conduct of male leaders in their country, including 79% of people in Japan and South Korea and over two thirds of Americans, Mexicans and UK residents. Among millennials, more than 80% express dissatisfaction. Respondents believe “traditionally masculine thinking and behavior: codes of control, competition, aggression, and all or nothing thinking” are to blame for many current problems.”
Women make better leaders because their strengths are transformational. A transformational leader identifies needed change, creates a vision that guides others, and engages people in being part of something that is bigger than each individual contributor. In the process of working together, all involved achieve new levels of accomplishment that they could not without the other. They grow together as they work toward a common mission and effect positive change. In a crisis, transformational leaders show courage. They model a collaborative spirit exemplifying that “we are all in this together.” They seek out new ways to address looming threats and find solutions. They build trust.
Women make better leaders, especially in a crisis, because they possess the strengths and are poised to be transformational leaders now and in the future. This is playing out among world leaders right now during the pandemic. In his June 13, 2020 article in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof cites some eye-opening statistics. Among them he lists that out of 21 countries, 13 led by men and 8 by women, the male-led countries suffered an average of 214 coronavirus-related deaths per million compared to only 36 deaths per million or about 1/5 as many in the women-led countries.
For example, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand has led her country to become a model of recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic. Known for her empathy and collaborative style, Ardern has regularly appeared on live chats connecting with families in strict isolation and assuring children that all will be ok. She uses her outstanding communication skills together with a facts-based approach to eradicate the virus. Arden has built trust among the people in New Zealand. She has established a unified vision and is skillfully guiding New Zealanders to becoming a healthy and safe country in contrast to many others including the United States.
The view that women make better leaders finds support in the field of neuroscience. Meta-analysis of studies involving thousands of leaders suggests that women are more transformational in style than men. While many factors contribute to leadership performance—personality traits, values, motivations, training and experience, for example—scientific evidence confirms that men and women do tend to think differently.
Women gather and integrate details more quickly, consider more options in solving problems, and tend to take a more contextual perspective when considering an issue. In her WebMD article, “Are Male and Female Brains Different?” Lisa Collier Cool, discusses how female brains tend to think in webs more than lines like male brains. This means that rather than thinking through a problem in a more predictable logical sequence, you’re likely to be reminded of many different associated concepts, some of which may prompt creative new ideas.
Orthopedic surgeon Taryn Rose is a good example. She saw an opportunity to use her medical expertise to design attractive and comfortable shoes for women. Her business, Taryn Rose Shoes, became successful financially and in inspiring other women to innovate based on their experiences. She also helped to keep many pairs of feet healthy.
Every individual is different, but overall, the research is clear—women bring certain strengths to leading that help us develop as transformational leaders. In today’s world, executives in some workplaces and industries still look askance at leadership approaches they perceive as touchy-feely, weak or just plain feminine. But times are changing. Women are showing up as strong in a crisis. We now have the chance to build on our strengths so that we can create positive transformation at work, at home and beyond.
Note from Jesse: I am delighted to host this guest post by Mary Key. Her newest book Seizing Success: A Woman’s Guide to Transformation Leadership is a must-read for any woman who wants to access their unique power and make a difference in the world on their own terms. In her inspiring and practical book, Dr. Key helps us examine our self-limiting beliefs about ourselves and the world, offers specific suggestions for things you can do and provides tools for implementation.
Mary Key, Ph.D. is the founder of the Key Women’s Leadership Forum (KWLF). The purpose of the KWLF Forum is to bring together women in leadership roles and focus on pressing issues, opportunities, leveraging influence and aligning careers with what is purposeful for you. The KWLF is offered virtually and is now accepting applications: https://keyassociatesinc.com/contact-us/.
Key is the author of several books including her most recent, Seizing Success: A Women’s Guide to Transformational Leadership. In it she outlines strategies and tools for women to build their leadership capabilities while aligning with their authentic self.
With over 25 years of experience in helping leaders and organizations grow, Key heads Key Associates which specializes in peer forums, executive coaching and leadership development programs. She is a leadership development expert, an executive coach and trusted advisor to organizations of all sizes.
There is no doubt that a high number of women leaders have excelled in the global pandemic, but we have to be careful of also falling into gender stereotype traps. Women don’t always necessarily make better leaders. We all know terrible women leaders and excellent male leaders. Theresa May is a good example of a woman leader who definitely did not follow this inclusive collaborative pattern.
What we have seen is that certain traits and values traditionally and stereotypically associated with a female leadership style have worked well in the crisis. There is no reason why those characteristics can’t be employed by men and women equally and they have been.
Currently our organisations reward and promote qualities traditionally perceived to be male. If we made our organisations more inclusive and gender balanced, more women would succeed. Ironically if women exhibited the same behaviours they experience push back.
Dorothy, I appreciate your comments and agree that both men and women make good leaders and also can be deficient. Making our organizations more inclusive and gender balanced is critical. The number of women in leadership roles still lags to a great degree. Also, it’s more about reinforcing some of the feminine traits outlined like collaboration and empathy that are important for all sexes to be inspiring leaders. The goal is offering more women the opportunity to sit at the table, not to be critical of men.
I completely agree! I don’t think we can make broad statements of people and their potential based on certain traits.
I found your blog post to be insightful and encouraging as a woman in leadership. Your posts discusses how Women make better leaders, especially in crisis. The reason I found your post to be encouraging, is that many people feel that women are inept to lead as we are labeled as being “overtly emotional,” especially in times of crisis. I did not take your article to mean that Women are superior leaders to men, but took it to mean that women have the same capacity to lead as men, although we are wired different. I agree with the statement that it is time to promote women in leadership, as many women have unfortunately hit the glass ceiling despite the knowledge, skill and capacity to lead. Thank you for your insight.
Totally agree with you Brittney. Appreciate your taking the time to share your views!