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The Debate: Do Men and Women Have Different Leadership Styles?

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The Debate: Do men and women have different leadership styles?


By Susan Vinnicombe, Director of the Centre for Developing Women Business Leaders

Women do have different leadership styles from men. As Bodyshop founder Anita Roddick says: 'I run my company according to feminine principles - principles of caring, making intuitive decisions, not getting hung up on hierarchy, having a sense of work as being part of your life, not separate from it; putting your labour where your love is, being responsible to the world in how you use your profits; recognising the bottom line should stay at the bottom'.

The problem with actually mapping these differences is that the successful male managerial stereotype is so strongly embedded in organisational life that female managers are pressured to conform to it, thereby confusing research results.

Interest in the impact of gender on leadership is relatively new. The first studies were conducted in the US in the early 1970s when male managers at nine insurance companies were asked to characterise 'women in general', 'men in general' and 'successful managers'. Successful managers were overwhelmingly identified exclusively with male traits. Many similar studies have been carried out since that time and all have demonstrated that the successful managerial stereotype remains male.

Women managers' perceptions of the successful manager are only slightly less conclusive. Unlike the women managers in the 1970s and 1980s not all female managers today sextype the successful manager as male; however, no one, male or female, ever identifies the successful manager as feminine. Male, and only to a slightly lesser extent, female, managers continue to describe successful managers as possessing masculine traits, such as self-confidence, competitiveness, decisiveness, aggressiveness and independence.

Positive differences

Many managers, both male and female, agree that sex differences in management style do exist. Interestingly both describe women's differences in positive terms. Yet when researchers ask managers to describe their own management styles they usually find no significant differences between genders. Does this mean no difference exists? No. What these findings reveal is the extent to which individuals characterise themselves in terms of dominant managerial values, in this case masculine behaviour. At the same time managers describe themselves in terms that fit with the prevailing rhetoric of good management practice, now strongly associated with a consultative style and a high level of interpersonal skills.

Our research shows that many female managers are uncomfortable with the imposed leadership style and this, in turn, can lead to severe stress. Most senior female managers have no children, believing that the combination of a career and a family is untenable. This is in stark contrast to the majority of senior male managers who have children and a wife at home to support them. Today's culture of long working hours is exacerbating the problem. Many senior women managers are simply voting with their feet, as Brenda Barnes, president and CEO of Pepsi Cola North America, did to spend more time with her children. This is not an isolated example. A few years ago the management of Deloitte & Touche in the US realised that 90% of the women had gone by partnership time.

Style matters

Time after time in management development programmes at Cranfield, women managers demonstrate their different working styles. Using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator male managers consistently come out predominantly as Traditionalists (a mix of 'sensing' and 'judgmental'). In contrast, female managers emerge as significantly more 'intuitive', combined with either 'thinking' as visionaries or 'feeling' as catalysts. The natural strength of the visionary is being strategic, while that of the catalyst is fostering higher productivity by personally motivating people. The problem with letting males dominate organisations, as we do, is that leadership style is narrowly defined.

Whilst women constitute 41% of the European workforce, they occupy only 10% of mangement positions and represent a mere 1% of executive board members. Yet a recent survey on the most admired boards of Britain's top 100 companies showed that they have larger boards, more women, more executive directors, their directors have more international experience and are better educated. This is a powerful business argument for greater diversity in leadership.


by Andrew Kakabadse, Professor of International Management Development

There is a myth about gender and leadership capabilities. This holds that women are better team players than men; more open and mature in the way they handle sensitive issues; and more conscious of their impact on others and hence better people managers than men.

But the myth is false. An international survey by Cranfield comparing top male and female managers in the private and public sector clearly showed that



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