In 2007, I attended a multi-day conference on leadership. One of the plenary sessions focused on Generative Leadership, which was being pitched as new, different, better, and the way of the future.
The approach, attributes and actions associated with generative leadership are stereotypically female. The very definition references something only women can do
“the ability to give birth, to bring into being, or to evoke… synonymous with creativity.”
The universe must have played a role in seating me at a table of all women, none of whom I knew. As the male panelists and presenters talked about, but didn’t name the feminine qualities of generative leadership, I noted my table mates’ eye rolls.
As the presenters continued, we exchanged comments about the female overtones, undertones and middle tones of this presentation that failed to mention any association to the feminine.
Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
I’m convinced that a decade of more women in leadership roles, helped to plant the seeds of discovery for which these men were taking credit. Women are redefining leadership. We should be identified and valued for our contributions.
The lack of recognition made me angry. Anger provides energy for and inspires action. I was inspired to identify and credit women for helping to renew and improve our understanding of what effective leaders do. Thus began a two year research project.
Hypothesis: The increased number of women in leadership roles has resulted in greater emphasis on stereotypically feminine attributes associated with effective leadership.
Phase 1 - Identify traits associated with gender stereotypes
Review the research on stereotypically feminine and stereotypically masculine traits.
According to social science, stereotypically feminine includes:
- Emotional attunement
- Building bonds
- Community orientation
- Making connections
Masculine traits include:
Conduct a literature search (yes, in the library, not on Google) for terms that include various forms and combinations of: empathy, emotion(s), emotional, leader, leadership, etc., in two time frames.
- Prior to the mid-1990s, when there were far fewer women in management and leadership roles
- 1995 and beyond, when the number of women in these roles began to increase
Prior to the mid-90s - 2 articles, zero books
By the mid-2000s - 1000s of articles and books
Not coincidentally, in 2005 Daniel Goleman published the first in his series of highly acclaimed business books on emotional and social intelligence.
I contend that the increased interest and focus on the emotional aspects of leadership is related to women having demonstrated the effectiveness of being an emotional savvy leader.
Phase 2 - Interview the Leaders
Conduct focus groups to determine interview questions.
Interview 50 leaders, 25 women and 25 men, regarding whether and how women redefine leadership. Explore what men are learning from women leaders. Find out whether and how they’ve changed their leadership actions as a result.
I interviewed only people who had held leadership roles since the 1980s to ensure they experienced the before and after of more women in management or leadership roles.
Unanimous agreement that men lead differently based on how women redefine leadership attributes and the results they achieve.
Almost unanimous agreement that women lead differently from men in the following ways, and that men are adapting their leadership accordingly:
- Using a more collaborative approach
- Being inclusive, seeking a variety of opinions, building consensus
- Demonstrating support for others
- Applying intuitive thinking
- Showing empathy
Picture me smiling at one of my favorite interview quotes:
The women came in and civilized us. As a result, I don’t throw my shoes across the conference room anymore.
Let’s give credit where credit is due - to the women - as Leadership scholar James MacGregor Burns’ 1970 prediction comes true.
“As leadership comes properly to be seen as a process of leaders engaging and mobilizing the human needs and aspirations of followers, women will be more readily recognized as leaders and men will change their own leadership styles.” (Leadership, p. 50)