Some Things Don’t Change
A recent survey by the Ketchum Group’s Leadership Monitor was picked up by a variety of blogs and newspapers due to the “shock” value of the survey conclusions: women outperform men in the top four key leadership metrics. At first glance, this is the type of headline that provides the television talk shows and roundtables the opportunity to fill a segment with argument designed to produce ratings. At second glance, it provokes the question as to what is the real story about the gender differences in leadership dynamics. Many business publications have been discussing this for a while, such as Harvard Business Review.
A quick review of some of the meta-texts involving personal leadership traits doesn’t show any chapters devoted to advising the reader how to proceed based on their gender. Ketchum’s survey however specifically contrasted “macho” leadership traits with the new “feminine” model for leadership communication. According to Ketchum, a “macho” type of leadership is a propensity to riskier decision-making, favoring obfuscation over transparency, and in general, a type of solitary-man approach that eschews teamwork in favor of “strong leader” behavior designed to produce followers rather than collaborators. It uses as an example the continuing war of words between the United States and Russia over Ukraine.
The Ketchum model of “feminine” leadership increasingly favored by the world (according to the survey) is centered around “transparency, collaboration, genuine dialogue, clear values, and the alignment of words and deeds”. In support of this “style” was a survey juxtaposition of the percentage of world leaders who are male (80%) and the percentage of survey respondents who think they are doing a good job (30%).
However, regardless of the spin on surveys and statistics, Ketchum did hit the nail on the head when it came to picking out the key metrics of leadership success. In no short order, being transparent, leading by example, admitting mistakes, and bringing out the best in others, were the top metrics of good leadership, and women outperformed men in achieving better survey results in all four. It is no coincidence that each of these traits can be affected positively or negatively by pride and ego. This is where women may have the inside track on men when it comes to performance. Survey results consistently reveal that men are more prone to overrate their own strengths while women are more likely to underrate them.
Ultimately, leadership is a blend of many skills that to my mind, are neither feminine or masculine, but rather, are comfortable and uncomfortable. A leader’s ability to be effective in their role often turns on how well they are able to master their own demons. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses and being able to identify where you need to improve and in what zone you need to operate is all about the emotional intelligence part I have harped on before. While ego and pride are not by any stretch absent in women leaders, and a barely controllable demon in men, there are clear differences in how men and women work the room, so to speak.
Which returns us to leadership, gender, and emotional intelligence. There are more than enough popular books on sale written from the perspective of the female leader, on achieving in a predominantly male organization. In these organizations, achievement is often measured through the bottom line, such as company value. From the “human” fields, such as law enforcement, emergency response, and of course, the military, the bottom line isn’t money. It is performance of the group, in the task at hand. In this day and age, the front line of first responders value competence in their leadership first, well before similar genitalia. Science says we think different, but our goals are the same – bring everyone home safe, get the bad guy, serve and protect. When we make excuses for our differences, or try to hide them, we are missing the point.