Helen E. Fisher, Ph.D., has written extensively on gender differences in the brain and behavior; the evolution of human sexuality; and the future of men, women, business, sex, and family life in the twenty-ﬁrst century. The New York Times Book Review selected her book, The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World, as a Notable Book of 1999. She currently serves as research professor at the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies in the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University. Helen has also served as an anthropological commentator, consultant and lecturer for businesses and the media, including NBC’s Today Show, the BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Reader’s Digest, Time-Life Books, the Smithsonian Institution, Bank of America, Salomon Smith Barney, and Fortune. In this chapter, Helen explores how women’s “web thinking,” intuition, mental ﬂexibility, long-term planning, creativity, imagination and verbal and social skills—as well as their different views of power—create undeniable win-win strategies in business. photo credit: Helen E. Fisher by Richard J. Berenson
THE NATURAL LEADERSHIP TALENTS OF WOMEN
Helen E. Fisher
“If ever the world sees a time when women shall come together purely and simply for the beneﬁt and good of mankind, it will be a power such as the world has never known.”1 Nineteenth-century poet Matthew Arnold believed that women can change the world. He was prophetic. At this critical time in history, many are seeking alternatives to the traditional command-and-control models of leadership. This chapter describes some of the biological underpinnings of women’s natural leadership talents. Myriad diverse factors contribute to leadership performance in both women and men, including an individual’s personality traits, thinking and feeling styles, values, motivations, childhood experiences, and cultural milieu. Nevertheless, a great deal of scientiﬁc evidence has now demonstrated that in some respects the sexes are, on average, not alike. No wonder. For millions of years, men and women did different jobs, tasks that required different skills. As natural selection weeded out less able workers, time carved differences in the male and female brain. No two human beings are alike. Countless cultural forces inﬂuence how men and women think and act. And each one of us is an elaborate mix of both male and female traits. Yet, on average, each sex has its own range of abilities; each is a living archive of its distinctive past. In my research, I have identiﬁed some talents that women express more regularly than men; aptitudes that stem, in part, from women’s brain architecture and hormones, skills that leadership
theorists now espouse as essential to leadership effectiveness.2 These talents are not exclusive to women, of course, yet women display them more regularly than men.
Web Thinking: Women’s Contextual View
One remarkable difference is (HF) the way that men and women tend to think. Psychologists report that when women cogitate, they gather details somewhat differently than men. Women integrate more details faster and arrange these bits of data into more complex patterns. As they make decisions, women tend to weigh more variables, consider more options, and see a wider array of possible solutions to a problem. Women tend to generalize, to synthesize, to take a broader, more holistic, more contextual perspective of any issue. (HF: please put the commas back in. They tend to think in webs of factors, not straight lines, so I coined a term for this broad, contextual, feminine way of reasoning: web thinking. Men are more likely to focus their attention on one thing at a time. They tend to compartmentalize relevant material, discard what they regard as extraneous data, and analyze information in a more linear, causal path. I call this male pattern of cogitation step thinking. We are beginning to know how these...
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