Women and Leadership | The End of Men as Leaders

Let’s Talk Opinion in conversation with SFoxWriting

“In summary, while I’m not saying that men are bad leader’s in fact there have been many successful and popular male leaders throughout history I believe that they lack certain skills in order to gain the upper hand in every situation. I because of this am of the opinion that women have a broader range of characteristics in order to get the best out of any situation and are the best leaders.” Women make better leaders than men

woman-leader

I object, your honour! I object.

Alright. You caught me. I’ll be playing the devil’s advocate here. Don’t take me wrong. I’m all for women taking on leadership roles. The more the better. So… Instead of arguing in favour or against our Mr Fox’s premise, I will unpick aspects of his argument that I thought might require additional consideration, such as forgetting to include Hermione Granger in his “Inspirational women” list for example. 😉

“In terms of work for example it is crucial that the Boss is a powerful figure,” says Steven. This I presume is meant to indicate that a boss is a figure of authority. Whether it is necessary for a leader to be a powerful figure I am less certain.

If we take power to denote a physical characteristic, it is sufficient to look back at the likes of Napoleon, whence we have the “short man syndrome.” Admittedly, he did lose more battles than he won, but the British had more to do with that than his height. Roosevelt got America through a war while in a wheelchair. Churchill had to fight mental illness as well as the Nazis, not to mention a serious addiction to Cubans and champagne. All in all, I’d say that neither a strong body nor a strong mind are essential for a leader to succeed. Will power, on the other hand, is crucial.

Good news for all aspiring women leaders out there I should think.

A last note on power. It is not the man or woman who occupies the metaphorical throne that needs to be powerful. The seat of power itself will endow them with all that they require in that respect. It is what they do with it that matters. Many are the bosses who have no clue what it takes to become a leader.

“It is however also important that they also have lots of other little skills which help to make the Boss be as understood and motivating as possible,” continues Steven, “one of the biggest tools women use better than men is communication.”

I have to say that I’ve never fully understood why good communication skills are considered to belong to one gender and not the other. I rather think that this is a stereotype that has little foundation in reality. There are women who are good communicators, but there are also men who are equally skilled in this respect. In my experience gender is seldom an indicator of whether the person before you will possess this particular gift or not.

The same goes for being good listeners. I’ve come across many a woman who is devoid of this ability and many a man similarly afflicted.

Steven made an interesting point in this respect: “if something needs to be done but it isn’t urgent and some thought needs to be taken beforehand the women will sit down with all parties involved and genuinely listen to everyone’s points before making up plans to deal with the subject at hand. However the man will jump into the problem and try and fix it sometimes with no exterior input.”

I beg to differ. First of all the example is too vague: “something needs to be done.” By the end of the paragraph we discover that it is not just something that needs to be done, but that something is a problem to be resolved rather than a task to be performed.

If a problem requires collaborative decision-making then a good leader, whether man or woman, will take appropriate measures to ensure that all parties have been given the chance to contribute to the process. Leaders seldom “jump into the problem and try and fix it”, whether men or women. Instead they delegate. Leaders are the ones with the vision. The minutia of problem solving usually falls to middle management and in the case of smaller issues to the workforce at large.

Nor do I think that men jump in to fix problems “due to men wanting more power and having the mentality to try and fix things.” While men may have been socially conditioned to get on with “fixing things”, I doubt that this is in any way related to wanting more power. Those who have power get others to fix things for them, surely. I don’t like the expression “why have a dog and bark yourself”, but I suspect it is the case here.

Next Steven claims that “women are discussion orientated and men are action orientated.” I’d say that this particular stereotype does a disservice to men and women in equal measure. It gives the false impression that women stand around chatting all day, while men jump left right and centre fixing things. Is that really the case?

Leaders thrive on communication. They have to communicate in order to delegate and getting their subalterns to put their ideas into practice is what leaders do. Communication is a form of action when it comes to jobs at the top, as is decision-making. If there are other types of “action” that ought to be included in this context, I have to admit, I’m unaware of them.

When it comes to “employees want their employer to listen to them and even take their ideas on board” and “customers want themselves to be heard”, I get the distinct impression that Steven and I were thinking of different types of leadership styles as well as different sizes of business. In the context of a small business, a leader or boss, to use Steven’s language of choice, may indeed be required to take on the mantle of HR and PR. Medium, large business and multinationals have entire teams dedicated to these tasks. The man or woman at the top has bigger fish to fry. Listening to their advisors, boards of directors, shareholders and those reporting directly to them is a must. Listening to every employee and n-number of customers, on the other hand, would be untenable, even if it may ultimately result in loyalty.

I also doubt that women are alone in trying to “build relationships in and out of work.” Similarly, I am certain that a woman leader would be just as quick in distinguishing between potential partners and rivals when it comes to “collaborations with say other companies”. They would assess the pitfalls and benefits of such collaboration and would take into account “if they are competitors or not.”

Nor do I agree that “This will in the long run most likely make only a small difference to the way the company is run or the success it has”. Why only a small difference? Having successful relationships with partners is invaluable. It’s the difference between making the number or going under. Such collaborative efforts, when part of the company’s overall strategy, are about growth and profit. Otherwise, why bother? No self-respecting leader would put in all that effort on the off-chance that they’ll need allies when “everything goes wrong.” Leaders work towards success. They are not in the habit of planning for the eventuality of failure.

“While men view competition as exactly that “someone else to take part of my pie” and this just leads to conflict, while the women invite each other round to share equal amounts of pie and get better ties with other businesses because of it.” Well I never. Women invite each other round to share equal amounts of pie? Not if they are business women they don’t, and certainly not if the pie is an euphemism for their share of power.

Sorry, but this pie simile ought to have stayed in the bakery. Women view competition exactly as men do. They are usually berated for it, but make no mistake about it: women are just as competitive as men are. They won’t go sharing any pie.

I’m also uncertain about where the point ‘the amount of time it takes a woman to get ready’ fits into a discussion about leadership. It can take a woman five minutes to get ready if she has a deadline. If not, she may indulge. Still. This has no relevance when it comes to her business acumen or her ability to lead. Feel free to extrapolate.

“Women also prefer leading from the middle of the pack rather than the top like men,” says Steven.

Not so. For a very long time, due to socio-political and economic reasons into which I will not go here, women have been confined to the middle of the pack. It wasn’t a choice. It was the state of affairs.

Similarly, successful men and women are all aware that “in order to achieve greatness everyone must chip in rather than just barking out orders”. Those who’ve missed that particular memo, don’t make it to the top.

That’s that. I’ve done my best to do my worst. The devil is done. Medium-rare I should think. Despite the combative tone of the above, I assure you that Steven and I are in agreement on many a point, but I enjoy a good parry and, since he agreed to be a good sport about it, I wanted to measure up to the challenge.

I admire the tenacity with which Steven approached Don Charisma’s challenge on this subject. Kudos to a writer who delved fearlessly into new territory. To find out who made it to his list of inspirational women as well as for additional points on why women make better leaders than men, please read Women make better leaders than men.

My last thoughts for you come courtesy of Joan Kofodimos’s review of Hanna Rosin’s book The End of Men.

The End of Men… as Leaders? is nigh it would appear, since men’s old ways no longer fit into a fast-changing world where adapting to new circumstances holds the key to success. I rather think that Steven attempted to make many of these points in his article, albeit in a different format.

Here is a breakdown of the men’s Old Way versus women’s New Way argument:

The Old Way

  • accepting the legitimacy of external authority
  • deferring to others with authority over you
  • using your authority to get compliance from those below you
  • wanting to please others that you view as powerful – being “respectful”
  • avoiding conflict and communicating indirectly or “off-line” about difficult issues
  • not upsetting the apple cart because of the fear of damaging relationships
  • creating a rational “persona,” not voicing your personal viewpoint for fear of being seen as selfish

The New Way

  • recognizing that the most important influence is lateral
  • seeking commitment rather than compliance – even when you have authority
  • treating everybody the same – “respect” does not vary with position
  • surfacing conflict openly with all relevant stakeholders
  • being able to challenge in a way that deepens, not threatens, the relationship
  • building win-win solutions that address the interests of all stakeholders

So… Are you persuaded? Do women make better leaders than men?

*

Let’sTalk Opinion posts engage with issues that are important to other bloggers, connecting with others on matters close to their heart. If you like a topic and would like to contribute, please feel free to add to the comment box, reblog, share, email or message me on Twitter @shardsofsilence.

Or if you happen to be a fellow Hogwartsian send me a letter by owl. ;)

Advertisements

27 thoughts on “Women and Leadership | The End of Men as Leaders

  1. Thank you for critiquing and clearing up these discrepancies. Leadership skills can be developed as time progresses throughout your life, but I truly believe it is an innate talent individuals are born with in their DNA. Whether you are a man or woman it won’t make a difference if you weren’t born to lead.

    • That’s a very interesting angle, thank you. I think here we enter the nature versus nurture debate. I’m rather of the nurture camp. Born talent will wither and die if not nurtured, while a lack of predisposition can be taught out in someone who is determined to succeed. One can always make a strength of their weakness. Thinking of Churchill again, and his lisp – yet he became one of the world’s greatest public speakers despite it. Great comment and thought-provoking too. Thank you.

      • I agree with you. I too lean more towards the nurture camp because externals play a huge factor in development. It’s interesting that you bring up the Churchill scenario – there are many people who suffer from minor to major speech impediments and turn out to be great leaders who many listen to. Throughout history if you look back at many different genres of music, there are many music artists who went through similar struggles, and recorded great hits despite their shortcomings.

  2. I like your analysis very much and I think it’s on target. I’m amused by the “old way.” It reminds me of watching a new, but submissive, dog entering a multiple dog household. It reads like instructions for the new dog to avoid bloodshed (her own).

    • Thank you, Lee-Anne. In Mr Fox’s defence, it was not a subject of his own choosing (he was guest blogging on Don Charisma’s blog) and it must have been difficult to come up with an article on a subject he had never considered before. Nonetheless, you know me: I take no prisoners when it comes to opinion 😉

  3. Hi Vic. I burnt the dinner reading this. After a quick scan? Us and them thinking is a default we humans revert to quite readily. Male/female – old/young – born here vs not….
    In my experience there are varying degrees of leadership styles, good communicators, delegators, nurturers, listeners, relationship builders, power seekers, competitive etc etc amongst males and females. The longer I’m around, the less I see patterns between make and female leaders. I have seen a LOT of leaders in my job.
    A good leader for me has excellent subject knowledge, risk analysis skills, moral courage and most of all, emotional intelligence. I certainly don’t see females necessarily winning that prize, although I understand how people assume so. I’m not so sure any more. There’s a lot of dogma out there about men vs women. There are differences but are there so many?
    Cheers Susan

    • Oh no! Sorry about your dinner, Susan. Hope the read was worth it. I absolutely agree with your point about the “us and them” thinking. It is true. Too often the barricade is raised up even before all parties are present, and usually to no one’s benefit.
      I loved the qualities you enumerated to describe what makes a good leader. Thank you for adding those. In particular I was pleased by your mention of “emotional intelligence” – undervalued, yet essential for anyone who has a team to manage.
      Thank you for yet another great comment, Susan. Greatly appreciated.

      • I’m no expert on the topic and waded in with trepidation. 🙂 My daughter wrote an essay on why educated classes (leaders) play such a large role in genocides. The research mentioned a lot of ‘us and them thinking’ that humans default to. Am reading an interview with Susan Sontag on Brain Pickings about it. Intend to write a post, even snuck it into my sequel. Thanks for your response, Vic. Have a great evening. 🙂

  4. HAHA 🙂 im glad you wrote this an i can see many point which i actually agree with. As im sure you are aware i was given a topic by Don and i had to run with it whether i agreed or not. Evidently my own belief goes way beyond what i was allowed to put in my original article. Ive never actually had someone actively pick apart one of my articles before and while i may have found it ( at the start) a little aggressive towards my writing i then realised that you didnt mean myself any harm at all. I value your opinion very highly and i would like to ( if you would be interested) offer you the chance to guest blog on http://www.sfoxwriting.com .

    Also for those who was offended by my original article i apoligize profoundly and i hope that you do not view myself or my blog just on that one post.

    All in all a great read and worth remembering 🙂

    steven

    • Oh, thank you, Steven. Let me know what you are working on at the moment and in what way you think I may be able to contribute. It would be a pleasure. I understand from the intro to your post that you have been writing a lot about depression and mental illness, but of course if you have a specific idea in mind I’m happy to discuss it further. Drop me a line at viki.briggs@gmail.com and we’ll take it from there.
      I’m glad you liked the post. I was sure you would take it in the spirit in which it was intended: all in the interest of the debate.
      I know that my style can be somewhat combative when it comes to Let’s Talk Opinion posts, but like you, my intention is never to offend and always to exchange ideas and challenge both myself and the interlocutor to consider an idea from another perspective.
      Hope I’ve achieved this here. Look forward to future collaborations.
      Warm regards,
      Vic

  5. Really good post! I think you approach the issue in the right way. A good leader is not made by gender but by personal qualities that can be owned both by men and women.
    Even if parity is flaunted to the four winds, we are far from actually consider women equal to men, especially when it gets to power. Women have to struggle double to get to leadership and maybe that’s why the ones that reach this goal seems better leaders then men: they are super motivated.

    • Great point, Irene: women do have to work twice as hard to get to the top – and not only when it comes to business. Things are changing, even if the pace is sluggish. Who knows, we might get there in our lifetime (forever the optimist 😉 ). Thank you.

  6. Great argument, with both sides well represented. I’d like to believe that this was not a gender issue (best person for the job, and all that), but sadly I fear that it is a debate that will rage for a long time yet. I would take issue with one point, however: ‘ Leaders are the ones with the vision.’ Hmm. Leaders certainly possess the skills to initiate and see things through, but ‘vision’? I suspect that a lot of this ‘vision’ actually originates with others,ie. those who do not possess the skills of ‘leadership’, but becomes so assimilated into the psyche of the ‘leaders’ that it eventually appears to stem from their own ‘creative thinking’. I’m not criticising Leadership as a concept, but look back in history at things that have been invented by one person only for someone else who is rather more sassy to take the credit and plaudits.
    Great post, Vic.

    • Thank you for your comment, Chris. I agree. The vision is not always originally that of the leader, but it takes talent to identify the “right” vision and put it to good use. And I think you’re right about the debate. It will be going on for quite a while still.

  7. SFFox sounds like a feminazi. Haha.

    I do like to make fun of “Little Man Syndrome” also, haha.

    “The seat of power itself will endow them with all that they require in that respect.”

    I disagree. The performance of subordinates is generally better if the respect is genuine and the boss is personally liked.

    While minimum expectations may be met (as people want to keep jobs), people will work harder and be happier working for someone they like.

    I worked for the same company my Dad did while in my early 20’s. I actually worked for my Dad under the table from 15-18.

    His secretary trained me to run the front office, and I was secretary during summers when she went on vacation. During summers I also worked full time.

    It’s why I absolutely know what my Claims Assistants job is, and I can train them very fast and thoroughly..

    Anyway, I digress.

    Although my dad had a smaller office relative to LA or the other larger population centers in the Western Region, his office consistently outperformed other offices across all metrics.

    He was well liked by competitors, other companies he marketed for work, and his own employees. And it showed in his office performance.

    His gross and net numbers were similar, and as a percent far greater than offices many times his size.

    Just be nice. It’s also what my tweep @TedRubin says, and I agree.

    I

    • It was a very hot summer’s day, although the breeze always belies the actual temperature. We took a 16 mile trek along the coast (Exmore National Park) that day and this picture was taken as dusk approached. Ah! now I miss the place. Want to go back…

      • LoL.

        I was with my daughter for dinner yesterday and she had the same response to a question about running.

        She ran 4 miles on her 3rd run, and my ex asked if she wanted to run a 5k. And she thought it was scary until she figured out it’s shorter. LoL.

        Silly metric system. 😉

      • Haha! It’s tougher for you guys because you use both. We stick to miles in the UK – no matter how much Europe tries to push forward the ks 😉

      • Jolly good show.

        We run into difficulties on imports n stuff. And sports event. haha. 100 yard dash is how many meters? LoL.

  8. Pingback: Unusual sources of inspiration | vic briggs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s