Women Naturally Better Leaders for the 21st Century?

janice-new.jpgBy Janice Steed RGN RM ADM MSc PGC, accredited in MBTI step 1 and 2, Firo-b and author of two chapters in ‘Creating a Coaching Culture for managers in Your Organisation’: Routledge.

I RECENTLY READ this exciting new white paper written by Greg Young CEO of LeaderShape Global published by Routledge and feel compelled to develop
some of my own thinking:

On reading the white paper, which is full of evidence in support of the slightly controversial title (which doesn’t have a question mark as I have placed after it) I feel there is a huge amount to commend the argument. I would of course say that being a woman myself…. However, I am also a leader of some considerable experience, which certainly has not been universally positive in terms of my experiences of women, so it made me think – are women naturally better leaders?

The research that LeaderShape have done on emotional intelligence and the competencies for transpersonal leadership are certainly in line with my own experiences and academic understanding. My journey has taken me through a career as a nurse and midwife with an advanced diploma in midwifery, before a long career as a Board Director and now some 9 years as an organisation consultant, facilitator and executive coach, with the latter complemented with an MSc and PGC from Ashridge with underpinning theoretic frameworks around relational consulting and coaching; meaning we do things ‘in relationship’ to effect change and co-create culture, behaviours and leadership/ followership dynamics.

In the process of the master’s degree, which was a journey of self-awareness and curiosity, being encouraged to notice and suspend judgement in order to understand, get underneath and work with ‘what is’. I also explored how ‘being a midwife’ was still with me, having honed my senses and orientated me towards working alongside, facilitating the others’ process. I thought about midwifery and recalled having trained two male midwives – yes male midwives, not ‘mid-husbands’! Midwife means in old English ‘With Woman’ and there are certain qualities which I believe midwives need in order to best ‘facilitate the others’ process. One of which is empathy.

I further developed this curiosity and inquiry when I undertook my dissertation and explored the work of Kathleen King (Critchley, King and Higgins 2007) who had studied the work of Fletcher (1999) and Gilligan (1993) amongst others looking at the effect of gender and relational practice and of psychological theory and women’s development.

They had come to the view, as had King, that it was not gender that was a determinant but rather ‘feminine and masculine behaviours’ which could be present in both men and women. These being feminine behaviours of community and collaboration and masculine behaviours of agency, self-determination focus. This also resonated with my own experience, where I have experienced women who are totally ‘agentic’ in their behaviours, only interested in ‘driving ahead to reach their own ends no matter who they trample on’.

But let’s not look at this simplistically, being a transpersonal leader, ethically orientated, also requires a moral compass. Having empathy and emotional intelligence is not the only aspect. We could certainly have immoral, emotionally intelligent leaders, and, personality preferences, which we are born with, do come into this. Research of Myers Briggs shows that there is no gender preference in all but one preference the T-F ‘Thinking-Feeling’preference. ‘Thinkers’ are logical and make decisions objectively standing outside and ‘Feelers’ step into a situation to feel how it might be, thereby linking to a more empathetic stance. Research shows that there are more women than men with a natural F preference.

So what does all this lead to in my analysis and commentary? In the white paper Greg talks about the fact that we are slowly going through a societal change which allows the natural qualities that women have to come to the fore and that being the case demonstrates them as being better equipped for leadership in the 21st century. I too think that may be the case and that a lot of those qualities have been suppressed in the past, with those women learning competitive behaviours in order to succeed. Indeed, having done my own MBTI profile 6 times over the past 30 years I have moved from an ENTJ to an ENFJ and I realise that I had deliberately suppressed the F preference in order to be an ‘acceptable’ board member.

Furthermore, I think the real issue is valuing feminine qualities of collaboration and community, in balance with masculine behaviours, which may be present in both men and women, and, if so valued we will naturally allow those women who have those qualities to come through with confidence, authenticity and integrity, role modelling and co-creating the behaviours we need to survive in the 21st century.

‘Interested in Women in Leadership?  Then why not join the @LeaderShapeUK twitter chat? Mon 7th Nov 2016 10.00 – 11.00 a.m UK time. Follow: #WomenLeadership’.

References:

King K, (2007) in Critchley, King and Higgins organisational Consulting: A Relational Perspective: Middlesex University Press

Fletcher JK, (1999) Disappearing Acts: Gender, Power and Relational Practice at Work. Cambridge MA: MIT Press

Gilligan, C (1993) In a Different Voice. Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press

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