Successful leaders share a lot of common traits. They’re typically intelligent, ambitious, persistent, and organized, to name just a few. And while men and women can both have these attributes, when it comes to being effective leaders, there are many ways the two genders differ. It may sound controversial, but there are major differences between male and female leaders. And surprisingly, those differences are great for business.
Two leadership styles: Transactional vs. transformational
Emotional, social, and even physiological factors contribute to stark differences between how men and women lead. And this is evidenced in how men and women make decisions, react to stress, and handle risk. Researchers have found that one of the key areas that these differences reveal themselves is in how they run their teams.
Women aim to be transformational
Just like male leaders, women at the top are keen to accomplish goals. However, as transformational leaders, their focus tends to emphasize how those goals are achieved. In other words, they’re interested in transforming team members during the work process to even greater levels of motivation, inspiration, and individual development.
Rather than sitting at their desks all day, female leaders are more likely to be personally engaged. They will interact with employees to offer encouragement, support, and coaching as needed. Communication and teamwork are highlighted as keys to success. They also try to be an inspiration for employees, acting as a good role model.
Men tend to be transactional
To achieve goals, male leaders tend to view job performance as a series of transactions that should be rewarded or disciplined. They are unlikely to offer explanations for their orders; they simply expect employees to carry out their duties. Engaging with team members on a personal level is rare. Typically, male leaders will set themselves apart from staff, issuing orders and receiving progress updates.
Men tend to establish themselves as the dominant figure at the top, appealing to employees’ self-interests. Employees are rewarded for meeting objectives and are expected to take responsibility when they’ve failed. Teams are left to do their work, with the male leader only stepping if a problem becomes too severe for anyone else to handle it.
Both genders bring distinct assets to leadership
In order to help women compete and win in a male-dominated workplace, in the mid-1990s Dr. Pat Heim extensively researched how men and women’s management styles differed. Specifically, she related them to the messages men and women receive as children during their critical developmental years, as well as other factors that influence them as they grow into adulthood. She published her findings in Hardball for Women. Updated in 2015, her research is still relevant today. Here are a few key points.
How work gets done
According to Heim’s research, from an early age boys participate in team sports while girls engage in “process play” like playing house or school. This sets up each gender to follow distinct patterns in the adult workplace. As with team sports, men like competition amongst departments and divisions with a clear leader in charge of team plays. In contrast, women are more comfortable engaging in activities where there are no winners or losers. They value sharing ideas, collaborating on goals, and jumping in to help when someone needs it.
Who gets credit for success
In general, men take personal credit for success, while women tend to give credit away. Men have a natural inclination to claim success is the result of their own intelligence, talent, and skill. If a project fails, they will oftentimes blame something outside of their control like bad luck or timing. In contrast, when women achieve success they frequently give credit to their team members or simply chalk it up to good luck. However, if a project fails, they tend to blame themselves, believing they’re not smart enough or didn’t work hard enough.
How problems are solved
This aligns with transactional and transformational leadership styles. Typically, when faced with a challenge, men in a leadership position will sort through their own ideas about what needs to be done. As a person who’s in charge, they see themselves as responsible for having all the answers. In contrast, women will seek advice from others and weigh their input before offering a solution. Their overall approach to authority means they are not threatened if they involve other people in the problem-solving process.
Who’s in charge
Just as in team sports where a coach is in charge, men tend to value following a leader who gives direct orders and doesn’t accept disagreement. They value a hierarchical structure because it provides clarity when it comes to delegation of tasks and responsibilities. In contrast, women value an environment when everyone can be seen to be treated fairly. As a result, they value a more level playing field. They tend to aim at creating a collegial atmosphere where everyone can have a place at the table.
Becoming a well-rounded leader
When comparing the unique qualities of male and female leadership styles, it’s clear that they both that add value to the workplace. Having extensive knowledge about how to effectively accomplish goals means being willing to step outside of gender roles occasionally to get the job done. Whether you’re a man or a women, if you want to be a more transactional or transformational leader here’s some advice:
To be more transactional, give your employees clear instructions about how to meet your expectations. Put tasks into a strategic framework so that employees know the importance of their work within the team. From time to time, introduce a little friendly competition to make the workplace more exciting.
To be more transformational, spend some time getting to know your employees. Use what you learn to inspire and motivate them meet their personal and professional goals. Be open to feedback when assigning tasks and don’t be afraid to invite input when aiming to solve challenges.
What’s most important: Versatility at the top
In the modern workplace, successful leaders are defined by whether they can effect significant positive change. While women and men lead distinctly differently, each bring equally valuable assets to an organization’s leadership. Ultimately, studies show that gender diversity at the top brings faster more sustained growth to organizations over time.
In other words, not only do organizations benefit when they hire more women for top leadership roles, they benefit when those women are given the freedom to be themselves. By inviting women into senior leadership conversations, organizations invite the possibility of solving problems in new ways and open new doors for employee satisfaction and engagement. To be successful leaders, women shouldn’t need to compromise their natural impulses and behave like men.