There is a lot written today about which gender makes a better leader and depending upon the perspective, there are varying opinions. Recently, there was also an article in Fast Company about how women leaders were reviewed more harshly for “personality” or “emotional” characteristics, while men were praised for the same traits. If a woman leader gets emotional and yells at subordinates, she is immediately labeled negatively. A male leader can do the same thing and likely as not he will be called forceful or within his rights as the boss.
So there is still a double standard, which should not come as a huge surprise simply because there are still significantly more male leaders than there are female. However, at the end of the day, it’s changing and that’s a good thing. And even more importantly, I don’t think you can label men or women as better leaders. Leadership is individual and made up of many characteristics and gender can help or hurt, depending upon the individual.
What makes a great leader? Just like a great recipe, there are a lot of ingredients and it never quite comes out exactly the same each time. Leaders are unique. I start by looking at their values, what do they stand for? How true are they to that? How do they treat others? What standards do they have? These are things we “like” and make us feel as though we are part of a team. The rest is about performance. Can they inspire others to a mission, cause or project? Individually focused leaders are all about themselves, their performance, how they look, and how they did. True leaders care about the performance of the team.
Great leaders know themselves first. It’s difficult to help others achieve or become great if we are blind to our own characteristics and idiosyncrasies. This is where sometimes women have the edge because we can be more introspective and self-aware. However, great male leaders have mastered this as well, it just generally comes easier for women. On the other hand, great leaders tend to take more risks, quickly evaluating the pros and cons and making decisions. This is where men have the edge, wired from our cave man days to hunt and protect, they have less fear and feel more comfortable in this arena.
Bottom line, great leadership is gender neutral. Each gender has an edge on certain characteristics, but overall, it’s about the individual and their ability to inspire others around a mission, vision or endeavor towards achievement of a goal. There are currently more men leaders than women, 80/20 in congress and about the same in boardrooms and C-suites across the nation, so our models are mostly men. As leadership representation becomes more in line with the overall population, we’ll see changes. However, at the end of the day, great leadership shows up in all shapes and forms and has very little to do with gender.