Leadership qualities are not inherently masculine or feminine, but a blend of traits and skills that can be harnessed by anyone. However, there’s been a growing appreciation for the unique strengths often associated with feminine traits and their impact on leadership effectiveness.
At this point, the benefits of women in leadership are undeniable (though we’re biased). We won’t list the research that points to that. But we do want to talk about feminine and masculine traits, and specifically the power of those in the “feminine” category.
Commonly cited “masculine” traits are Assertiveness, Independence, Competitiveness, Risk-Taking, Confidence, Decisiveness, or Resilience. Commonly cited “feminine” traits include a range of qualities such as Empathy, Collaboration, Communication, Adaptability, Emotional Intelligence, Patience, Inclusivity, and Consensus-building.
Unfortunately, leaders have historically been rewarded when they demonstrate traits most associated with the masculine, and feminine traits have been viewed largely as falling short of what leaders “should” embody. As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CIO of ManpowerGroup stated, “So long as we continue to associate leadership with masculine features, we can expect female leaders to be evaluated more negatively, even when their performance is higher than that of their male counterparts, and even when those who evaluate them are women. For instance, a recent study on social sensing, in which male and female leaders were tagged with sociometric badges that monitored everything they did and said for weeks, showed that despite non-existing behavioral or performance differences between men and women, men were promoted to leadership roles much more frequently than women were.”
This is starting to change, thankfully. ICMYI, a recent study from IBM shows women are more effective than men in all leadership measures. Having the ability to pull from both feminine and masculine traits is also seen as crucial and powerful when assessing a person’s leadership “mix”. A 2018 study by Deloitte showed that “modern leadership should look to balance hard and soft power traits,” and more recently, a group of researchers found that “Good-manager descriptions exhibited a decreasing emphasis on masculinity and increasing emphasis on femininity over time, culminating in an androgynous profile, or a balance of masculine and feminine traits, for each population in the most recently collected data” between 2005 and 2020. Translation? An increased preference for feminine leadership traits.
Let’s dive into some of the key feminine traits, and why they should be a part of any leader’s skillset.
- Empathy: Leaders who display empathy create strong connections with their teams, leading to improved trust and cooperation. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Leaders who possess this trait are better equipped to connect with their team members on a personal level, making them more approachable and supportive. They can anticipate the needs and concerns of their team, resulting in stronger relationships and better teamwork.
- Collaboration: Encouraging teamwork and diversity of thought results in more innovative solutions and stronger relationships within the organization. Collaboration is a key aspect of modern leadership, and those who prioritize it encourage different perspectives and ideas from their team members. A feminine trait of nurturing relationships can foster a cooperative work environment, leading to better problem-solving.
- Communication: Effective communication is essential for any leader. When leaders communicate clearly and listen actively, it reduces misunderstandings and encourages a culture of transparency. Leaders who excel in this area use clear language, can articulate their vision, goals, and expectations effectively, reducing the potential for conflict.
- Adaptability: In a fast-changing world, adaptable leaders can guide their teams through uncertainty with a sense of confidence. Leaders who embrace change and remain open to new ideas and approaches tend to excel, using their flexibility and resilience to navigate through both good and hard times.
- Emotional Intelligence: Leaders with high emotional intelligence handle challenges gracefully and create positive work cultures. Emotional intelligence involves recognizing, understanding, and managing one’s emotions and the emotions of others, and contributes to a positive work culture and team morale.
- Patience: Patient leaders maintain team morale during challenging times and keep their focus on long-term goals. Patience can be a valuable trait in leadership, especially when dealing with challenges and setbacks.
- Inclusivity: Inclusive leaders value diversity, leading to better decision-making and a broader range of perspectives. Leaders who prioritize inclusivity create an environment where every team member feels valued and empowered.
- Consensus-Building: Leaders who build consensus involve their teams in decision-making, resulting in cohesive and committed groups. Leaders who can build consensus are skilled at bringing their team members together to make decisions collaboratively.