Are Women Better Leaders Than Men?By Mitch McCrimmon
| An increasingly heard claim is that women are better leaders than men. What this really means is that leaders with stereotypical feminine traits might be better than those with classic masculine traits, whether men or women. The foundation for this claim is that women are more collaborative while men are more competitive. There is no doubt that collaboration is vital for success in business today. In addition, work is much more complex. We are now in an era of knowledge work where people want to have their say, not just be told what to do. Organizations have many more vocal stakeholders telling them how to behave - government, environmental lobbyists, shareholders, customers, employee groups, etc. This calls for leaders with better relationship building skills. The ability to collaborate and foster joint ownership is now at a premium. Then there is the greater need to nurture talent, with the emphasis on ''nurture''. It is not that men can't do these things, but that such skills are more feminine than masculine. Of course, there are collaborative men and competitive women in leadership roles, but this is why the discussion needs to be framed around masculine and feminine traits. That is, some women have masculine traits and vice versa. In any case, it is clear that the cultures of many organizations are becoming more feminine. All the talk over the past 20 years about cultivating better team work and showing more consideration for employees shows how feminine organizational cultures are becoming and rightly so. But there is an important point that this debate is overlooking. Everything I have read about how and why women might be better leaders than men focuses exclusively on what happens within organizations. But what about the competitive environment that private sector businesses operate in? To beat competitors, leaders need to foster a strong competitive streak throughout the business and they need to have an unquenchable thirst to win themselves. CEO's need to keep a constant eye on their competitors and be searching continuously for new ways of outflanking them. The public sector is also under pressure to offer better value for money, but they do not have competitors, at least not to the same extent as the private sector. Compare how you would have to behave as a leader if you were taking a group of boy scouts on a field trip versus coaching a high school sports team. In the latter case you need to foster a very strong competitive streak in all your players. What this means is that we cannot dispense with the masculine competitive drive if we expect to survive in any modern business arena. The inference then is that we need to strike the right balance between feminine collaborativeness and masculine competitiveness. Here is one suggestion that might help achieve such a balance: Male (or female) leaders with a masculine bent need to learn how to channel their competitive urges externally and learn how to be more collaborative internally. This means moving from being an individual goal scorer to being a coach, hence winning through others rather than on your own merit. By ''goal scorer'' versus coach I mean the drive to offer your own solutions to issues rather than to ask the sorts of questions that would draw solutions out of others. The masculine tendency is to identify with the role of solution-generator, someone who uses analytical, rational skills to develop better answers to tough questions than anyone else and to be self-reliant in doing so - a very masculine focus. So, the drive to win is essential, it just needs to be externally focused. The bottom line is that this issue is more about organizational culture than it is about the relative numbers of men and women in senior executive roles. With cultures that are excessively masculine, the drive to win can be self-defeating. In sports, it is not a problem. But business today calls for a much more...
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