Leadership has been traditionally regarded as a solely male domain (Spector, 1996). However, it is quite apparent that the working female population has rapidly increased, and furthermore many females hold supervisory, managerial, and consequently leadership positions (Klenke1996). Robbins, Bergman, Stagg, and Coulter (2000, p.593) define leadership as “the ability to influence a group towards the achievement of goals”. There are various methods that can be used to influence a group towards a specific goal, some more effective than others (Muchinsky, 1997). As Robbins et al., (2000) note, some leaders will have a democratic or person orientated leadership style, whereby the leader takes the opinions and feelings of their subordinates into consideration, and involves them when making a decision. Conversely, there are other leaders who may use an autocratic or task orientated leadership style, where they make decisions based on what is required to be done and do so without consultation with their associated subordinates (Robbins et al., 2000).
Given that leaders may vary in the style in which they lead, the question arises as to whether females and males engage in different leadership styles, and more importantly are such differences stable across various leadership contexts. In order to determine if in fact there are stable differences in leadership style between males and females, a critical evaluation of the current gender leadership literature is required.
A Critical Evaluation of the Gender - Leadership Style Literature. Research considering gender differences in leadership has been conducted since the early 1970s and continues to be an area of leadership research that generates a great deal of debate and contentiousness (Klenke, 1996).
Early studies such as those conducted by Dimarco and Whitsitt (1975), and Petty and Bruning (1980) report that female leaders were more likely to display consideration, rather than an initiation of structure. This finding suggests that females are more likely to be concerned with the people aspect of leadership, rather than a task orientated approach. Such conclusions were also consistent with the gender stereotypes of women being more nurturing and interpersonally orientated in comparison to men who were considered to be much more goal directed and task focussed.
This was also supported by Loden (1985) who maintained that there is a masculine mode of management characterised by qualities such as competitiveness, authority, controlling, and an unemotional analytic problem solving approach. Loden (1985) argued that women prefer, and tend to behave in terms of an alternative feminine leadership model characterised by cooperation, collaboration, less control by the leader, and problem solving based on intuition and empathy, as well as rationality. However, such findings were not supported by other early research studies.
Donnell and Hall (1980) found that female managers did not differ in the way they managed their organisation’s technical and human resources. Further, the study by Kushell and Newton (1986) reported that female autocratic leaders were not perceived negatively by their subordinates, thus not supporting the typical stereotype for female leadership.
Judy Rosener (1990) is a proponent of the feminist leadership style, and believes that there are distinct differences in the way men and women lead. She writes that successful female leaders engage in a style based on the skills and attitudes developed from their shared experience as women. Rosener (1990) goes on to say that women do not covet formal authority and have learned to lead without it, where men in comparison are characterised by the ‘tough’ command and control leadership style. She also states that women are more likely than men to say they make people feel important, included, and energised. Rosener (1990) argues that women differ from men in the way they...
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