Are males or females better executive leaders? (2)

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In the first part of this mini-series we posed at a philosophical question: are men or women better Executive Leaders? We established that it is possible to measure the effectiveness of leaders using a number of approaches and that whilst there were similarities in how the genders would perform there were also some key differences. This post looks more closely at how leaders lead in practice and where we might see differences that could be significant in theoretical battle of the leadership sexes.

To draw some conclusions here I’m going to share my reflections of nearly 20years of working with senior male and female leaders.

Leading People

Having identified that females (generally) have higher scores in measures of empathy, you might consider that they would lead other people better. I think empathy is a key skill and potentially a significant difference between the genders but its not enough on its own. There is so much to leading other human beings effectively that, in my experience, both genders are capable of doing so really well. Indeed male executives who possess high empathy and EQ are some of the very best leaders I have met.

I think a really interesting dynamic for you to reflect on, if you are a senior leader, is do you lead the different genders differently?  I have seen many men who are great at leading other men but not so good at leading women and vice versa. One might suggest that higher EQ would enable you to lead both genders equally well and in theory it should. The unknown factor here is the willingness of those you lead to be led by you. Again higher EQ would enable you, with patience, to find different ways to skin that particular cat. If you lack either patience or the inter-personal skills to tackle that situation you are less likely to succeed. Male senior leaders can often get dismissive in such situations quite quickly. Female leaders can- sometimes to their/their teams detriment –  stick in there too long, in the belief that they can ‘turn’ someone around.

Leading An Organisation

What is an organisation if not a collection of people? Well, there is also the critical element of organisational culture. This is partly shaped by the people but it is also the result of the systems and processes that have been built in to produce the outcomes, behaviours and working environment that we might describe as the organisation’s culture.

Let me at this point ask you a question: What do the following have in common: Enron, BP, Barings Bank, RBS, Lehman Brothers and Volkswagen?

At the time of the associated scandals and disasters of these companies, they had a male CEO. A flawed argument maybe – there are not that many female CEOs – but it is interesting to note that the organisational cultures and leadership flaws, happened on the watch of male leaders.

Easy to throw stones, so let’s move on to a supplementary question: Would a female CEO have allowed such toxic cultures to grow on her watch? Possibly – think HP, Patricia Dunn and the spying scandal. Possibly not.

Whilst it is clear that both genders are able to create positive or negative organisational cultures, in my experience I have witnessed that the best female senior leaders are particularly aware of their role as a corporate citizen. They understand and make manifest very obviously, their role as standard bearers of the culture. Male senior leaders do too of course – but I have witnessed several who operate as if the rules don’t apply to them. They expect everyone else to toe the line but fail to reinforce the culture themselves on anything like a consistent basis. At least, not as consistently as their female counterparts. A case of female compliance? Maybe. But perhaps it takes being willing to flex on your own views and wants, to be an excellent role model of organisational culture.

Sore Made (Judo term for end of contest)

So in conclusion who would make a more effective executive if we were able to find our hypothetically evenly matched leaders?

The answer of course is that it is a draw.

There are brilliant male and female leaders like you. There are also terrible leaders of both genders. The secret here is that you will benefit from observing other leaders – regardless of gender – who do things well, that you are not so strong at and learn from them. Get yourself some objective help to measure where you are starting from and track the progress you are making.

Organisations would do well to create more space to facilitate the recognition and promotion of more female executives, as they offer so much that can help balance environments that are still largely male dominated. Diversity in your leadership cohort, in its many guises, is vital to ensure representation of a range of views and to nuance the organisation’s culture more subtly.

It’s not a contest; it’s certainly not a fight. The objective of great leadership is to help others perform at their very best, drawing on the strengths that they bring to the table. Go lead brilliantly.

Glenn Wallis helps senior leaders in organisations get even better at what they do. If you want to be a leader of character and to lead outstandingly, then you can contact Glenn here. 

Photo: Thanks to Ozzy Delany

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