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Are you a Leader or a Female Leader?

24 January 2017

If you are a female leader, how much does gender play a role in the way you lead and the way you expect to be treated as a leader?

Does gender matter when it comes to leadership?

Academics, via textbooks and higher learning, will tell us a leader is a leader is a leader, regardless of gender or any other identifier. Yet it seems that not only do women lead in a different way, they are often more successful.

Let’s reconsider the traditional stereotypes discussed here and look at gender roles in leadership.

Words commonly used to describe femininity include soft; passive, weak and dependent. The words aggressive, strong, and tough skinned and competitive are often used to describe masculinity in a stereotypical way.

In assessing these descriptions in isolation, it would appear that men would be natural leaders and women unsuccessful in such a role, but we know this to be incorrect.

It’s impossible to pigeonhole or categorise men and women based purely on gender, whether that be in a professional or personal environment. All men would have some so called female traits and vice versa when it comes to women. The truth is that we are far more alike than we are different.

Presenting leadership as a list of carefully defined qualities (like strategic, analytical, and performance-oriented) no longer holds. Instead, true leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed…. Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.
Sheryl Sandberg

Where does the differences come from?

Nina Bahudar posed an interesting question in her Huffington Post article suggesting the differences are not biological but in fact cultural.

“The question we should be asking here is not "do men and women lead differently," but "do we teach men and women to lead differently?" asks Bahudar.

Aggression is considered a masculine trait, and boys exhibiting aggressive tendencies are ‘just boys’ and their energy is channeled into sports or other active pastimes. Aggression in girls, however, is labeled as ‘bitchy’ and seen as a particularly unattractive characteristic, even if the energy is used on the sporting field.

Consider what you were taught about the male and female leader roles as you were growing up and the influence it may have had on the way you operate.

How do you see yourself as a leader?

Do you see yourself as a leader or as a female leader?

As Sheryl Sandberg says, leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection, and that means being yourself. It’s OK to be both female and a leader. No longer do we need to justify either of those conditions. Instead, we can celebrate them.

As women, we are generally effective communicators, and better at expressing their thoughts and opinions verbally than our male counterparts.

We are very empathetic and empathy is a standout skill in effective leadership. Empathy is a useful tool when it comes to assessing team performance and how members are feeling, whether that is enthusiastic and motivated or stressed and overworked.

We have amazing qualities that allow us to be amazing leaders.

What we can't afford to do is to expect to be treated differently purely because of our gender. We must expect to be treated as leaders – our gender is just a bonus.

Back to the question as to whether you are a leader or a female leader. Considering the numerous qualities of women that are in fact advantageous to leadership roles, then being identified as a ‘female leader’ and not a leader alone, could, in fact, be a compliment.

It is time to act authentically - be ourselves, and be fantastic female leaders with all the strengths and weaknesses that make us truly valuable.

Do you see yourself as a leader or as a female leader and what impact does your choice have on the way you lead and the way you expect to be treated? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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